Maysson Al Otaiba, who is currently based in London, uses her Middle Eastern heritage - she grew up between the United Arab Emirates, London and Morocco - as inspiration for her collections. Her latest endeavour is a travel capsule collection called Zelij, made for the modern woman on the move. The collection will be available for purchase at O Concept boutique from Wednesday September 21, and Bazaar's Maddison Glendinning caught up with the promising young designer to find out more...
Harper's Bazaar Arabia: What was the inspiration behind your Zelij collection?
Maysson Al Otaiba: I noticed many friends trying to fit in holiday time during extended business trips. They rarely had time to fit in proper relaxation with their jobs, let alone packing the appropriate clothing, so I designed a go-to capsule collection for business and leisure. The collection’s namesake is inspired by traditional Islamic geometric patterns - the terracotta tiles that originated from Fes, Morocco - known as the center of this art. Zelij is the main feature of this beautiful Moroccan architecture, and quite a statement of sophistication and luxury. The Zelij range is tailored for city-chic style and holiday for the bohemian at heart. The collection consists of interchangeable separates and dresses that can be worn at various occasions from day to evening.
HBA: What is different about these pieces than the ones you make for your main line?
MAO: The Maysson brand began with a large, main collection. Now the label will focus on creating smaller capsule collections, that suit a purpose and a mood. I design each capsule with unique details that reflect my Arab heritage. While all of my pieces share the coin buttons, similar to pieces found in traditional Emirati and Moroccan headdresses and jewellery, we tried something new with Zelij. The travel wardrobe uses fabrics that are customised with our own print. The colour palette is more trans-seasonal with bold blues, crisp whites and classic black. Zelij can take you from Dubai’s holiday climate to an early autumn in London or New York.
The Yasirah bomber jacket. Image: Justino Esteves
HBA: What do you hope it will bring to the Middle Eastern retail scene?
MAO: I hope Zelij brings an infusion of African and Middle Eastern art together. As a London-based brand, we target a diverse clientele that share a similar taste in fashion. This is why we’re so thrilled to debut Zelij at the O Concept shop in Dubai. The concept store, founded by a fellow Emirati entrepreneur, combines high fashion and art. We believe independent retailers, like O Concept, bring a lot of opportunity to the untapped talent in the region.
HBA: What gap did you see in the market when you were creating your label?
MAO: I saw labels that were either influenced by the heavy embellishment of formal Middle Eastern dressing, or modern homegrown labels that were too minimal or stark. We’re not here to take a ghutrah and turn it into a dress. However, the Maysson label always wants to touch upon some aspect from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures. The brand is built on an East-meets-West sensibility, where we use design details from the Arab world and feature them on European silhouettes. The Maysson collection creates classic pieces that will last a long time. That is a testament for our decision in creating a trans-seasonal range.
HBA: What fabrics do you use?
MAO: We always use different types of luxury silk in my collections. For Zelij, I introduced denim for a more edgy style and cotton for some comfortable travel pieces. The fabrics are sourced from the UK’s finest retailers and we now customise fabrics as a personal touch.
HBA: You introduced a childrenswear line this year – how did that come about? What was the design ethos behind this collection?
MAO: When I do occasional work with private fittings, a few of my clientele bring their children around. So I thought it would be fun to create a few pieces for boys and girls to wear out: contemporary, vibrant and with an Arab culture theme. This children’s line is also inspired by Morocco, featuring traditional icons like the tagine and berrad. The cardigans are made from the finest cashmere and the t-shirts are made from light, breathable cotton for children’s comfort. A percentage of profits from the children’s capsule will be donated to a children’s charity.
From left: Yasirah bomber jacket, Dhs1,116; Muruj shirtdress, Dhs,1916; and Mezyan shirtdress, Dhs1,383, all Zelij by Maysson Al Otaiba
HBA: What are your thoughts on the Middle Eastern style aesthetic?
MAO: I am fascinated by individuals and how they express themselves through fashion, in particular the Middle East. This region is comprised of many cultures and tribes, so there is an endless stream of inspiration. Designers have been heavily influenced by kaftans, robes, turbans and harem trousers. I love the the rich and vibrant colours of the Levant and North Africa, in addition to the old jewellery and burqa of the UAE’s bedouin tribes. I believe there’s a real story of adventure to the Middle Eastern culture, so it works nicely within the romanticism of the Maysson pieces.
HBA: How would you describe your own personal style?
MAO: Elegant, bohemian, East-meets-West. Every piece I design for Maysson, I would wear myself. I take a democratic approach and sometimes mix Maysson pieces with high street labels, luxury brands and stand-out accessories I find on my travels.
HBA: What’s most important to you as a designer – fashion or functionality?
MAO: From a designer’s perspective, both fashion and functionality are important. It is essential to provide both in order to please the customer. Maysson’s clientele tend to be young, creative professionals and quite fashion-conscious. The brand needs to consider what can take an individual comfortably throughout the day.
HBA: What can we expect to see next from the brand?
MAO: The label has a lot to offer as it develops, new colour palettes and new fabrics such as knits. The Maysson brand wants to continue to be culturally inspired by the Arab world, telling the stories we want to tell, through our heritage and statement pieces.