Elizabethan Edge

Groundbreaking British-Syrian designer, Nabil El Nayal, has bridged technology and fashion with 3D printing. The autumn-winter collection speaks volumes of art history and Euro-eastern dialogue, which even got Karl Lagerfeld talking…

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Let’s start off with your roots. You’re of Syrian origin and were brought
up in the U.K. How did you come to be a designer?

I’ve always felt that fashion chose me! In Syria I used to play in my father’s fabric shop. I would climb up the hundreds of rolls of fabrics and look down onto a sea of colour, print and metallic embroideries. It was a huge change when we moved to Sheffield in 1998 but, whilst studying fashion in Manchester and London, I found myself and decided where I wanted to be. I won the womenswear award at Graduate Fashion Week and applied for the British Fashion Council scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art. I still feel like I’m just at the start though. There’s a long way to go yet!

What does your Elizabethan inspired collection speak to? We just love the ruffles..!

I’m actually currently undertaking a PHd in Elizabethan dress combined with modern sportswear construction techniques! I’ve been obsessed with Elizabethan era techniques for as long as I can remember and studying history has always kept me mindful that it’s important to create things which last – to create a legacy. Just as obsessed as I am with the Elizabethans, I want future generations to look back at this moment and be inspired by what we do. I want to cut through the noise and create pieces that a woman will keep in her wardrobe forever. I want to create meaningful pieces which tell a story and reflects a moment in time through my research and innovation.

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Why Elizabethan in the first place?

I’ve always been very inspired by Queen Elizabeth I. I design for strong, passionate women who like to challenge convention and are not afraid to stand out from the crowd. Elizabeth was the perfect embodiment of those traits.

“I’ve been obsessed with Elizabethan era techniques for as long as I can remember and studying history has always kept me mindful that it’s important to create things which last – to create a legacy”

What’s your favourite piece in the collection and why?

The ‘Elizabethan Wing’ dress, which incorporates cutting-edge bonding techniques
with a silk tulle overlay is my favourite piece. This collection is the first chapter of my Elizabethan Sportswear story and incorporates modern sportswear finishing techniques, such as, sonic welding along with Elizabethan construction methods, including hand smocking and pleating.

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Tell us a little bit about your 3D printing technique. Is this a trend of the moment?

I found out I was actually the first designer to use 3D Printing on the catwalk for my Royal College of Art collection in 2010! It enabled me to visualise ideas quickly and accurately, that I couldn’t have achieved by any other means. I’m also currently researching the use of 3D scanning in fashion design because I believe it’s critical to always search for innovative techniques to inform your practice. Otherwise you are just repeating what has been done before. What would be the point in that?

We also love the fact that you’ve got a clear blend of Middle Eastern and British history in your pieces. How and why have you created that dialogue in your collection?

I find it comes very naturally to me. Obviously, being half English and half Syrian
helps! It’s not something. I really have to think about. It’s instinctive.

“Karl saw the pleated, bonded shirt at our showroom in Paris and exclaimed “I love it, I love it, I love it.” He has always been such an inspiration to me. Meeting him, listening to his thoughts, his advice and hearing his ideas made me respect him even more”

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Now we’ve read you made a shirt for Karl Lagerfeld! How did that come about and are you planning on collaborating with him in the future?

Karl saw the pleated, bonded shirt at our showroom in Paris and exclaimed “I love it, I
love it, I love it” followed by “We must buy this for Amanda Harlech”. It was such an
extraordinary moment I still can’t quite believe it actually happened. Karl has always
been such an inspiration to me. Meeting him, listening to his thoughts, his advice
and hearing his ideas made me respect him even more. He has an extraordinarily vast
knowledge of history and culture which allows him to instantly contextualise both
references to the past and cutting-edge innovations. I think if we were to collaborate, we would embrace the latest technology whilst striving to create a timeless and powerful femininity; creating new history.

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Has the Middle Eastern market warmed to your designs?

Yes! The reaction has been extraordinary. The press have been so interested and supportive of the brand. I think the Middle Eastern influence that is clearly visible in a British brand spurs on patriotism for them! It’s that mix of East and West in my work that makes me unique. I think that I have yet to be discovered as a brand in the Middle East but I am getting there step by step. I am extremely proud of my heritage.

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