Image: Yousef Akbar

Yourself Akbar spent the better part of the last year reflecting on the great disconnect between his current home here in Australia and his background in Saudi Arabia. And, although the designer has already been active for several seasons, this collection offers a kind of personal reestablishment.

“I have been living outside my home country for so long. So, often I will feel nostalgic and homesick, the pandemic gave us a chance to pause and to stop and reflect. The initial collection starting point came by analyzing my identity. Who am I? Where am I living? Where is my home? My surroundings. My feelings. My views of my culture. How is it different from the western world. But also how on many levels we share some common values” Akbar told GRAZIA.

Such introspection was common for many people during the endless days and nights of COVID lockdowns – certainly its effects are being felt as time goes on. Yet, the emotion conjured by stopping to reflect and review is also now rampantly influencing our sartorial future. For Akbar, the contradiction of our hermit era versus our desire to also burst forth and run free filters through Resort ’22. The collection includes pieces both sleek then supersized, orderly then otherworldly, controlled then liberated. In fact, “restraint and freedom” remained his juxtaposed phrase-muse throughout.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 02: A model walks the runway during the Yousef Akbar show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021 Resort ’22 Collections at Carriageworks on June 02, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 02: A model walks the runway during the Yousef Akbar show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021 Resort ’22 Collections at Carriageworks on June 02, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 02: A model walks the runway during the Yousef Akbar show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021 Resort ’22 Collections at Carriageworks on June 02, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 02: A model walks the runway during the Yousef Akbar show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021 Resort ’22 Collections at Carriageworks on June 02, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

However, Akbar’s knack for unexpected cohesion runs further back than the pandemic. The now Sydney based creative was once a top level ten pin bowling champion in his birthplace of Saudi Arabia. It was an accolade that awarded him a meeting with the Saudi King and an opportunity to be granted a request. Akbar asked to study fashion in Australia. Worlds and industries and careers apart, this story seems worthy of a film down the track, surely. He graduated from the Fashion Design Studio with immediate success, beginning his label to great reception (even at an international celebrity level). However, this early success resulted in an unceremonious fall out with a reported double crossing by a former PR agent as well as a sample-stealing stylist circa 2017. It was a situation that found the designer close to closure.

Luckily, Akbar didn’t relinquish his dream to move on from his former sporting career nor fall back on the logistics degree he studied to please his parents and since 2019 he’s been slowly rebuilding. This season he is back with a grounded intention and a collection that begs the artistry of his previous but with a resilience we perhaps haven’t witnessed before.

His daring evening wear which has become infamous (in 2016 Chrissy Teigan wore Akbar’s controversial ab-high split dress to the American Music Awards) includes a 2021 take on the Teigan dress and more than a few furiously bright monochome suits that feature souped up bustle-trails and asymmetric twists. Then, in a symbolic escapee contrast – a capsule of flighty, air-filled, ballooning creations. Gathered and puffed in extreme silhouettes, so unexpected were these showstoppers, that they have instantly become one of the highlights of Afterpay Australian Fashion Week for 2021.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 02: A model walks the runway during the Yousef Akbar show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021 Resort ’22 Collections at Carriageworks on June 02, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 02: A model walks the runway during the Yousef Akbar show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021 Resort ’22 Collections at Carriageworks on June 02, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 02: A model walks the runway during the Yousef Akbar show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021 Resort ’22 Collections at Carriageworks on June 02, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 02: A model walks the runway during the Yousef Akbar show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021 Resort ’22 Collections at Carriageworks on June 02, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

Creatively, Akbar said he was inspired by 16th Century Oriental fabrication and tailoring, as well as French painters of the same era whose subject revolved around Oriental culture. “It was interesting to see every day moments and subjects from my history and culture captured by a French painter. It made me feel a strong sense of nostalgia about my culture and home. I was seeing part of my identity, that I can still connect with today. And I wanted to express that.”

The idea of complementing opposing ideals is a message worthy at a wider level, too. Whether by culture or background or career or societal position many of us tussle with welcoming all the facets that fabric our identity.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 02: A model walks the runway during the Yousef Akbar show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021 Resort ’22 Collections at Carriageworks on June 02, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

“I wanted to express the idea of the balance between restraint and freedom, the love of home and the urge to travel and explore. You can see this in the construction where many of the garments and fabrics are made in a way where the drape is balanced on the dress and around the body. The chains are a symbol of restraint while the big volumes and bright colours are to express freedom in the emotional sense and physical sense. And that’s something we all need now, to be free and to express ourselves and not to take anything for granted.”

Although Akbar was bruised by his early ricochet into the spotlight, this return to designing from the heart will surely see him back on the global radar. With such inspired, clever tailoring Resort ’22 is setting the bar for optimistic, expressive designers who want to forge a long, successful career.

thoughts?