My UAE: Maryam Al Selaich designs to differ

The Emirati designer talks about beach-inspired abayas and other trends.

Maryam Al Selaich sees an adaptable future for the traditional abaya. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Abaya designers may be well-represented in the UAE, but Maryam Al Selaich is making waves with her brand, Slouchy'Z. Hers was the label of choice for the uniform of new beachside hotel Jumeirah Al Naseem.

The brief was to come up with a look that was comfortable and easy-to-wear, but reflected the beach-inspired concept and colour palette. “The atmosphere of the hotel reflects the subtle aspects of sea and sand; modernity with heritage,” says Al Selaich. “So Madinat Jumeirah envisioned that the uniforms should reflect this look and feel. They needed someone who had the same philosophy and vision of the traditions of old Dubai blended with the innovation of a modern city.”

While producing a commissioned piece can involve multiple meetings before a final approval, Al Selaich says that her first draft was approved immediately. It features a palette of creamy off-whites and soft blue-greys, in a sleek, reversible silhouette with one longer drape that can be thrown over the opposite shoulder. Functional, elegant and professional, the uniform will help Emirati female staff members feel comfortable at the workplace.

The philosophy of the six-year-old fashion brand is “modern but modest”. Al Selaich launched Slouchy’Z after designing garments for herself for four years, and finding friends and family reacting so positively, that she decided to turn her passion into a business venture. While she is aware of the deeply rooted significance of the abaya in Islamic societies, she sees an adaptable future for the garment.

“With our generation, we have witnessed a blend with the West, and this inspired me to combine the two in a manner that we don’t lose our identity and customs, but yet feel we are following the changes of our time,” she says.

In fact, her goal is to make the abaya a globally recognised style statement. “I see the abaya being accepted and crossing over into the western world where it is worn as an accessory to evening wear, where women look more feminine, elegant and classic.”

“The misconception of abayas is that they are seen as a religious obligation, but in reality they are a social custom. Our religion states we must be modest and discreet, not exposing too much of ourselves, but it never says it is an obligatory item that we must wear to cover every inch of our body.

“Modern-day abayas can be seen in many styles and may be open or clasped at the top, letting them flow as the wearer walks, revealing the fashionable outfits underneath,” says Al Selaich.

The abaya may stem from traditional roots, but Al Selaich’s personal style reflects the forward-charging nature of fashion.

While she does have a mainstream vision, with a dream of dressing model-of-the-moment Gigi Hadid, she names Italian blogger and stylist Gilda Ambrosio as a style icon. “She is very subtle and yet edgy and aggressive, very much how I classify myself.”

The designer’s favourite trends for the season, too, go beyond culturally conventional modes of dressing, and coincide with international street-style fads. “At the moment, I have this addiction to bustiers over blouses, shirts, T-shirts, sweaters and turtlenecks – basically any top. That is today – tomorrow is another day.”

Which is your favourite movie, and why?

The Notebook. The dedication and love of the main characters makes me optimistic in life. That kind of devotion of one person to another makes me hopeful for our kind.

Which is your favourite book?

Being a designer, I often read fashion-related books. I cannot specifically say I have a favourite one as my mindset changes with the season and so does my preference.

Where is your favourite coffee spot in the UAE?

Comptoir102. Their cuisine is organic and exquisite. The combination of shop and coffee house below gives an atmosphere of a lively and busy place without being intrusive to the conversation. Their style also appeals to me, as it is fresh and clean-cut.

What is your comfort food?

Japanese cuisine.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?


Which is your go-to salon in the UAE?

JetSet at Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah, Dubai.

What is your fashion pet peeve?

Outfits with an elastic band around the waist.

Which is your favourite shoe brand currently?

Manolo Blahnik.

What are three things you never leave the house without?

Eyeliner, lipstick and my pochette.

What is your favourite way to relax or unwind?

I totally zone out listening to Sade.