By Marriam N Mossalli
Former intern to the John Galliano, Tahir Sultan is a tour de force of avant-garde fashion to be reckoned with. His designs speak for themselves: bold, fantastical and demanding attention.
A graduate of Saint Martins Central with a degree in fashion knits and the son of an architect and landscape designer, Sultan’s creations reflect a dedicated trade and a heritage of sculpted form and silhouette. His superior imagination is imbedded in his designs of unmatched whimsical being. If Alice in Wonderland’s director, Tim Burton, were a knit designer, Sultan’s eponymous line might very well be what Burton’s obscured and wonderfully twisted mind would conceive.
“Fashion today is all about self-expression,” explains Sultan. “If you’re wearing your personality, chances are you’re going to noticed.” And Sultan’s personality is similar to his clothes: pleasantly eccentric and all-around captivating. Walking into his couture line’s “Art as Fashion and Fashion as Art” exhibit at The Shelter in Dubai, his clothes demand a second-glance, and one easily surrenders. Sultan confesses that his goal is rather trite, yet the means by which he achieves it couldn’t be more to the contrary. “What excites me is that thing that compels one to take a second look at a person walking down the street.” For Sultan that is the magic of his designs. “The instant when someone takes notice; it’s the same moment where the human mind quickly struggles to find a rationale, a living analogy to understand what it just saw.” Sultan also aims for women to feel feminine, sexy, and sophisticated, while not exposing every asset they posses. This rather slight conservatism is perhaps due to his Eastern roots, which are half Indian, half Kuwaiti; although his work has a definite flavor of Eastern and Western fusion. “Fashion is about wearing a garment as much as it is about a garment wearing you. If the synergy is right, you’ll always look fabulous.”
Yet his ultimate mission is to empower the wearer of his clothes. And with such fervent designs, it’s hard not to feel untouchable in his constructed armor of soft and colorful knits. “To me, there are only two kinds of clothes: those that empower and those that do not,” simply states Sultan. But Sultan is not only empowering the wearer of his clothes, but also the women who manufacture them. Working with the NGO, ANKURI, Sultan’s line helps teach women with no viable means of income, skill sets which will enable them to become financially independent and acquire the ability and knowledge to sustain themselves and support their families. Based in the foothills of Uttarakhand in Dera Doon (northern India), the organization teaches skills such as knitting, crocheting, weaving, and embroidery through workshops and training programs.
Having gotten involved with the organization two years ago, Sultan has helped create an awareness of such ethical incentives through popular demand for his couture line. “I believe it is important to give back to society and encourage organizations that help to empower individuals by raising their standards of living, and teaching them a set of skills by which they can earn a living and improve the economies of their households,” reveals Sultan. His efforts have not gone unrecognized and he is consequently praised and supported by many, including ex-supermodel Yasmin Le Bon, Queen Rania of Jordan and other Middle Eastern royals.
His line has created so much buzz and demand that a special program, Pure Hands, under ANKURI was created for women who wish to dedicate their newly acquired trade to Sultan’s line. The number of women under his program increased from just 30 to 70-more than double the initial number of participants! These women are protected in terms of civic rights and are paid per piece, eliminating any chance of exploitation, while simultaneously giving them financial freedom and the independence to raise their standard of living and escape any oppressive social practices. Art. Fashion. Ethics. The wonderfully imaginative world of Sultan’s designs are dramatically making its “knit” in the world and we welcome its warmth creativity.