“Please excuse the boxes, we just received a shipment from Italy,” says Bahraini designer Amal Al Mulla, as she navigates past bolts of fabric being unpacked by her staff at her East Riffa studio. On this particular sunny morning in November, Amal is eager to show off her brand’s recently renovated headquarters. In one room set aside for private clients, she’s artfully hung her latest Spring/Summer 2018 collection amongst a constellation of dangling light bulbs. “It was important for me to create a space where I could meet one on one with my clients because that interaction is an intrinsic part of my creative process,” says Amal, who will modify pieces from her ready-to-wear collections to suit a particular client’s body type.
Amal Al Mulla
“I learn a lot from those moments, because it allows me to better understand what my clients are looking for and it informs the way I’ll approach the next collection,” says the designer, who launched her namesake label shortly after graduating with a BA in Fashion Design from Bahrain’s Royal University for Women in 2012. Born and raised in Bahrain, Amal grew up in a multi-cultural household thanks to her Bahraini father and Filipino mother who exposed them to the best of both worlds. “I grew up in an environment where the arts and creativity were encouraged. But having that dual heritage has also enriched me as a designer, because it gives you the freedom to explore the world from different perspectives,” says Amal, who quickly developed a following for her modern and feminine approach to design since debuting her brand.
“I knew about Amal’s line long before we became friends. Even though she’s modest by nature, I immediately sensed the passion she puts into her clothes,” says Fatema Albalooshi, a certified yoga instructor who is a fan of Amal’s line for its blend of style and comfort. “When I wear Amal’s clothes I feel strong and feminine at the same time. But there’s also a timeless quality to her garments that transcends trends,” says the yoga instructor, who initially majored in architecture at the University of Bahrain before switching careers. An avid sports fan, she began each morning with a 10km run followed by a round of basketball until she discovered yoga a few years ago. “It changed my life, because yoga isn’t simply about physical strength, but mental wellbeing,” says the young mother, who teaches at several gyms across the island and is currently focused on opening her own yoga studio.
“Fatema is all about positive energy and similar to the rest of the women taking part in this shoot, she represents my ideal muse because it’s important to embrace all that we are as women, whether it’s being confident, imperfect, beautiful, fragile or strong,” says Amal of the women she keeps in mind while designing each collection. “We’re lucky in Bahrain, because we have generations of women who paved the way for us. But it’s also important to acknowledge that although we were one of the first countries in the GCC to encourage women’s emancipation, we still have to continue creating more opportunities for future generations,” observes the yoga instructor of a sentiment expressed by the designer and the women who wear her clothes.
Among them is Mai al Moayyed, a banker turned entrepreneur who first met Amal when the designer collaborated with her on the makeup for her first look book. “We connected immediately because we both lead super busy lives and developed our brands over the past four years,” says Mai, who selected a flowing dark navy dress for the shoot. “The moment I put this dress on I felt like I owned the room because it’s effortless and edgy at the same time,” says the entrepreneur at The Makeup Manual, her state of the art makeup studio and academy in Sugaya, where the mantra ‘Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful,’ looms large over the reception desk.
Mai al Moayyed
Peppered throughout the sleek black space are more inspirational quotes, reflecting her mission to empower women. “It’s important to support each other as Bahraini women because jealousy and hate are unproductive. We can’t move forward unless we empower each other and work together,” says the entrepreneur who is currently in the midst of constructing a new building to house her offices, an ever expanding makeup studio and a soon to launch online shopping department.
A few hours later, Noor Al Shaikh walks through the doors of Words, a light-filled bookstore/café in Budaiya, wearing an off-shoulder floral print top and taupe pants from Amal’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection. “I love the way her pieces are constructed and tailored to fit perfectly on the body. Amal also has a great eye for details and you can see the craftsmanship in the clothes she creates,” says Noor, who is recognizable face in Bahrain and the Gulf thanks to her years as the co-anchor of the daily morning show Hala Bahrain. Today she splits her time between the Island and the UAE, where she appears on Dubai TV.
Noor Al Shaikh
“I originally studied fashion marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University, and fell into television by chance when a producer asked me to put together a fashion segment for a TV show,” says Noor, who took a 10-day intensive course at Al Jazeera to hone her skills as a presenter. “The biggest challenge I faced when I first began in television was learning how to speak formal Arabic again. Prior to that, I had spoken English most of my life because I attended a private school in Bahrain and lived in the UK for four years,” says the TV host, who began to polish her Arabic grammar and reacquaint herself with the language through books. “I started reading everything from poetry to novels and in the process rediscovered my love for this beautiful language and a new purpose in life,” says Noor, who is now focused on launching a new fashion and beauty focused show on Dubai TV.
“We’re living at a time where we’re seeing a major shift in the way women’s roles in the Arab region are being perceived. As a designer I feel both humbled and inspired to be part of this movement for change, at a moment when we’re being heard and recognized for chasing after our dreams and having the freedom to achieve them,” notes Amal the next day at her studio, during a fitting with Mariam Turki, a banker and mother of two, who went on to become one of Bahrain’s leading female triathletes. “Similar to her clothes, Amal is pure elegance. I love the fluidity and ease of her designs as well as her offbeat color combinations and prints,” says Mariam, dressed in a flowing mint green dress by the designer, who highlighted its waist by ingeniously twisting fabric around a metal loop.
Shortly after giving birth to her second child in 2015, Mariam joined her uncle’s running group to get back into shape. “At the time they were training for a triathlon and they encouraged me to participate in it. It was a challenge as I was juggling a full time job and raising my children, but I learnt to become good at managing my time,” says the triathlete, who wakes up early each morning to train before heading into the office. “Apart from the experience of giving birth, participating in an Ironman triathlon made me realize how strong we are as women and how far we can push our bodies,” says Mariam, who hopes to inspire future women triathletes in Bahrain and the GCC in her new role as the Head of The Women’s Committee for The Bahrain Triathlon Association.
“As women we face moments where we doubt our potential and what we’re capable of, which is why it’s important to never fear obstacles and to work hard to achieve our goals, whether it’s training for a marathon or launching a new business,” says Mariam, noting that within the Gulf, Bahrain has played an important role in paving the way for women in sports; a legacy that Amal is also keen to emphasize. “It’s important that we lift each other up and acknowledge each others accomplishments as our own, because it’s collectively that we can make change happen,” says the designer, who takes a hands-on approach to producing her collections, thanks to a talented team of in-house seamstresses and patternmakers who have been with her since the launch of her label.
“Quality is very important to me and we source most of our fabrics from suppliers around the world,” says Amal, who for spring worked with fine cottons, stonewashed silks and crepe rendered in black and white floral prints as well as shades of brown and blush pink. Spending up to six months developing collections that include some 20 looks has paid off for the designer who is now carried by retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue Bahrain and Ounass. “It’s been gratifying to witness the support from retailers in the Middle East for regional designers, which has helped change perceptions as well as buying habits,” she adds, noting that she hopes to expand the line’s reach internationally in the coming years. “It’s a beautiful process to witness each season as we develop into something bigger and better, and I hope to continue on this journey with all these inspiring women who have supported me along the way,” says Amal, as she carves out a niche for herself in a global fashion industry where Arab voices are beginning to be heard.
This article originally appeared in the December issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.