DUBAI: The abaya is a sartorial staple for women across the Gulf. The loose robe-like garment, which dates back 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia, constitutes national dress in countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, serving as a symbol of modesty.
Today, the abaya is a far cry from the plain black cloak of the past — as elegant as that can be. With time, the floor-length robe has evolved into a fashion statement, with many different designs available. The new wave of garments, while engineered for modesty, features contemporary elements like jewel-encrusted palm trees, black lace trim and embroidered hearts, and come in experimental and playful colors, silhouettes and fabrics that are anything but basic.
One such label reimagining the traditional garment is Wings.
Wings is a handmade abaya label founded by Emirati designer Al Anood Al-Mansoori. Inspired by the movement of birds, Al-Mansoori has produced a lineup of culturally modest attire in powerfully outspoken colors and fabrics that will ensure you are the best-dressed person in any room.
“I have always been inspired by the boldness of an independent woman,” proclaimed Al-Mansoori. “All my life I have worked toward becoming one myself,” added the electrical engineer turned fashion designer.
“I am pretty much driven by the thought of freedom and breaking through,” she explained, hence the name Wings, which boasts multiple meanings.
The fashion designer, who reveals that she is deeply influenced by sci-fi movies and TV shows such as “The Matrix” and “The X-Files,” is currently studying for her master’s degree in artificial intelligence, and it is clear how biology, physics and algorithms inform her designs.
One bestselling piece is a graphic printed chiffon abaya that comes with a matching stretch jersey dress and opera gloves, which can also be worn on their own. The design’s print evokes the chronophotographic lines of bird wing movements.
The designer’s inspirations also culminated into an expansive lineup of edgy and contemporary looks that include an exquisite black overlay embroidered with a giant bird on the back and creations that merge the trench coat with the traditional abaya and can easily double as outerwear.
However, Al-Mansoori states that having unique creations is only one element of a successful clothing company.
“To thrive in such a local business, you can’t just be good at designing garments,” she said. “You have to master project and relationship management. You should always be up to date with worldwide trends in the fashion industry and any new entrepreneurship hacks.”
She explained, for instance, that she is using her education in artificial intelligence to see how she can predict her customers’ behaviors and thus improve customer loyalty through her findings.
However, judging by how quickly her creations run out of stock online, it is safe to presume that Wings is steadily on the rise — no fancy app or elaborate program necessary.