Nabil Nayal will be presenting at the London Fashion Week showrooms for autumn/winter 2018, so we caught up with the designer to find out more
Nabil Nayal was born in Syria and moved to England at the age of 14. He has won an array of prestigious awards, including the Royal Society of Arts Award, the Graduate Fashion Week Best Womenswear Award and the British Fashion Council MA Scholarship Award, which enabled him to study at the Royal College of Art. He was also shortlisted for the LVMH Prize in February 2015 and was a finalist in 2017.
Nayal’s obsession with the craftsmanship of the Elizabethan era of the 16th century has had a profound effect on his designs, seen in his use of pleats, dramatic construction, menswear references and powerful silhouettes. While in-depth study in archives remains at the heart of the brand, Nayal also conducts extensive research into ways in which historic techniques can be re-contextualised using the latest technologies. His fans include celebrated names such as Sarah Mower, Delphine Arnault, Nicolas Ghesquière and Karl Lagerfeld, who upon seeing his collection at Paris Fashion Week in 2015 exclaimed ‘I love it! I love it! I love it!’ We caught up with the designer to find out more about everything from his early influences to his current plans.
What was your first foray into the fashion industry?
My earliest memories include sitting upon rolls of fabric at my father’s textile shop in Aleppo, Syria. I used to rip and cut little pieces of fabric and then draw on them; at one stage my father didn’t know about this and thought we had a problem with mice! Customers would come into the store and unroll metres and metres of fabric, abstractly draping shapes and forms using their own bodies as living mannequins. They would throw the fabric in the air to assess its qualities, their bodies transformed by endless creative possibilities.
How has your heritage affected your designs?
Growing up in the family textile shop has undoubtedly had a huge impact on me. I observed a confidence in asserting one’s own aesthetic in a dramatic Syrian manner, cemented by my mum’s Western contradiction to traditional Syrian dress that sparked some kind of Big Bang moment in me as a young child. I think that’s why I love to design for people who aren’t afraid to challenge conventions.
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
Uncertainty: not knowing where an idea is going is exhilarating.
What are your LFW plans?
We’re going to be presenting our AW18 collection at Designer Showrooms with the British Fashion Council. This collection marks the conclusion of Elizabethan Sportswear, a six-part body of work that has courted disruptive ways of working. Elizabethan has, and always will be, important to my working process – over time, I have developed these Elizabethan principles that can be taken into new territories.
How does London differ from other cities to you?
It’s unapologetic. London doesn’t follow: it leads. It is where newness is encountered. We’re hungrier for it in London.
Where do you like to visit while in London?
I rarely go back to the same place – I am always in search of new places. So the list of places I like to visit is endless. And so it should be: London is forever evolving.
What other designers do you most admire and why?
Gianfranco Ferré is important to me because he is seen almost as an architect of fashion and that is something I can relate to. His shirts were incredible and he was famously outspoken about not being driven by trends. I mean, I think we should all lose ‘trend’ from our vocabulary.
What do you think the future holds for the fashion industry?
Innovation. Craftsmanship. More integrity. Couture.
Tell us more about your SS18 collection
Elizabethan Sportswear Part V (SS18) is the fifth of a six-part series of collections which have formed part of the output of my PhD studies. SS18 is an exploration of my Elizabethan principles that inform my design work: ruffs, sleeves, ornamentation, and black and white. SS18 is about form before colour: black and white envelop and swallow – allowing for the dissection of historical men’s shirts, filtering out the noise, revealing the true essence of a shirt. I also explored the work of philosopher Gilles Deleuze and his ‘fold, unfold, refold’ concept. Garments are modular, allowing the wearer to determine new creative possibilities beyond the framework of the garment.
What’s next for your label?
I’m in the concluding stages of my PhD research, so I’m really looking forward to being able to dedicate all of my time to my brand. We’ve got some ambitious plans for SS19, but of course you will have to wait for those to be unveiled.