Q & A with Fashion Designer Maher Alami
CL: What is at the heart of your label?
MA: Alya Couture is named after my grandmother – it’s a tribute to her. She was a seamstress for society weddings and I would always accompany her through the market, looking for beads and all those gorgeous silk fabrics that we have in that part of the world [Jordan]. She taught me little secrets of the trade when I was young. Today, I try to make my gowns and dresses work year-round, and really look for longevity and value. Couture dresses in the past were something that were passed on from your great-grandmother to your grandmother, to your mother and now you, who gets to wear it again. This is what I really try to bring back – things that are very well made and of high-quality.
CL: What did you learn while studying at the prestigious fashion school Istituto Marangoni?
MA: I started [in Toronto] at the International Academy of Design and Technology. When I finished, I wanted to be in the big picture, so I thought about going to Paris, Milan, London or New York. Since I was already in North America and London fashion really wasn’t my kind of style, it was either Paris or Milan. I stuck with Milan because I didn’t know any Italian, so I thought maybe I’d pick it up there. I was initially in the one-year master program at Marangoni, which is the school where [Domenico] Dolce, from Dolce & Gabbana, and [Franco] Moschino attended. Because I speak a lot of languages, they would always send me to the fashion shows to work as a dresser and backstage help. I, of course, networked, and got a job with Nazareno Gabrielli, a long-established Italian name that does high-end suiting.
CL: Did you always know that you wanted to design gowns?
MA: I thought I was going to do ready-to-wear, but when the European Union started I couldn’t renew my visa and I had to leave, so I went to Dubai. When I was there, I worked as an image consultant and on television for a while, on shows like What Not to Wear. Then I started working with an event company doing special events with them and costumes. Because that part of the world has lots of events and is really demanding on evening wear, everybody started asking me to do dresses for them. I didn’t really know that I wanted to do gowns, and then I just fell in love with it all over again. It was sort of like digging back to my past.
CL: What is something you know you do differently than others?
MA: A lot of handwork – hand finishes that you can’t do on machines. Most of that time we had sewing machines, but real couture was all handmade. I’m fascinated with beading and I try to incorporate it in my collections as much as possible. I use a lot of chiffon because I like the fluidity and softness of it. It gives a nice silhouette when you walk in it. I always think about that; how is it going to look when the person walks into a room? How is it going to move on her when she’s dancing? Most of my dresses don’t really come to life unless somebody walks in them.