Qasimi on Qasimi: An investigative chat with Khalid
Feature article by Marlo Saalmink for FuckingYoung! OUTSIDER Spring/Summer 2106 print edition
Qasimi on Qasimi:An investigative chat with Khalid
by Marlo Saalmink
With the fashion industry in turmoil, appraising the latest spring designer transfers, it is perhaps wisest to sink our teeth into some understated elegance. Let us strip away all the frills and frivolities. What more could we wish for than some well-made, effortlessly curated garments. Fashion in its foundation is meant to be worn. Nothing more, nothing less. As another wave of novel creatives roam the already quite saturated menswear market, one simply has to single out the cream of the crop. And by this we mean: clothes that truly pack a punch!
Outsider or insider, in this indus- try of ours it is often all about having a name. When yours is Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, a completely different story can be told. Khalid originally hails from the Sharjah Emirate, maintains a minimalistic atelier in London’s Soho district and remains firmly rooted in both Western and Middle Eastern culture. Each eponymous QASIMI collection is a profound result of his refreshingly hybrid existence. This former Central Saint Martins (CSM) no- mad is not one for many words. For this issue, he provides us with his focused take on design in snippets of conversations, we would come to have in-between stops, as Khalid hopped around the Emirates. This man is a striking creative who effortlessly fuses his modest nature and aptitude to enrich sartorial understatement with intelligent design narratives. I guess we could all do with a little dose of QASIMI.
Fucking Young! — Khalid, you are currently back home, way- faring and exploring. Would you describe yourself as an inquisitive youngster, back in those early days? Khalid — Indeed, I was very curious when I was young and I remain that way today. During my younger years, I always re- searched and discovered artists, photographers, designers and architects. When I grew up further, I felt intrigued by exploring the world and seeking new horizons. This sentiment came from having a constant thirst to explore and learn new things, across these various disciplines. I also collect- ed magazines and visuals constantly, surrounding myself with images that would inspire me.
Was your family in Sharjah supportive of such endeavors? Khalid — Yes, they were most supportive. When I grew up, my parents always encouraged us to be creative and to explore. Next to this, they were keen on pushing us to develop our talents in a most positive way. This was very motivational, important and relevant to me.
So, what gave you that nal nudge to venture into the fashion world?
Khalid — This decision was very much connected with my time spent at the Architecture Association, where I looked at the foundation of construction - studying shapes, formation and material techniques. I always wanted to go into fashion, but it was only after my initial architectural education that I made the decision to go for it. It simply came as a natural conclusion. My return to CSM further fully sealed the deal.
As you know, in this issue, we investigate the role of outsiders, in the most sincere sense of the word. Would you consider yourself one? Khalid — Well, I actually always think of myself as an outsider. Already back in school, I never fitted in. Today, I still don’t feel I really fit in, either in the UK or back home in the Emirates. Perhaps this is due to my rather hybrid existence, hopping on both continents. I always like to say that I am perhaps too Eastern for the West and too Western for the East.
In your earliest collections, your incorporated stark references from your early years spent studying architecture. Do these remain relevant to you today? Khalid — Yes, in a way they do. For me, it has to do with high- lighting the construction of the garment. In the past seasons, I have made it a point to really focus on emphasizing this and using the construction lines to decorate or subtly adorn some of the pieces. It is very important to me that the finishes are done in a perfect manner. Henceforth, I highly care about the connection a man has when he wears my pieces. Details are part of this, as they trigger curiosity and add a new dimension to the relation you develop with a garment, over time.
At rst glance, some people might perceive your work as rather understated. Yet, it em- bodies so much. Why did you choose to strip the look down in order to present these perfected yet silent garments? Khalid — For me, it’s important to retain a focus towards the garments. I wanted to create a collection that invites people to discover the brand and the story behind each piece for them- selves. S/S16 was designed in a very stripped back way, but with lots of details for the customer to discover each time the pieces are worn. It was the same principle that I followed when designing the new web- site. It was important to me to create a page that was much ‘quieter’ than most other fashion websites. It had to be a place where it was actually a pleasure to stop by, linger, and shop.
I also wanted to explore the moving illustration of the treacherous nature of the sea, referencing the first Yemeni community grafting in the shipyards, for your A/W16 collection. How did you translate this? Khalid — Indeed, the Yemeni community of the South Shields was the starting point for the entire A/W16 collection. I felt like exploring this idea of immigration and assimilation into a new community. From that point, I developed a more profound study of the sea, the elements and the protection of the body. I designed some hybrid coats that envelop and shield. Next to this, I crafted my own personal take on the classic sailor trouser in an exclusive ‘sea motion’ wool. Finally, to enhance movement and explore graphics, we worked with illustrator Petra Börner on our prints, which feature “Yemeni” orals and traditional rope designs.
