Fashion Minority Report Mentee Triumphs at Graduate Fashion Week
Once again, Graduate Fashion Week returned to spotlight the burgeoning fashion landscape with its impressive four-day showcase, featuring the outstanding talents of BA fashion graduates from across the United Kingdom. Amidst the setting of London’s Truman Brewery, where industry experts gathered, one name stood out – Nadia Girach, current mentee from Fashion Minority Report mentoring scheme, who won the Culture and Heritage Award Non-Design Award, Supported by Burberry.
In conceptualising ‘One Of My Kind’ her seminal photo book, Girach sought to pay homage to the intricate tapestry of Muslim identity through religion and fashion. Exploring the intersectionality of these themes, capturing individuals from diverse cultures within the expansive Islamic community.
Girach’s vision went beyond mere aesthetic appeal; it delved into the essence of embracing one’s heritage while forging a path of personal expression. As we discover in the interview, each photograph seamlessly merged contemporary silhouettes with intricate references to traditional craftsmanship and cultural symbolism. The resulting collection transformed into a tableau where personal narratives, religion, and fashion intertwined.
As we talk to Nadia Girach, we unravel the inspirations, aspirations, and creative process that contributed to the success of her award-winning endeavour.
What was Graduate Fashion Week like?
It has been incredibly overwhelming, to say the least. The relentless pace of university combined with the preparations for graduate Fashion Week has left me swamped. The experience itself was surreal. As I entered the judging panel, I first presented my work on culture and heritage, followed by my collection. What struck me was that the panel members were not what I had anticipated. My tutors at university would often be unfamiliar with some of the photographers, stylists, and influencers that I drew inspiration from. However, when I mentioned the names to the panel, they immediately recognised them and expressed their admiration. They were familiar with the incredible work these individuals had produced and even suggested visiting their exhibitions. I’ve never had that before, so it was really nice!
Where did you find the inspiration for the project?
We were tasked with writing our own brief, which was then approved by the instructors. However, the overall concept and direction of the project were heavily influenced by our own ideas. I have always centred my projects around the theme of faith, it holds a special place in my heart. I noticed that my classmates lacked an understanding of Islam and its authentic essence, often basing their knowledge on others’ interpretations. One even asked me “Isn’t Islam just a brown religion?”, that’s when I knew I wanted to explore this. I realised that there were common assumptions about appearances and religious affiliations.
The project is fueled by my personal connection to my family and their strong beliefs, and Iused fashion and photography to explore that. I delved into the experiences of Muslims worldwide, examining how they shared the fundamental principles of Islam while exhibiting significant variations in their religious commitment, interpretations, and acceptance of different sects and movements. The project focused on the intersection of personal identity, religion, and fashion, acknowledging the distinctiveness of individuals from various cultures within the broader Islamic community.
What did you decide to create?
The final result was a photo book along with a digital exhibition. I shot it at Victoria Park in Leicester, where I played with a combination of both still life and documentary shoots.
What was the process like?
Once I got the models on board and we agreed to proceed with the shoot, it wasn’t just a matter of me going ahead and doing everything myself. I wanted to have a conversation with them, sort of like mini interviews, to discuss the project in detail. I didn’t want them to be nervous, so I made it clear that I just wanted to have a casual chat. I wanted to learn more about their ideas and perspectives.
During these conversations, I showed them my sketchbook, my starting points, and even some test shoots I had done using clothing from my own house. For me, it was important to test out the lighting and see how it all came together. I had some visuals to show them, but I really wanted their input and collaboration throughout the process.
One of my main concerns was avoiding cultural appropriation. It’s a significant issue in the fashion industry, especially when it comes to the Muslim hijab. I wanted to ensure that I didn’t contribute to that problem in any way. So, after speaking with each person, I asked them questions like, “How does your faith and cultural heritage influence the way you dress?” and “What does faith mean to you?” I also asked about their clothing choices and whether they mixed different cultural elements or preferred to stay within their own culture. It was fascinating to have these individual conversations and understand how they wanted to present themselves.
The entire process was very collaborative. They shared their thoughts and ideas, and I explored different possibilities based on their input. Sometimes, I would suggest something and ask if they thought it would be interesting, and they would respond with their own suggestions, saying things like, “Maybe we could incorporate this in a particular way.” It was refreshing to see that the youth also had their own unique perspectives and ideas about their culture and how they wanted to embrace it. So, it was a two-way learning experience for both of us.
Since the shoot was about their personal style and cultural identity, I didn’t need to source any clothing myself. They showed me the specific pieces they wanted to incorporate because these items held deep cultural significance to them. I wanted the shoot to be deeply personal and meaningful to each model, so using their own clothing was essential.
