21-year-old Egyptian-Dutch artist, Omar Abdellatif, recently quit his nine to five marketing job to focus on himself and “only do what I want to do”, he says before adding, “I like to call myself a free man”. During his spare time, Abdellatif has been busy building Arab Lab, his latest project, where he experiments with Western fashion and Arab symbols. “A bit like Dexter’s laboratory”, he explains. The result is a series of creations of practical contemporary accessories inspired by traditional Arab wear, aptly titled Arab experiments.
Growing up in Amsterdam, Abdellatif always felt kind of alienated from his Arab identity. And like many other emerging regional designers (like Shukri Lawrence and Yasmine Badran, who both use fashion to voice their opinions) Abdellatif uses artistic experimentation to reconnect with his Arabness. “I miss simple things like eating sandwiches of foul and ta3miya (fava beans and falafel) without feeling different”, he says. Inspired by the history of the Arab world, its streets and his IG feed, with Arab experiments, Abdellatif hopes to challenge perceptions of the Arab world and social norms.
While nonetheless rejecting to label his work as militant, his creations question principles like secularism and neutrality, which despite being labelled as objective, are subjectively defined by Western society. “Why is it still not really accepted as normal to wear a thobe in the West?” he provocatively asks.
For now, his creations include a minimalist shoulder bag made out of a prayer mat in three colour ways: green tea, blue wave and red carpet as well as a reinterpretation of the belt bag, which he calls the utility belt, inspired by traditional Omani and Yemeni wear – “with a space for your Khanjar or Janbiya (a short sword)”, he adds. “I really wish I could carry a sword like that on me. I think it’s a shame that these traditions aren’t common”.
Influenced by such contrasting places, Abdellatif’s designs perfectly marry both elements of his heritage. While retaining strong Arab and Islamic characteristics, his designs still curiously appear relatively urban in their aesthetic. And in our current age where comfort prevails, the Arab experiments are actually super wearable – and this stems from his references. As he notes, “Ultimately, what I want is to create bridges between people by using Western and Arab representations.”