Steeped in fashion since the UAE began, Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli is a designer and author with a collection of 180 Emirati thawbs (gowns) that mainly belong to the ruling family. Earlier this year, she had a breath-taking exhibition at Robinsons that explored the evolution of women's traditional clothing in the UAE. The exhibition showcased 18 traditional Emirati thawbs worth a whopping Dhs5,509,500 ($1.5 million).
We chatted with Dr. Reem to find out who inspires her and what her design process is. Read on below:
Harper’s Bazaar Arabia: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Dr. Reem: "Someone who can leave a useful foot print on life."
HBA: Where or who do you get your inspiration from?
Dr. Reem: "I am always drawn to accomplished and cultured thinkers from all walks of life. To name a few: Christopher Hitchens, Zaha Hadid, Warren Buffet, Yuval Harari, Hanan Ashrawi, Ayn Rand and Jimmy Carter."
HBA: Who was or still is your mentor?
Dr. Reem: "I see inspiration in all that sounds and seek mentorship from books I read or people I meet in all walks of life."
HBA: How has fashion evolved since the UAE began?
Dr. Reem: "This is a topic I condensed in three large volumes! Read my book Sultani.. Traditions Renewed, Changes in UAE Women's Traditional Dress during the reign of Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1966-2004) and you will find out!
HBA: Tell me about your collections.
Dr. Reem: "My passion extends from art to architecture to heritage to dress to books to jewellery. I have collected on all these topics. We need many sessions to cover them all. I am privileged to have been able to live my life and work among all what I am passionate about."
HBA: What’s a typical work day like for you?
Dr. Reem: "I have nothing typical in my life! I am fortunate to have had a life that is diverse and very interesting. Every day holds prospects to a new goal to pursue, a new obstacle to overcome."
HBA: What do you love most about being a designer?
Dr. Reem: "The open potential for creativity."
HBA: What is the most challenging part about being a designer?
Dr. Reem: "Being understood."
HBA: How would you describe your designs?
Dr. Reem: "An attempt to marry the past with the future."
HBA: What is your method to your design process?
Dr. Reem: "Design stems from inspiration. Once something inspires me and that can be a tune I hear, or a smell that catches my attention, or a combination or colours that intrigue me, or simply a form that crosses my path, thoughts just come pouring out and I just need to put them down."
HBA: Why did you choose design as your creative outlet?
Dr. Reem: "I think it is the other way around – design chooses you! It is an involuntary process that catches you by surprise and you become a part of it."
HBA: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Dr. Reem: "Something I have not yet achieved!"