Kuwaiti designer Sheikha Souad J. Al-Sabah opens the doors to her personal archive of vintage kaftans and shares her thoughts on the garment’s enduring cross-cultural appeal.
When did you start collecting vintage kaftans?
I began collecting vintage kaftans about 10 years ago during my travels. I’ve always been fascinated by other cultures and how they interact, and no item of clothing seems to encapsulate this cross-cultural meshing of ideas better than the kaftan. Although it’s associated with the Middle East, you find variations of it all over the world.
The pieces in my vintage collection trace the path of the Silk Road, an ancient network of trading routes that linked Asia to the West. You’ll find examples from Mongolia, Persia, India and the Mediterranean. I hope to eventually share my collection with a wider audience through an exhibition.
Does travel play an important role in your work?
Travel has always played a huge role in my design process. I visit places to absorb their culture in terms of design and aesthetics. I’m constantly in search of unique textures, patterns and colors; whether I’m handpicking fabrics in the souks of Istanbul and Damascus, or browsing the offerings at Liberty in London.
Is there one place that inspires you the most?
I’m particularly attached to India, which I visit regularly for its rich culture, colors and history. It’s a humbling experience to be there and to blend in. For a designer, it’s also an amazing environment to grow in, because you’re exposed to so many kinds of fabrics, printing techniques and embroideries.
What is the enduring appeal of your kaftans?
There is often a cross-cultural dialogue within my designs. A single kaftan alone could touch on Ottoman, Moroccan, Japanese and Indian influences. Yet that dialogue also continues with the wearer. It appeals to a wide variety of women, regardless of where they are in the world and compliments different body types. During the 1960’s “kaftan chic” was de rigueur amongst the most fashionable women in Europe and America, including icons such as Marella Agnelli, Mica Ertegün and Lee Radziwill. Today it still retains its allure amongst a new generation in both the West and the Middle East.