Sisters Mariam and Amna Al Mualla are the brains behind the latest homegrown fashion label to launch in the UAE, The Orphic. The brand's first collection takes inspiration from celestial elements, with bold, innovative abayas and evening wear featuring galactic-inspired elements depicted through metallic embroidery and intricate beadwork. The phases of the moon appear on a pocket of one abaya, for instance, while the back of another features a pleated panel bordered by zips, concealing embroidered stars and planets.
Mariam, 28, and Amna, 23, are members of the Umm Al Quwain royal family and are both married with children. They say that starting their own fashion label has always been a dream. "It's been our passion for a long time – we've wanted to do it since we were in college, but we just didn't have the time or resources," says Amna, who studied management information services. Mariam, who studied computer engineering and has a master's degree in engineering management, explains that studying fashion or design wasn't really an option in her family.
"You know how practical parents are, they're against the arts and artistic things; they just think of how we should make a living," she tells me.
Still, fashion has always played a significant role in their lives. They would often tailor-make their own pieces for special occasions, and Mariam recalls a time when they were inadvertently muses for an haute couturier. “We’ve always had our own taste. Even when we went to haute couture shops, we always did our thing, and we customised their styles to our tastes. One time an haute couture brand used several of our designs afterwards – they liked them so much, they took them as their own,” she says.
Both sisters say that their backgrounds in management and engineering helped when it came to starting their own business. They divide responsibilities – Mariam functions as the brand’s accountant, Amna deals with the PR and marketing, and both design the clothes together. They say that trying to agree on colours and designs is the most difficult part of the process. “Some designs she likes, and some I don’t, then we argue a bit, and then we find something in between,” explains Amna.
“We’ve decided that if we’re not convinced 100 per cent then we won’t do it; it has to be 100 per cent on both sides,” adds Mariam.
While many Emirati fashion labels take the name of their founders or designers, the Al Mualla sisters decided to call their brand The Orphic. “We wanted a name that stands out and has a ring to it, and at the same time describes the feeling that women have while wearing our pieces,” explains Mariam.
Meaning “mystic” and “entrancing”, the word is a descriptor for the sisters’ typical clients: “women who like to stand out and feel special”, says Mariam. “We’re risk-takers in our designs, they’re not very traditional. The Orphic is where we can express our tastes and our way of wearing classic pieces in a modern way.”
The sisters source all of their materials from within the UAE, and shop for unique fabrics to give their brand an edge. "We look for special, limited-edition fabrics that can't be found in other shops, so they won't be redundant," explains Mariam. They refer to their pieces, which range in price from Dh500 to Dh3,000, depending on the embroidery and beadwork, as "accessible luxury", since many of the more decadent abayas and capes can be thrown on to instantly elevate an outfit. And while many of the draped gowns and sheer pleated capes could be easily categorised as evening wear or occasion wear, the collection is interspersed with casual, ready-to-wear designs as well – like the abaya Mariam wears, which is crafted from a textured fabric with hints of gold, and finished with embroidered net cuffs on the sleeves.
Although The Orphic’s launch collection is predominantly black, beiges and pastels are also present, in response to growing demand for more colourful abayas. But Mariam hypothesises that future abaya trends will return to the traditional black offering, with sleeker, more modern cuts featuring open fronts, slits on the sides and wide armholes. Amna adds that in terms of fabrication, patchwork textiles are likely to gain in popularity, particularly abayas featuring multiple black textures artfully sewn together.
So far, the sisters say that getting exposure for their brand has been the most challenging part of the process, but they plan on taking part in more pop-ups and exhibitions this year, and have already received a few offers to stock at some local boutiques.
While they may sometimes disagree on designs, the Al Mualla sisters are on the same page when it comes to the future of the brand. When asked if they'd like to have a boutique of their own someday, they excitedly say "yes" in unison, one adding in a "hopefully," and the other an "Inshallah". For now, the brand accepts orders through social media and email, and their designs are available to view at Parlour Boutique – a cafe located near World Trade Centre in Dubai.