Representing the creative future

Fashion Trust Arabia: Zeid Hijazi explains how he won

The Jordanian-Palestinian designer is one of the five winners of this year’s Fashion Trust Arabia

Fashion Trust Arabia: Zeid Hijazi explains how he won

Twenty-two-year-old designer Zeid Hijazi describes his designs as “alter-egoistic” and creates different characters depending on his feelings and inspiration. The Central Saint Martins student won the first Franca Sozzani Debut Talent Award last May, as part of the 2020 edition of Fashion Trust Arabia. Aimed at supporting rising talents from the Middle East and North Africa, the prize enables Hijazi to create his own capsule collection, in partnership with Matches Fashion. Working between London, England, and Amman, Jordan, Hijazi is particularly inspired by his culture, Arab traditions, craftsmanship, and local artists. The designer would like to collaborate with Middle Eastern creatives, in order to change the way Arab people see the fashion industry with always the same philosophy in mind: “Me being me.”

Hijazi talks about his inspiration, his application to Fashion Trust Arabia, and how a phone call from Lebanon changed his career forever.

Zeid Hijazi Sketchbook for Fashion Trust Arabia
Zeid Hijazi Sketchbook for Fashion Trust Arabia

Can you walk us through your background and experience? 

I’m a Jordanian-Palestinian creative based between Amman and London. I’ve always been into the creative industry, but because Amman is so conservative, some men look at creatives in a shameful way. Boys in Jordan are expected to turn into doctors and lawyers, so I was a bit afraid to tell my dad, “Hey, guess what, Osamah? Engineering is not what I’m going to be doing.” Until I met my wonderful art teacher called Haya, who changed my life forever and made me brave enough to go and tell my family that fashion at Central Saint Martins was what I wanted to be doing after high school. I was shocked by my family’s response as they got very excited and wanted to send me to Parsons, but I felt CSM was more suitable for me. I did my foundation at CSM, then got rejected for my BA, took some time off and did some internships, short courses, Pattern Making Diploma. I applied again and again to CSM, then I finally got in.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m using my time in Jordan to look at artisans from whom I can learn new methods and techniques, which I can take with me to London. I am also building a new research folder filled with amazing historical references. However, I recently noticed that my education in fashion kind of suppressed my education in  much more important political issues like Black Lives Matter and even the occupation of my own homeland Palestine, so I am trying my best to educate myself.

You were one of the five winners of Fashion Trust Arabia and won the first Franca Sozzani Debut Talent Award. How did you find the award and how was the application process? 

Everyone in the Arab world knows about Fashion Trust Arabia. It is a big event that takes place in Qatar annually. They released an open call and I was told to apply, so I just applied right before the deadline because I didn’t think I’d ever get shortlisted (how funny now that I won the prize?). The application process is very easy, you just fill out a form on the FTA website and after that, your work is forwarded to an Advisory Board, which consists of figures like Tim Blanks, Sarah Mower, Natali Kingham and many more. They review your work and send their selection of designers. On the morning of my birthday in London I got a phone call from Lebanon. I was like, “Who would call me from Beirut?” I answered, and it was Lara Arbid (curator of FTA). She said, “Hey Zeid, this is Lara from Fashion Trust Arabia, we just wanted to tell you congratulations! You just got shortlisted.” I started screaming! When I was told that it was FTA on the phone, I actually thought that they were calling to tell me that I did not make it.

Zeid Hijazi Sketchbook for Fashion Trust Arabia
Zeid Hijazi Sketchbook for Fashion Trust Arabia

What happened next and what do you think led to the positive result? What was the prize? 

Well, they had to fly me to Qatar from London for 4 days to shoot some promotional videos. My work is always very personal, and I think that’s what led to a positive result; me just being me. The prize is a very generous financial grant to achieve my professional goals, A LOT of mentorship with different important figures in fashion, and an extensive mentorship with Matches Fashion. There are also exciting collaborations coming up.

How did you find the judging process? 

Basically, a big annual star-studded FTA event that gathered celebs and judges like Naomi Campbell, Michele Lamy, etc. was supposed to take place at the end of March in Doha. COVID, however, decided to ruin everything, but the judging process still took place via Zoom. I sent in all my content, portfolios, videos, etc. to the FTA team and they forwarded everything to the judges. Two weeks after, we got on a Zoom call and each designer had five minutes with the judges. I was very nervous because I was on a Zoom call with Olivier Rousteing, Giambattista Valli, Thom Brown, Yoon Ambush, Elie Saab (these are just a few of the names). Like, OH MY GOD I looked up to these people; now I am on a Zoom call with them. I got on the call and started talking about my work until Giambattista Valli interrupted me and asked me about my age and his response was, ​”Your work for someone who is 22 is so impressive. The complexity of your sketches is stunning, especially for debut talent. You have a personal vision that is really interesting.” Alber Elbaz also told me that I’m super sensitive and creative to an almost theatrical level. Other judges said amazing things as well that after the call, I already considered myself a winner because of the validation I got!

How has this prize changed your perspective so far? Would you advise young designers to apply for this kind of award? 

It did change my perspective. UK based designers have the BFC, American designers have the CFDA, there is also the LVMH prize. Here in the Middle East, we didn’t have anything until Tania Fares decided to give birth to this amazing organization called Fashion Trust Arabia, which will forever change the fashion industry in the MENA [Middle East North Africa] region. Applying to such an award is really important but what’s even more important is having more people like Tania Fares willing to start organizations like Fashion Trust Arabia. What’s also crucial is for us, Arabs, to change the way we perceive the creative industry. I am privileged enough to have supportive parents that sent me to London from a young age to embrace my creative genes but there are many young creatives with narrow-minded parents that won’t support education in fashion or art, especially if you are a boy.

Fashion Trust Arabia Sketchbook Submission by winner Zeid Hijazi

How would you describe your designs? 

My designs are very alter-egoistic. I create characters throughout my projects and these characters are constantly evolving and changing depending on my mood and emotions. One day, these characters are power dressers drenched in sharp tailoring and the next project, these characters might evolve and turn into pilgrims dressed in calligraphed foam made out of the 28 Arabic letters. To build these characters, I research important figures and muses like Leila Khaled for example.

What are you inspired by? 

I’ve been very inspired by my very close friend Bradley Sharpe lately. He just released his graduate collection and we are all blown away by it and by his drive. I am motivated by creatives like him who listen to their guts and just do whatever the hell they want; because I strongly believe this attitude gets you to places, as it really helped me as well.

You are from Jordan. How is the fashion industry there, especially for emerging talents like you? 

We do have two or three designers who are flawlessly practicing the craft but other than that, we do not have the proper resources or well-trained fashion educators to deliver an industry of great designers. However, just recently the ILNA COLLECTIVE launched and I am very excited about that. I hope that more institutions like the “Creative Space Beirut” launch, but in Jordan, because we need that!

Is your home country present in your work in any way? 

Absolutely! I’ve lived in Jordan my whole life, but my parents are fully Palestinian and my grandparents faced the Arab-Israeli War, which is why they took refuge in Jordan and Egypt. I try to present my culture in every project. The Middle East is not a desert filled with camels and tents; it is a region made out of amazing traditions, craftsmen, calligraphers, artists, architects, and much more, which I always reference in my work.

What are your plans for the future? 

I am waiting for the airports to open so I can go back to London and continue learning, and also work with my Fashion Trust Arabia mentors to release my very first capsule collection, which I am very excited for. I am using my time in Jordan to dive into deep research for my upcoming projects. I want to use the prize and mentorship really wisely, but I want to collaborate with my fellow Middle Eastern creatives as well.