Although born and raised in America, designer Bazza Alzouman has always felt the pull of the Middle East, thanks to her Kuwaiti parents. “I was raised in America, but I identify as Arab," she tells The National.
In a showroom in the Faubourg-Montmartre region of Paris, Alzouman is showcasing her new spring/summer 2023 collection as part of Paris Fashion Week. As ever, the discreetly elegant gowns and dresses she creates are the result of her upbringing. Having grown up straddling two cultures, she realised that while both offered many things, neither was a perfect fit for her as a third-culture kid.
“I just thought something was missing. While American fashion spoke to me in a way, and Kuwaiti fashion spoke to me in another, I felt there was something missing, something that really represented me.”
That gap, she explains, inspired her to launch her own label. It “represents that new era of Arab women, like me. She is not very traditional when it come to that very extravagant fashion, but she loves that luxury. But at the same time wants that modern approach."
Alzouman's aim is to bridge the gap between the simplicity of American design, with the love of dressing up that is so entrenched in Arab fashion. The result? Dresses that amplify the woman "so it’s more about her".
"So that’s what I offer. Fashion makes people feel a certain way, and for me it's all about that love — for me fashion was love at first sight.”
Having trained at Parson’s in New York, and completed an internship with eveningwear designer Naeem Khan in the same city, Alzouman already has ample design expertise under her belt, yet is always looking to expand that further. One of the things she enjoys most, she says, is the continuous challenge of design. “There is a lot of learning as you go, through trial and error, about construction, even down to familiarising yourself with the different fabrics.
"Sequins for us is really new, and, especially when it has the hombre effect, there are only certain ways you can cut the fabric. So that’s a lot of what appeals to me as well. It's always a challenge, and I'm always learning something new."
Those sequins are a whole new addition to the brand for spring/summer 2023, and are offered both in a dark, glossy black — as sheath gowns and midi cocktail dresses — and as metallic degradé, that drifts from a matte silver to a darker, more burnished tone. This finish is found as a fitted, midi-length dress that, thanks to a tulle band around the waist, looks like a crop top and matching pencil skirt; and as a single-breasted jacket with kick-flare trousers.
“I think the nature of fashion is that people like to see new things, and sequins just add a nice touch. And post-Covid, I feel that everyone is back dressing up now for spring/summer 23," says Alzouman.
Another new arrival this season for the label is colour, most specifically pink. "This is me getting on board with the Barbiecore trend," Alzouman says, with a laugh.
While Barbie suggests a shocking, pulsating pink, at Alzouman, it is a far softer, more romantic shade — in a warm, coral tone. “We have to stay true to the brand,” she says.
One pink dress in particular, with a boned corset, ruffled sleeves and a mermaid hem, is a fresh update of its classic mermaid-cut gown. With delicate straps and full, almost ruffled sleeves, it brings a new twist. "It's a statement gown, that us as Arab women search for but don’t necessarily find," Alzouman says.
As well as the shine and the colour, there are also new ties around the neckline that allow the wearer to play a little. They can be worn as a choker, fastened behind the neck as a halter or left to run across the collar bone, from shoulder to shoulder. "The theme was to have these little ties that could be mixed and matched and that will move with the gown, even if it's skinny-cut.“
For all the new ideas this season, one dress in particular stands out for its absolute understatement. It is an off-white column dress, with an over-layer of sheer tulle. Caught on one shoulder, the tulle provides a second, sheer layer to the hem and ends in a short train. A delight in its brevity, it is also a prime example of how Alzouman appeals to two quite different customers. For her Arab clientele, the dress is a sophisticated look for a party. For a European customer, however, it would make a uniquely elegant wedding dress.
This wide appeal all comes down to fit and cut, she believes. ”How something is worn is always forefront of my mind. How does it feel on the body? Our brand accommodates a wide range of body shapes and requirements, and that’s another thing I try to focus on: inclusive fashion.”
The key to Alzouman's success is more than about simply allowing a woman to embrace her curves, however. It also comes from her innate understanding of Arab culture, she says. “There is a more conservative way we dress, even in parties. So it’s a little bit of both — accommodating the body and accommodating the culture.
"I really just try to evoke a feeling. I do a lot of open shoulders," she says, which she calls very elegant.
"Design for me is about empathy, and at the end of the day, dresses are meant to be worn, and enjoyed, and danced in."