Monday June 24th, 2024
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Amina Galal’s ‘In Our Alleys’ is a Dissection of Clashing Cultures

In a sartorial portrayal of Egypt’s heterogeneous society, ‘In Our Alleys’ studies the clashing forces within Egyptian culture.

Ziyad El-Helbawy

Amina Galal’s ‘In Our Alleys’ is a Dissection of Clashing Cultures

"In essence, each piece I conceive I seek to have become a living chronicle of the people who inspired it."

Egyptian culture has long blended traditions with global influences in paradoxical yet beautiful ways. For her graduate collection, ‘In Our Alleys’, Parsons graduate and budding fashion designer, Amina Galal, sought to capture this cultural heterotopia through evocative designs.

Galal's experience living across diverse countries fostered a deep appreciation for how cultures evolve through mutual exchange, and for ‘In Our Alleys’, she translated this perspective into fashions that blend traditional Egyptian silhouettes with contemporary details, extracting beauty from everyday hybridizations often dismissed as crude.

Whether it's through reinterpreting the galabeya or updating western pieces with traditional silhouettes, Galal's pieces convey the stories of modern Egyptians navigating fluid cultural norms. Having collaborated closely with Egyptian artisans to produce innovative creations using adapted traditional techniques, Galal questions what defines culture while celebrating its continual reinvention.

Scene Styled virtually sat down with Amina Galal to discuss her thoughtful collection and philosophy in more depth.

Can you tell us about your personal background?

Growing up as the child of a diplomat, my life was a constant journey across different countries and continents – from Cameroon to Belgium, Qatar, France, and the familiarity of Egypt. This nomadic existence, while often challenging, instilled in me a profound appreciation for diverse cultures. Every few years, I found myself adapting to a new environment, which fueled my curiosity and deepened my connection to my Egyptian heritage.

Living away from Egypt for much of my life led me to seek solace in art and fashion as a means of exploring and understanding my roots. I became captivated by Egyptian norms, history, music, craftsmanship, artistry, and fashion, leading me to pivot my work towards what it means to be Egyptian and Arab in today's world. I found a particular admiration for Egyptian craftsmanship, recognizing the incredible heritage in our traditional crafts and the skills of our craftsmen.

My creative philosophy centres on telling stories of the present by delving into the past and projecting them into the future. This journey of self-discovery through art and culture has become the driving force behind my work as a designer.

Could you elaborate on that philosophy? How does it inform your design process?At the core of my artistic journey is focus on the exploration of Egyptian culture, particularly the intricate web of Egyptian crafts and artistry, all interwoven with the undeniable human touch. Crafting each piece in my collection is a process that extends far beyond the seams. It begins with extensive research, a deep dive into the subject matter.

From the initial sketches and designs to the delicate art of draping, pattern-making, and the final stitches, every step in my creative process has a singular purpose—to create garments that can carry forward the traditions and crafts of the Egyptian people. In essence, each piece I conceive I seek to have become a living chronicle of the people who inspired it.

My sketchbooks are filled with hundreds of images capturing everyday scenes of Egyptian streets, villages, and the dedicated craftsmen and women at work. Inspiration is woven into the very fabric of Cairo's streets, and it was within these alleys that the idea for In Our Alleys was born. In Our Alleys is an exploration of Egypt as a heterotopia.

In my eyes, fashion is a language—a means of communication and self-expression. Each garment carries a unique message, a cue to the wearer's intentions or identity. My mission as a designer is to infuse my creations with a profound message of "Egyptianhood" as perceived through my own lens. Fashion, for me, is the art of storytelling, a medium through which I interpret and convey the essence of our culture.

Can you tell us more about your view of Egypt as a ‘heterotopia’?

The metamorphosis of Egyptian traditional attire and dressing customs is a long and intricate tale, marked by the relentless surge of globalisation. This tide ushered in diverse elements that, at first glance, appeared to clash with the hallowed traditions, birthing a state of hybridization.

This collection, a world unto itself, becomes a mirror reflecting our own existence, where cultures cast faint shadows of their former selves. For me, culture is a fluid entity, forever evolving and shape-shifting. While preserving tradition is paramount, celebration of this cultural metamorphosis is equally vital. Stagnation heralds demise.

In my collection, the journey was an exploration, a voyage from East to West, and from West to East, an ode to the fusion of cultures. Simultaneously, the art of knitwear burgeoned in significance. Recognizing its relevance to both Eastern and Western influences, it became an integral part of the collection. Collaboration with skilled craftswomen across Egypt ensued, culminating in the creation of knitwear pieces woven with a unique crochet technique.

This process was a harmonious blend of East and West, an embodiment of the very concept that underpinned the collection

How would you say you blend East and West, Incorporating these clashing cultures together?

After months of research, I underwent a shift in perspective regarding deculturation. Initially viewed with negativity as a cultural decline, my studies illuminated its true nature as an inevitable outcome of globalisation—a cultural transformation rather than a demise.

In my design process, I captured the essence of clashing cultures and deculturation by examining how traditional Egyptian clothing was now interwoven with Western sportswear. I mirrored this fusion by transforming Egyptian archetypes into Western counterparts and vice versa. Knitwear became a pivotal component, symbolising the modernization of traditional craft and the incorporation of traditional techniques into contemporary pieces.

The layered styling of the collection's looks served as a visual metaphor for deculturation, reflecting the interplay of cultures and traditions within Egyptian society.

What are your future aspirations as a fashion designer?

My future as a fashion designer holds a commitment to crafting meaningful work inspired by themes close to my heart. I aspire to delve deeper into Egyptian culture, unveiling its multifaceted layers and breathing new life into them.

What are the emotions you expect to invoke in people upon viewing ‘In Our Alleys’? 

My primary aim is to pique curiosity within those who encounter my creations. These looks are undeniably striking, verging on the kitschy, bursting with colours, and flaunting a  certain eccentricity. I hope viewers will be compelled to question, to ponder, to dissect the underlying narrative and message.

We’d love to know more about the technical aspect of the collection…

On the technical front of this collection, I crafted all the fabric pieces by hand in Paris on the  Parsons Paris Romainville Campus. My process began with prototyping each element, followed by sewing every piece myself.

The crochet and knitwear components, on the other hand, were a collaborative endeavour with skilled craftswomen hailing from various corners of Egypt. These artisans were introduced to me through Faten El Gredaly, who oversaw their work while I operated from Paris. The process involved providing them with my technical drawings, sketches, precise measurements, and even specifications for prints and colours.

To add another layer of uniqueness to the collection, I forged a partnership with Ventures Kolkata, a fabric manufacturer based in India. With them, I co-designed and brought to life a customised fabric—a striped sequin and mesh textile that adds a distinctive touch to the collection's aesthetic.

Amina Galal's "In Our Alleys" collection is an ode to the dynamic evolution of Egyptian culture, beautifully expressed through evocative designs  seamlessly blending tradition with the contemporary, and pushing the boundaries of craft. With a commitment to crafting meaningful work and delving deeper into Egyptian culture, Galal’s future as a fashion designer promises to be as vibrant as her thesis collection.

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