FAULT Focus: Award-winning Dubai-based designer, Bambah’s Maha Abdul Rasheed

Maha Abdul Rasheed (Custom)
Bambah boutique’s founder and lead designer Maha Abdul Rasheed

FAULT: What would you say was your primary inspiration for starting Bambah?

Maha: Bambah started off as a one off high-end vintage boutique in Dubai. I’ve always had a passion for vintage – I’ve been a collector for almost 10 years now and I’m always traveling around the world and hunting for unique, one-off pieces.

I’ve noticed that as fashion tilts towards past generations for inspiration, the timeless, classy looks inspired by the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O, and Marilyn Monroe have become a modern day look once again. Contemporary styles are no longer the ultimate source of fashion satisfaction and ladies ‘in the know’ are looking for those one-off pieces that reflect a unique expression of who they really are. The red carpet is now a showcase of vintage glamour as well, with celebrities like Sienna Miller, Rachel Zoe, and Julia Roberts demonstrating how gorgeous second time fashion really is.

So it was my love of vintage that also triggered my motivation to start my own line. I must admit that interacting with my customers on a daily basis and understanding their needs and what they love about clothing has also helped feed this inspiration.

Bambah’s origins lie in its evolution from vintage boutique to full-fledged fashion label, but, beyond that, what/who are the main influences behind the label – if any?

This first RTW collection is inspired by my love for vintage and the elegant flair of the past. It focuses on the main trends of the ‘50s: feminine, flirty, elegant and effortlessly chic. I was looking at different silhouettes and trends that make women feel beautiful by accentuating their feminine figure.

Routing it back to the Bambah Boutique, and the mental journey through my own fantasy world of fashion, I wanted each piece to speak a different language and bring something unique to the table – with an emphasis on ruffles, bows, flowers and polka dots.

I learned from growing up with my grandmother that style comes from within and is a pure reflection of one’s inner beauty. My grandmother is my role model and I will always live by her precious advice: laugh a lot, move a lot, and always have fun being you! And that is the roadmap to my new collection and everything I do.

bambah-495 (Custom)

What are Bambah’s unique features, in your opinion?

Bambah’s ’50s-inspired debut collection draws on the concepts of time. The 1950s looks were born out of a need to break away from the previous decade of conservative and minimal fashion, offering new, life- bringing colour, volume, and decadence back.

The Orchid collection will always remain my hero collection. I worked so hard on customizing the print just for Bambah so it’s very dear to me. It was developed in-house from scratch and is inspired by my favourite flower – the Orchid. The flower was hand painted and seamlessly integrated into a pattern that was then printed onto a 100% pure silk organza.

The collection is all hand made in-house using highly qualified seamstresses that spend hours on just one piece; and, although this is fairly time consuming, I feel it adds to the charm of the collection.

bambah-250 (Custom)

There seems to be a strong element of Hollywood, particularly the so-called ‘Golden Age’, in your first RTW collection. The main styles of this collection all have a ‘title’, a ‘story’ – Orchid Daydream, Duchess Blossom, Midnight Noir and Vivid Grace – each of which seem to draw inspiration or in some way correspond to iconic filmic figures. What was the motivation behind that?

In general, Bambah focuses around creating feminine clothing with soft rounded shapes and full flowing skirts to ‘bring back beauty’. The individual styles pay homage to shapes of the ’50s using decadent fabrics and layering to give beautiful hourglass shapes that ooze opulence. The Bambah silhouette focuses on perpetuating the hourglass shape using icons such as Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner and Sophia Loren to inspire and influence the signature look. Nipped in waists and sweetheart necklines mixed with sumptuous jacquards and layers of tulle are showcased next to simpler styles which can be worn throughout the day.

On the topic of styles that can be worn throughout the day: your branding seems to promote the idea of simple, practical elegance underpinning the label – something which, many would argue, is at odds with the contemporary cultural reference points usually associated with the Gulf region. Specifically, the latter is often regarded as idealising the flamboyant and over-elaborate rather than the simple and sophisticated. Is that a fair point, in your opinion?

I have worked very closely with customers in my boutique for the past three years and this has given me a fresh outlook on Middle Eastern trends and tastes and what ladies in this part of the world love and lust over. I have noticed that my customers subconsciously look for obvious past trends while shopping, such as nipped in waists, exaggerated sleeves, princess skirts. I also noticed that there was a pull towards certain styles, particularly their love for oversized bows, pleated midi skirts, dramatic clothing including balloon sleeves, circle voluminous skirts, and big polka dots; which are all elements that I have tried to integrate it into my own designs in a way that allows me to bridge both worlds and create a timeless look for every woman.

bambah-1019 (Custom)

Do you think that your initial success with Bambah – for which you recently won a prestigious Emirates Woman of the Year (2011) award – is indicative of a change in mindset in the region – perhaps a move towards the (slightly more) understated?

Ladies in the Middle East are very confident, have very fine taste, follow the best of trends, and appreciate good craftsmanship and high quality pieces. They are very stylish, very pretty and admire beauty like no other. They love to dress up, experiment with fashion and what they wear is a reflection of who they are. They love to laugh, have fun and enjoy life. This is the framework that I have kept in mind while designing these pieces.

Although the concept of ‘real vintage’ is relatively new in the UAE and the region as a whole, I’m glad to say that so far people have received my new ‘vintage inspired’ collection very well! There seems to be a strong need for speciality boutiques that offer personalized attention, one-off pieces, and a pleasant and fun shopping environment. My customers have repeatedly quoted Bambah to be “very refreshing”, which serves as a nice change from traditional malls. In addition, people are constantly on the look-out for unique and exclusive pieces that complement their style and personality with a guarantee that no one else will be wearing the same piece.

Do you have a favourite piece from your debut collection?

The bow tube top!

bambah-357 (Custom)

Who would be your dream client to design for/work with? Both in terms of your day to day ideal customer and a potential red carpet customer?

Grace Kelly! She was my main source of inspiration for this first collection. She creates fairy tales in my mind- I love how she moved, talked and carried herself. I find her very elegant, feminine, and extremely confident – which I believe are all traits that would make any outfit look beautiful.

What are your plans to expand the line? Where does Bambah go from here?

I am currently working on my FW ’15 collection. I would love to see Bambah reach new territories, such as Europe and Russia. It would be nice to see how different cultures interpret the brand and take a look at how each piece is worn differently.

What is your FAULT?

The first one that comes to mind would have to be my excessive attention to detail.

For more information on Maha or Bambah, visit Bambah.com