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The constellation of North African designers is a mix of sustainable, family-oriented, heritage-proud, and local-producing creatives all driven by their personal stories. 

by innocent ndlovu

Dec 23, 2020

On the 17th of December, 2020, Vogue Arabia announced its annual Fashion Prize winners at a glitzy event held in Dubai. Intimately hosted at the Armani Hotel, the function welcomed the region’s fashion insiders and celebrities with entertainment provided by Lebanese composer and pianist Guy Manoukian. The competition, which focused on sustainability keeping with Vogue Arabia’s mission to invest in ecosystem development, was made up of 10 finalists judged by a group of local and international industry leaders including Vogue Arabia editor-in-chief Manuel Arnaut, former editor-in-chief of Chinese Vogue Angelica Cheung, HH Princess Noura bint Faisal Al Saud (who founded Saudi Fashion Week), and Net-a-Porter’s global buying director Elizabeth von de Goltz.

Vogue Arabia launched the Fashion Prize endowment in 2015 to support emerging fashion designers from the Arab world and Arab diaspora. The prize offers creatives from the region financial grants, retail opportunities and business mentorship. Five of this year’s 10 finalists were from North Africa, including the biggest winner of the night, Moroccan couturier Mohamed Benchellal. The other five finalists from the Middle East were Emergency Room’s Eric Mathieu Ritter, Harith Hashim of the brand Harithand, and Lama Jouni (all from Lebanon), as well as Saudi Arabian designers Yousef Akbar and sister duo Sarah and Siham Albinali of the brand Lurline.

Benchellal was awarded a financial grant valued at US $150,000 as first prize. Fellow Moroccan couture designer Karim Adduchi was the first runner-up and took home US $50,000, while joint second runners-up Lurline and Jouni each received US $25,000. Discover the African brands nominated in this year's competition below. 

the winners

Mohamed Benchellal

morocco / netherlands


Winner of this year's Vogue Arabia Fashion Prize, Mohamed Benchellal launched his namesake couture label Benchellal in Amsterdam in 2015. The Moroccan designer’s garments are characterized by both edgy and glamorous whimsical creations. Under his vision, a trench coat is transformed into a voluminous, floor-sweeping ball gown and a tuxedo shirt inspires a delicate, drop-waist, layered tulle dress. “I’m always drawn to the world of elegance, beauty and timelessness, [and] throughout life, how the woman is portrayed in an iconic way. Women want to be seen in a beautiful and elegant way, and I can give them that,” the designer reveals in Vogue Arabia's December issue. Already a fixture on red carpets in the Netherlands where the designer is based, and in fashion magazines like Elle and Grazia, the brand’s vision is clear: Benchellal believes in ethical and sustainable practices and imagines a future in which sustainability and couture are intertwined.

Photo: @Benchellal

Designer Mohamed Benchellal. Photo: @Benchellal

Photo: @Benchellal

Karim Adduchi 

morocco / netherlands


It wasn’t until his university years that Vogue Arabia Fashion Prize first runner-up Karim Adduchi decided to launch his eponymous couture womenswear label. The designer and illustrator who was born into a family of tailors in Morocco, grew up in Spain and later moved to Amsterdam where he is currently based. Inspired by his Moroccan heritage, crafts, and architecture and armed with both a BA in Fine Arts from the University of Barcelona and a BA in Fashion Design from Gerrit Rietveld Academie, his designs are crafted from richly textured fabrics with striking colors and patterns reminiscent of Moroccan architecture and decor. “The silhouette of a Moroccan door or building can become a garment with the local textures,” Adduchi tells Industrie Africa when asked about how he fuses Moroccan heritage with architecture into his designs. Adduchi’s focus is not simply creating beautiful clothes. “Fashion must be used to draw attention and create diversity,” he says. The designer's goal is to travel around Africa working with artisans to develop new products. His passion for craftsmanship has so far led him to work with local artisans in Morocco on a small but impactful scale. “For me, it’s very personal and relevant to maintain and protect the heritage [of] Arab countries and their crafts,” he says.

