Fatima Al Qadiri’s Sartorial Tastes
The Kuwaiti Brooklyn-based composer, musician, curator and artist talks to D’NA about her evolving fashion tastes, growing up in Kuwait, and how it all inspires her artistically.
What is your earliest fashion memory?
When I was 13, I was addicted to the now-cult, British comedy series, Absolutely Fabulous. It was more of a consciousness-raising moment than a “fashion memory.” One of the main characters, Eddie, who although employed a pot-pouri fashion sense, was a strict, almost religious devotee of Christian Lacroix. Another character, Bubble, wore the most extreme and outlandish outfits, which really made me reconsider my hopelessly drab state of dress. The show –a hilarious dig at two women: the kind of aging, shopaholic, hard partying, PR and fashion editor types– gave me an early glimpse, however achingly sarcastic, into the fashion industry that was invaluable.
How did your collection of designer garments come about?
I grew up in Kuwait in the early 90’s, right after the first Gulf War, which was a conservative time in the country. I used to read a cocktail of fashion magazines like The Face and I.D., which made me aware of designers outside the big name brands. But buying designer clothes in Kuwait as a teenager is not a remarkable act. A lot of kids in my school had far better style than I did. The difference is that I unknowingly bought timeless pieces that I’m still able to wear today.
Twice a year, these sales would take place at the local Villa Moda store, and no one seemed interested in the racks of clothes by Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela, Comme des Garçons and Helmut Lang. So I would purchase them at ridiculously low prices. As a 16 year old at the time, I didn’t realize I was building a collection. A few years ago I was walking down the street in New York, when a man stopped me to ask about the Yohji Yamamoto skirt I was wearing. He told me it was one of only 10 to 15 examples ever made. I’ve had it for 13 years now, and it’s probably the most valuable item in my closet.
Right: Vintage ‘90s Gaultier Homme blazer, shirt by Margiela. Left: Gaultier blazer, paired with Martin Margiela white patchwork halter. Images by Dom Smith, 2011.
Do your experiences of growing up in Kuwait inform your work?
Growing up in Kuwait is responsible for the central themes in my work. I’ve always been intrigued by androgyny and the gender codes we apply to dress, particularly within the context of Kuwait. My fascination with gender performance began with the legendary Kuwaiti theater and TV actor Abdul Aziz al-Nimesh, who routinely played the roles of elderly and mature women. Al-Nimesh is an inspiration to me for his use of an older generation of women’s parlance in his theatrical performances, which were thankfully documented by Kuwait TV for future generations to emulate.
You can say that my obsession with the concept of gender performance informs my personal style in an obvious manner. I tend to avoid overly “girly” clothing, and in the occasions when I do wear the latter, something else has to appear butch. Even if it’s just my personality!
How important a role does fashion play in your work as an artist?
Style unites my body of work. In music, I don’t subscribe to confining myself to any specific genre, but rather create interpretations of existing musical styles. In my visual work the importance of modes of dress is more obvious. Khalid al Gharaballi, my main visual collaborator, is also a stylist. Our joint fascination with fashion clearly invades our practice, especially in the exploration of marginal identities.
Mirrored dress by Marios Schwab, photographed by Dalia Mahmoud, 2009.
Your published work of art called Pâté, captures the aesthetic evolution of Kuwait from the 1970’s to the present. How did the project come about?
Pâté was put together in a very organic and unplanned way. I was showing some Kuwaiti magazines to my friend and collaborator Lauren Boyle. She was showing me some vintage fashion magazines from her own collection and the idea hit us. It was assembled entirely in New York from magazine cutouts, objects and photographs in our possession; so it didn’t actually involve a specific shoot for Pâté in Kuwait. A prolonged selection process that began in 2007 ended up forming a loose catalogue of Kuwaiti taste. Both Lauren and I were sadly incapable of creating a physical magazine and that’s where Jon Santos, an old friend of mine and talented graphic designer, came in and worked his book design magic, basically saving the Pâté concept from oblivion.
During the 1970’s, Kuwait was experiencing rapid economic and social change. Does that period resonate with you?
Of course my parents generation always reminisce about the freedoms of that time – Kuwait in the 60s -70s. Life was a lot less corporate and rat race-like. It was a time of cultural investment -there was government funding for art and theater production. A lot less pollution, no traffic jams, and greater bio-diversity in terms of flora and fauna. There's very little that remains from that period aside from residences and Mbarikiya, the old market. Kuwaitis love to re-invent themselves, and what is considered old is often abandoned or demolished to make way for the new. That is why I chose to include images of rusting satellite dishes and the interiors of abandoned palaces in Pâté.
Margiela coat, Yohji dress shoes and custom made pants, Photo by Dom Smith, 2008.
How have your own tastes in fashion evolved?
At the moment I'm really feeling the corporate/sporty look, which is wholly inspired by the DIS Magazine editorial team: Solomon Chase, David Toro and last but not least: Lauren Boyle.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there’s more Margiela in my wardrobe than any other designer. But honestly, I buy whatever I think looks good. It’s too limiting to just buy certain designers. My last purchase was a pair of knock- off, camouflage-print sneakers from a men’s sports mall in Kuwait City. My two favorite designers in New York happen to be close friends and collaborators: Telfar Clemens, and HOOD BY AIR (by Shayne Oliver).
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