Interview with Abaya Designer: Hessa Al Obaidli

Charmed by the vision of her mother designing clothes just by herself Hessa Al Obaidli grew up with a great desire for fashion, which she barely understood then. At such a young age, she had already done sketching and stitching clothes for her dolls. As she became older, she developed her taste for rich fabrics, and began her appreciation for details and craftsmanship. After finishing her Master’s degree, she knew exactly what she wanted to do: have her own fashion label. Hessa talks to Velvet about her young, but flourishing career in designing Abaya.

What made you enter the world of fashion design?

Due to the repeated requests from my family and friends, I expanded my business and built my brand HESSEH Abaya Haute Couture. By entering the field of fashion, I had the chance to live my passion every day and that is priceless. Now, I am an Emirati designer who is looking to expand the abaya beyond the Middle East.

Who and what are your biggest inspirations when it comes to designing?

It might sound strange but I get inspired by reading books. I love reading fairy tales, and if you have a closer look at all my collections it is always based on a concept of storytelling related to an imaginary location with special characters. Also, I get inspiration from all those strong women from the past until today. I am always keen on knowing about great ladies like Cleopatra, Kahina, The Queen of Saba, Marie-Antoinette or Chanel. Definitely Coco Chanel, she is talented, self-driven and has defined fashion for her time and the next generations. Each of them has proven in their own ways that a strong but feminine woman is not an impossible combination. They have inspired book writers, cinematographers and definitely the fashion industry.

How do you start working on your collection? How do you decide what concept or theme you will use for each collection?

My previous collections (La Forestiera, Eternity, Secret Garden or Wild Harmony) are all based on story-telling which explore, through different characters and environments, existential questions. Before I start designing, I try to feel and listen to my environment. I listen to my colleagues, family, and friends what are their main concerns in their social, work or personal life. I also look into my experiences such as travelling, visiting museums, reading books and watching movies. Then from there, I work on a theme which will include a story and different characters. I define from there a palette of colours, texture, fabrics, etc.
What challenges do you usually encounter as a fashion designer?

We live in a world where investors play a major role. But I think that we have the chance to use different ways and free channels to commercialise and develop our brands. Like for my label, I started developing my business through my mobile phone which attracted the mobile company Blackberry who named me as one of their Brand Ambassadors here in the Middle East.

On the creative front, designing an Abaya is really challenging since you need to make sure you are not overdoing it yet still unique and trendy. For Hesseh Couture, I believe I have taken the best out of my culture: simplicity and discretion of the elements.

*Read the complete interview in VELVET’s September 2013 issue