When you mention Yemeni orals, I immediately have to think of this collision of Western urban references and London-ism with the elongated sartorial silhouette, that is so reminiscent of your homeland. How do you see this? Khalid — For me these parts you touch upon are interconnected. All of these elements reflect my journey. It began when I was born in the Emirates, following me along the way as I grew up in London, a highly multicultural city. This made for an interesting and eclectic backdrop, from which I continuously feel inspired. When it comes to the narrative and digging beyond the surface, I am very much interested in politics and conceptual idea of occupation.
You mention the Big Smoke - London - as your home, where you work, play and exhale. Could you describe your personal connection to this diverse metropolis?
Khalid — My heritage lies in the Middle East, however, I grew up and studied so much in the UK, with London as my foundation. It continues to be one of my most important sources of inspiration. There is this energy in London, as the city boast such an interesting eclectic mix of people - I simply love it here. Our studio is based in Soho, so there is always something to see and so much goes on around here. It’s an area with a great creative history too. For me, past, present and future truly collide in this hugely diverse city.
There also is this recurrent theme of appropriated military references in your work. I was curious as to why this is, and how you will continue to subtly interweave your rhetoric on history, conflict and politics?
Khalid—As I grew up in a region where occupation, war and conflict are constantly recurrent themes, I naturally felt a need to extensively explore these narratives. Today, these military references have simply become a part of the Qasimi DNA. Sometimes I make them a strong point or central theme within the collection, and on other occasions they exist more quietly in the background. This depends on the mood, research and feel that I want to give to the garments. However, these military cuts remain innate to the silhouette.
If we tack back to, say, 2012, you were still dissecting both women’s and men’s collections and chose to continue with the latter (ed. which turned out to be a clever business decision). How do you look back on this moment?
Khalid — To be honest, I get requests all the time to bring back the women’s collection and it is in the long-term plan for the brand. However, I want to build a Qasimi ‘universe’ that brings together the fashion collections, art projects and eventually a range of products for the home. Nonetheless, I want to perfect the men’s collection before adding new lines to the brand. Therefore a women’s collection and the other projects are a few seasons away for now. I like to fully focus on my work and take my time by slowly developing the brand.
Personally, I like this idea of calmly enhancing the texture and characteristics of your work from within. Installations can be a relevant medium here. Could you tell me about your recent collaboration with the artist Gary Card?
Khalid — Gary is someone whose work I have long admired and it was always in the
back of my mind for us to work together on something. When we decided to do a special S/S16 launch event at The Shop at Bluebird, he was the first person I thought of to design an installation for the event. So, I got in touch with him and over the course of several meetings we decided how the installation was going to look and what it would represent. I was really happy with the result and we will be using elements of the installation in our showrooms in London and Paris this summer. The way Gary presented the collection collided very well with the silhouette, look and feel I meant to portray. Our dialogue simply assured the presentation was done in perfect harmony.
Let’s explore contemporary society, as you are a keen commentator and observer. According to you, which are the relevant current societal tangents to explore?
Khalid — At the moment I think modern society is too ingrained in popular culture and this distraction has sadly led us to losing valuable discourse over important societal themes. Here, I mean the importance of analysing and discussing issues like occupation, the war on terror and immigration. Our society is becoming increasingly volatile. As a result of this, we often forget to slow down and reflect.
Being an outsider that observes society so closely, you must also feel a need to connect with those who seek guidance on how to advance. Could you offer some words of advice to aspiring fashion creators? Khalid — My advice would be to gain as much experience as possible in order to get a clear vision of your future goals. There is no such thing as regular hours within this industry, so be prepared for hard work and potential late nights. How- ever, do note that the hard work you put in is so worth it when you see the finished collection. It’s a most empowering moment each time it happens.
In conclusion, QASIMI seeks to continuously perfect the menswear designs you propose. As we always like to be ahead of the curve, where will you venture next?
Khalid — As I am constantly looking at my work and work- ing on the silhouette, I also realize that I still have a long way to go. It is important to explore the merits of Qasimi in a more deep and profound manner. This will likely lead me into ex- pressing my aesthetic, sartorial vision and research as a more fully rounded experience. I have always envisioned for my brand to become more focused on lifestyle - encompassing fashion, product design, furniture and an array of home ware. Naturally this would mean the proposition of a universe that remains astutely curated, richly profound and sincere.