Photo: Courtesy of Karim Adduchi

Designer Karim Adduchi. Photo: Courtesy of Karim Adduchi

Photo: Courtesy of Karim Adduchi

the other finalists

Jude Benhalim

Egypt

Jude Benhalim launched her Cairo-based jewelry line in 2011 when she was 17 years old. Born and brought up in Egypt, Benhalim works with her mother who is her business partner. Her range of accessories are handmade in Cairo by a team of artisans using sterling silver, gold plated brass and custom-made resin stones. In her designs, you’ll find calligraphic details, geometric shapes, and architectural influences conspiring to yield intricate, feminine pieces, inspired by the fearless female spirit. “I always take the most time working on my mood boards, making sure I know exactly what textures, motifs, trends, colors I will translate in my sketches,” she says about her design process. The label has found global supporters in actress Vanessa Williams, musician Jessie J, and models Kendall Jenner and Candice Swanepoel who've all worn pieces from the brand. Their latest FW'20 collection, Eruption “pays homage to the beauty that follows an eruption.” Designed from recycled metals and resin stones, “the collection is symbolic of what is within that powerful burst that drives women to new dimensions and discovery of their strength and inner beauty,” the brand reveals. Whether it's a cutout detail on “lava earrings'' or overlaying decorative textures, Benhalim designs with the evolving modern woman in mind. 

Photo: Courtesy of Jude Benhalim

Designer Jude Benhalim with her mother & business partner Rana Al Azm

Photo: Courtesy of Jude Benhalim

Ilyes Ouali 

Algeria / united kingdom


 Influenced by his mother’s style, Algerian ready-to-wear womenswear designer Ilyes Ouali launched his label in 2016. Growing up in Algeria, Ouali, now 29, would go through his mothers’ clothes, cut them up and redesign them to create something new. The designer has been making waves since graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Fashion Design from Regent’s University London in 2018, and winning Fashion Star Arabia—a reality television fashion competition—in 2019. His designs consist of versatile evening wear pieces that can easily be dressed up or down and he describes his brand aesthetic as “feminine, statement evening pieces that effortlessly stand out.” Based between London and Blida, Algeria Ouali runs the label with the support of his mother who manages the embroidery studio in Algeria, and his sister who sources fabrics and embellishments (in his new FW’21 collection, for example, he uses cord embellishments to define the patterns of mesh dresses and blouses). “As an upcoming Arab designer, I’m proud to be representing my country,” he explains to Industrie Africa via email. As a finalist, Ouali hopes to inspire fellow Arab designers to pursue their dreams.  

Photo: Courtesy of Ilyes Ouali

Designer Ilyes Ouali. Photo: Courtesy of Ilyes Ouali

Photo: Courtesy of Ilyes Ouali 

Born in Exile

libya / Tunisia

Founded by Libyan designer Ibrahim Shebani in 2018, Born in Exile is a womenswear ready-to-wear label based in Tunisia. Shebani uses his heritage as a great source of inspiration to create casualwear inspired by architecture and street fashion adorned by lavish embroidery frequently found in Libyan traditional decorations and attire. A denim jacket or pair of mules by the brand is decorated with pearls and sparkly hardware, for instance. “It was natural for me to see these things (decorations in architecture and indigenous garments) and turn them into ready-to-wear,” Shebani notes.

On his educational background, he tells Industrie Africa that “architecture was the only artistic field I [could] study in my city Benghazi.” Before launching his brand, Shebani worked in media and marketing for eleven years. He describes his aesthetic as “maximalist romantic [meets] street style.” His collections and the brand name represent the designer's own life as an immigrant. Shebani was born in Germany and brought up in Egypt before moving to Libya at age 12. His SS’21 collection I’MMIGRANT explores the process of migration. “The collection takes inspiration from the sea and the transition of culture and traditions via ports throughout history,” he explains in the press notes sent to Industrie Africa.

Photo: Courtesy of Born in Exile

Designer Ibrahim Shebani. Photo: Courtesy of Born in Exile

Photo: Courtesy of Born in Exile

Next March, this year’s class of Vogue Arabia’s Fashion Prize finalists are set to showcase their designs at an exclusive Fashion Prize showroom during Paris Fashion Week, taking their unique stories beyond the confines of their community and onto the world’s premier fashion stage, a feat fitting of how these designers have crafted a global aesthetic underscored by their heritage and personal experiences.