Interview: Khalid Al Qasimi on Blending Politics and Culture in Fashion and Design
By Caterina Minthe
Sheikh Khalid Al Qasimi, or simply “Khalid Qasimi” as he prefers to be called, was born in Sharjah to the emirate’s ruling royal family. His father, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, supported his artistic sensibilities from a young age and when he was nine, following winning an art scholarship, he left Sharjah for the United Kingdom, where he would spend the next 25 years of his life as an outsider building an impressive compilation of degrees and an increased curiosity for the world around him. Today, Khalid lives between Sharjah and London, where he balances his passions for architecture as a member of Sharjah’s urban planning council, and his fashion house Qasimi.
Here, he speaks with Caterina Minthe on how his multicultural background and burning interests in politics and the world around him are infused in his menswear brand. Its D.N.A. may appear “calm and collected” on the surface, but it retains a politically rousing message within its finely tailored threads.
CATERINA MINTHE: When one considers the work the Qasimi royal family has done to drive art and design within the emirate of Sharjah, today a creative hub that is recognized around the world, it’s really no surprise that you ended up with a fashion house and architecture firm of your own.
KHALID QASIMI: Indeed, I grew up with a lot of creativity in my household, and my twin sister Hoor is the director of the Sharjah Art Foundation. Everyone close to me was pushing me to do fashion, but I kind of rebelled against that idea because I don’t like people telling me what to do.
Bearing in mind your pedigree, I’m sure that your idea of “rebelling” is slightly different to that of others.
Perhaps [laughing]. I instead found a course called Spatial Design, and got into a free-thinking and experimental design school. So rather than going into fashion, I did a second degree in architecture; my first was in Spanish and French literature.
Do you consider architecture to be the pinnacle of design education?
Yes, when it comes to design, everything stems from architecture. I wanted to really push myself to the top of the league and get as much education as possible. But following a long education in architecture, I still wasn’t satisfied—I still had the itch to do fashion.
You came to your senses.
So to speak. I worked a couple of practices within architecture and then I went on a long trip around South America for three months, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I remember sitting down in the early 2000s in an Internet café and researching all the courses that were available for fashion in the UK. I applied to a course at Central Saint Martins and got in.
You then started your fashion exploration in womenswear.
Yeah, and then a few years later, I started showing in London. My first collection was both men’s and women’s actually and that lasted for a few seasons. Then I refocused on womenswear completely. I was then invited to show at Paris Fashion Week for menswear on the official calendar and I did that for six seasons.
What drove you to ultimately move away from womenswear?
I still enjoy it but womenswear takes a lot to finance and push. Menswear is a growing industry, and I think that the reason I wanted to focus on menswear is because it’s something that I understand perfectly, and it was also about breaking my name within a market that was still young (back then). Womenswear is hugely saturated. It was a business decision.
You’ve been in the industry for years now (since 2008), but when I go to your website, you only feature your spring men’s collection; it looks like you’ve cleaned the slate.
After showing during PFW, I took a hiatus. I needed to reevaluate where I was going, restructure the company, and see how I could push it even further. Taking a step back was the best thing I could have done for myself and for my brand.
Your current work references politics, traditions, and cultures. What is your fashion design agenda?
I think that at the moment, things are really “heavy.” There’s a lot of darkness and fear and political imbalance. That is also reflected in fashion. I wanted to go against the gamut.
Yes. I wanted to produce something minimal, clean, and sophisticated. Something with no “noise.”
Your recent collection is called “False Flags;” that in itself is a pretty bold, political statement.
“False flags” is a term used when an attack happens in the name of something it is not. In other words, the truth is edited out from the big picture. This collection is about minimal military, pacifying the idea of military, and merging that with a Middle Eastern silhouette, which for me, is peaceful, elegant, and clean.
I also incorporated sheer fabrics, which has to do with layering and this has to do with ideas of clouding the truth.
I’ve noticed that even the pinstripes are distorted.
Yes, there’s an actual distortion within the stripe itself. And for me, that distortion comes from ideas of how the news is manipulated and how a lot of information that trickles down to the individual is distorted. The stripes were referenced from flags, the way they move, and the way they’re deformed.
Do you find yourself self-referencing in this collection?
I don’t necessarily like to, but yes, in this collection I did. And now, it’s something that is important to me. Here, I’ve explored the ideas of immigration. There’s a community in London that lives around Bethlehem Green, which is a Muslim community, and one of the images I had from the mood board was of a beautiful photograph of these young Muslim guys leaving a mosque on a Friday, and they were mixing sportswear with their Muslim dress. That’s maybe the hybrid result of living in the UK and being a Muslim.
Indeed ideas of immigration are very current in the media right now. You belong to the ruling family of Sharjah, you are at its nucleus, but do think that you fit in?
In a sense, I guess. I don’t know…I’ve always considered myself to be an outsider wherever I am. I’m too Western to fit in in the Middle East, and too Middle Eastern to fit in in the West. At the same time, I don’t think I’m the kind of person that wants to fit in either way. I like to observe.