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From blank canvas to the i-thobe... personal style has come a long way
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 18 - 11 - 2008

THOBE, the long white dress that men in Saudi Arabia have been wearing for ages, has been undergoing a metamorphosis. It has been white and simple all along, but no longer, giving way to new designs, colors, fabrics, and styles.
One of those leading that change is a young Saudi designer, Loai Naseem, who saw in the whiteness a canvas for his ‘designs' to take shape.
Asked how it all started, Loai, who graduated from the Art Institute of Houston in 1997, disclosed, “As a small boy I loved to draw buildings, flowers, nature. My mom – Hind Halawani, had an atelier for women's dress – mainly abayas and wedding dresses. She had a store and a big workshop. I grew up with my mom adding some touches to her design,” Loai said.
He helped her in doing a lot of designs for women before he went to the States to study fashion design, but didn't like it. So he changed over to graphic design, and while studying drew lots of designs for his mother. She loved these and her clients did too. “So, fashion design is in my blood,” he said.
“I like the color white; I love it and have used it a lot in advertisements and in my creative ideas and communications. But not any more.
We have more colors, our winter collection is black,” said Loai, who started as a graphic designer in an advertising agency in Jeddah where he worked for two years, and then as creative director for another agency till 2006.
In 2002 he started to change his dress. “I needed to wear a thobe but my style,” he explained. “My wife brought a tailor home who produced the designs that I gave him. I wore these at work and my colleagues liked, it,” he added.
In the beginning it was a hobby, and he didn't think that it would catch on and become a business. Loai began by making 100 to 200 thobes a year for selected clients, after that he resigned in 2006 to open the company in a big way. “We started with Jeddah, spread to Riyadh, and then Al-Khobar, and then another branch in Jeddah – the flagship,” he said.
“We are the first group who came up with the idea of changing from buttons to zippers. People didn't accept the idea in the beginning. But I wore these thobes, my friends did too until it seemed like everybody was wearing it. In Jeddah, people love it, but in Riyadh and Al-Khobar they still have not got the idea,” he said.
“We have a big area for designers who work on my ideas, and those of my wife – Mona Haddad, as well because she is the head of the department. We concentrate on different cuts, different colors, designs, and fabrics. Asked if the fabric is used depending on weather, he said, “Not really, because the weather in Jeddah is different from that in Riyadh and Al-Khobar. A thick fabric can be used in summer as well because all the time we are in our air-conditioned offices, homes, or cars. So I use the thick fabric, and I love the 100 percent cotton.” Fifty percent of the fabric is obtained from France, Italy, Germany, Japan and the other 50 percent is local.
In Riyadh and Al-Khobar people use silk all the time. “I don't prefer silk. I prefer cotton or mixed cotton, which is very good for day-today wear. Wool also only in Riyadh and Al-Khobar. We work according to the market and the season – summer, winter fall, autumn,” Loai said.
He said his dream is to open a training institute for young Saudis – male and female – to learn, feel and fashion and fabric. How to cut, design, how to match the colors. “It will come true, I am confident,” he enthused. __

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