“Growing up, I didn’t know that textile existed as a path of its own,” says Hessa Al Suwaidi. “I always wanted to be a fashion designer—it was the first thing I said when anyone asked,” she adds. The Emirati creative has nearly completed her MFA degree in Textiles at the Parsons School of Design, New York, and has already been featured in a campaign for Prada and joined forces with Bentley for an artistic collaboration in the UAE.
Although her career pursuits have changed and developed since her early fashion design ambitions, this original space of creative immersion was where it all began for Hessa. “I’ve always felt drawn to the creative realm—the process of making and being in a space of imagination. My relationship with materials started the moment I realised what I can create with them,” she shares.
“I’d make mini-pleated skirts from craft paper with my mother. It was purple fuchsia in colour and made of stretchy material—we bought it in rolls,” remembers Hessa. She laughs then, recalling that she’d take her mother’s shayla and tie it around her arm and waist to create wings like a butterfly.
Hessa photographed in the UAE with her MFA thesis project for the Parsons School of Design, New York; ‘Kshati’ is made of hand-spun yarn, featuring tapestry knotting and 3D-printed embellishments
This love of textiles runs in Hessa’s family, as she shares how her great grandmother also created beautiful pieces, featuring embroidery and traditional crafts such as talli and safeefa. She charts her transition from daydreaming about becoming a fashion designer to honing her potential.
“I was attracted to fabrication more than the actual garment—the material and the way it shines always gripped my attention. During my undergraduate degree, I took foundation classes in art and design, and that’s when I was introduced to textiles as a specialisation.”
“There’s a space for us Emirati women to explore outside of the UAE, in a way that can feed back into the UAE—mixing our own life experiences and unique work into our culture and benefiting the entire community.”
Hessa’s textile practice is also motivated with a desire to take tradition and modernise it within her own creative space. This sense of connection to the UAE and her home hasn’t been lost on her, even as she develops her craft overseas in a completely different environment. “I wanted to take the cultural part of myself and the integral elements of our traditions to express them through my designs. We’re immortalising our history, otherwise everything that came before us will be a lost art.”
Hessa holds that working with textiles gives her the opportunity to explore multiple industries, such as her work for Bentley’s art installation at Dubai Design Week last year. “It was for the new Flying Spur that came out,” she explains. “This was a whole other world for me. I had never considered the possibility of working in the automotive industry or designing something for a car, so it was very exciting for me.”
More recently, Hessa appeared in Prada’s Ramadan and Eid campaign titled ‘Parallel Harmonies’, featuring ready-to-wear and accessories. “I love Prada as a brand,” she says. “The photo shoot was both a surreal moment and a huge confidence builder.” Noting the significance of representing her Emirati heritage during the shoot, she remembers how the stylists were delighted to keep her hair natural with limited styling. “It allowed me to completely be me,” she states.
As for the inspiration behind her own work, Hessa draws on a myriad of real-life creative sources, cultural sensibilities, and inner emotions. She likes nothing more than to walk the streets of New York, taking inspiration from flowers, colours, and the graffiti she sees around her. Her Instagram account is an eclectic moodboard of dreamy pinks, bold purples, and bright green.
But it takes more than exterior appearances for Hessa to create. “I’m taking the time to explore my own vulnerability through my work,” she notes. “My MFA degree thesis work was all about owning up to my identity.” This is a refreshing and inspiring perspective, one which translates to her message to girls and women, especially Emiratis—to follow their dreams.
Hessa featured in Prada’s Ramadan and Eid ‘Parallel Harmonies’ campaign, shot at the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi; Photography by Greg Adamski
“I’ve been able to turn my dream into reality,” she shares. “I’m grateful to God for the space to thrive in my career, and the amazing people I’ve been involved with in projects. If I think back several years ago, I never would’ve thought it would be possible.”
Hessa also feels that it’s important for everything she creates to speak to her home country. “There’s a space for us Emirati women to explore outside of the UAE, in a way that can feed back into the UAE—mixing our own life experiences and unique work into our culture and benefiting the entire community.”
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Images courtesy of Hessa Al Suwaidi and Prada