Can you talk us through this image?
There was this photographer named Barack Choudry who had a similar style of imagery that caught my attention. He had these three men in his photographs, and it had a documentary vibe, but one of them was jumping. What stood out was that he wore this all-white outfit, but you could see his Western clothing underneath. It was a fascinating contrast, and I wanted to apply a similar approach with these girls.
They were quite expressive and mentioned that they wanted their outfits to have a full Moroccan feel, but they were unsure how to incorporate their personal style. So, I told them, “Okay, go ahead and do it the way you feel comfortable.” When they stepped in front of the camera, they struck these amazing poses. They had joggers on and paired them with what they called “work trainers.” But here’s the interesting part: I attached some cultural jewellery and accessories they had brought onto the trainers. So, they were rocking these joggers and trainers, but with a touch of their Moroccan heritage.
As one of the girls jumped, her joggers and trainers combination really stood out, and the cultural elements flew off a bit, but she held them up gracefully. It created this captivating blend of traditional and Western styles. It was amusing because I had no idea she had hidden those items until she intentionally revealed them during the shoot. The image turned out to be incredibly interesting and showcased the mix of influences.
To enhance the focus and make it even more captivating, I decided to add some artwork to the right side of the image. It brought attention to the central theme while adding an extra layer of intrigue to the overall composition.
Do you do a lot of multimedia work then?
Yes! I love incorporating multimedia elements. In the book, I wanted to add these subtle touches of artwork in between the pages. The book itself has a very clean aesthetic with lots of white space intentionally. I wanted it to have room to breathe, especially because some of the images, particularly the studio shots, can be quite intense. I wanted people to have the space to take it all in and absorb what was happening. It was crucial to give them that breathing room. However, at other times, I wanted to break up that whitespace with these fun and busy elements that add a playful touch. I didn’t want the intensity to be overwhelming, so striking that balance was really important in my work.
What about this image?
So this is Mana, one of the Palestinian girls in my project. She’s a proud Palestinian, and it was crucial for me to have a strong representation of Palestine in her image, considering the ongoing situation and the injustices faced by Muslims in Palestine. The media often fails to cover the extent of destruction, displacement, and conflicts in Palestine, and it was important for me to shed light on that. Mana’s photograph captures the power of her identity. You see, if you look closely, she’s holding a half-moon shape in her hand. It’s actually a subtle nod to the conflict there.
Throughout the book, I included these subtle touches that people had mentioned to me. For example, using colours like red and black, which hold significance for Palestinians. Mana specifically emphasised the importance of the colours on their flag and the presence of the Dome of the Rock on her scarf, representing Palestine. It was crucial to honour and acknowledge these elements that hold deep meaning for the Palestinian people. Additionally, incorporating olive trees, a symbol of Palestine, was important too.
Interestingly, when I initially started this project, I had planned for it to be a black and white photography book. However, as I engaged in conversations with the individuals involved, they all expressed how colours held immense significance for them. Mana spoke about the importance of the flag colours: red, black, and green, which instantly identify Palestine. Their words made me realise that I couldn’t just proceed with my own vision without understanding what was important to them, their culture, and their Islamic heritage. Their input and insights shaped the book into what it is today.
I love the digital Palestinian print in the circles…
Yeah, the digital aspect played a significant role in creating the book. As you flip through the pages, you’ll notice a recurring theme of circles both in the design and the imagery. The circle held great symbolic meaning in the concept, particularly when I explored what Islam meant to different individuals. During the initial stages of my research, I posted a question on my Instagram, asking people what faith meant to them. The response was overwhelming, with answers pouring in from people of various faiths, not just Islam.
The answers I received highlighted the profound impact faith had on people’s lives. It brought them confidence, patience, discipline, responsibility, purpose, and dedication. Interestingly, these were themes that echoed in the interviews I conducted with the individuals for the project. It was crucial to include these questions and capture the conviction on their faces as they spoke about the significance of these aspects in their faith. These elements became an integral part of the narrative, weaving together the essence of their religious beliefs.
One of the Moroccan girls I interviewed brilliantly expressed that Islam wasn’t just a religion but a complete lifestyle. It encompassed how they drank water, how they slept, and how they engaged with the world. It wasn’t merely a word to them; it was an active way of living. Her words resonated deeply, and I believe they encapsulated the power and significance of faith. These insights from each person I interviewed brought everything together and added depth to the project. It’s incredible how their individual experiences and perspectives have enriched the overall narrative.