The Emirati designer giving modest fashion a travel twist

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UAE_Twisted Roots_Fashion designer Latifa Al Gurg_for cover pic

Photo: Latifa Al-Gurg, fashion designer, Twisted Roots, UAE

Latifa Al-Gurg’s background couldn’t be further removed from fashion: her father works in the construction business and her mother in healthcare, and she herself is an electrical engineer by qualification. Yet the Emirati–Danish 35-year-old has in two short years created a fashion label that has carved out a niche of its own: travel-wear for the jet-setting Muslim woman.

The brand was born out of a personal need. “We travel a lot as a family, and I didn’t really find a one-stop place to get everything I need for travelling; I always had to go to lots of different shops to put together an outfit. And trying to find a scarf especially was a real struggle!” she said. “I found it quite puzzling that in a place like this, where there is so much demand for something a bit more conservative, there is nothing out there to fit this need.”

UAE_Twisted Roots_Fashion designer Latifa Al Gurg

Photo: Latifa Al-Gurg, fashion designer, Twisted Roots, UAE

This nagged at the back of her mind for several years until 2012, when she came across a short course on starting a fashion label from the London College of Fashion. She decided to sign up for it for a lark, but it led her to take up several more courses until she was fully immersed in the business of fashion. By December 2014, she felt ready to launch her own label, Twisted Roots.

“I didn’t want to do a mass-market brand, but rather a premium label,” she said. “But I also wanted fabrics and an aesthetic that portrays luxury, as that is what clients in this region want.”

UAE_Twisted Roots collection

Photo courtesy of Twisted Roots

The brand retails in Dubai at select boutiques, department stores and pop-up markets as well as internationally in cities such as London, and the clientele is quite diverse. Yet it is clearly designed with the region’s women in mind, with tunics, trousers, jackets, long dresses and shirts, and a range of scarves featuring heavily in all the collections. 

MODESTY IS KEY

“When we design, modesty is definitely a big consideration,” Latifa said. “It is all designed so that even if one particular piece isn’t obviously modest (a silk camisole or crop top, for example) you can pair it with certain things to make it a modest outfit. But I wanted to make it easy to wear, practical and versatile.”

UAE_Twisted Roots collection

Photo courtesy of Twisted Roots

That is where the brand’s travel-friendliness comes into play, as all the pieces are designed to pack and wear well; feel comfortable, thanks to the use of natural materials such as silk and cotton; and mix and match easily to create outfits that can be worn in different ways with pairing and layering.

“I think my designs mirror my heritage, bridging the conservativeness of my Emirati side and the minimalistic silhouette and layering aspects of Scandinavian fashion together in one brand,” Latifa explained.

UAE_Twisted Roots collection

Photo courtesy of Twisted Roots

While her very first collection celebrated this Emirati-meets-Danish aesthetic (think luxurious fabrics and embroidery combined with muted colours and knits), each season since has been inspired by a destination she has been to or wants to go to. With a deep-dive approach to research, she draws up mood boards of the place’s culture, covering everything from costumes to nature, cuisine to design, before distilling it into a specific theme.

Her latest autumn–winter 2017 collection is titled Prague, and as the name suggests, it features wintry colors such as teal and purple, warm jackets and cozy knits, with feminine details such as delicate pleating and blush accents. Some of the label’s staple styles, such as long-sleeved t-shirts and shirts, remain consistent across collections, though the colors and minor detailing are changed.

UAE_Twisted Roots collection
Photo courtesy of Twisted Roots

That she designs for the modest market is also evident in other ways: she got a mill in China to make a custom silk weave that is lightweight but not transparent, and she developed the sizing to be “more forgiving” based on feedback from family and friends.

Latifa has sent collections to people’s homes for trial, and she’s also been known to open her studio on festive holidays to get a piece to a client with a last-minute travel requirement. Combining her insider knowhow of the market with this highly personalised, customer-centric service has led to the brand being retailed in leading department stores such as Robinson’s and Fenwick of Bond Street.

However, Latifa believes that the young label still has a long way to go. Expansion to the rest of the Middle East as well as more international locations is on the cards, but in her signature pragmatic style, she is treading cautiously and analytically. “It is a journey,” she remarked, “and that’s the important bit for me: I’ve learnt so much so far.”

UAE_Twisted Roots_Fashion designer Latifa Al Gurg

Photo: Latifa Al-Gurg, fashion designer, Twisted Roots, UAE / Courtesy of Twisted Roots

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