Reimagining Palestinian narratives through designer Bekkaoui’s keffiyeh

25 days ago
Reimagining Palestinian narratives through designer Bekkaoui’s keffiyeh


The world-renowned fashion designer is best known for his politically engaged projects. He is particularly proud of his Palestine-inspired collection. 

“From an early age, I had always harbored the dream of becoming an inventor,” shared Dutch-Moroccan artist Aziz Bekkaoui during his interview with Ahram Online.

Living in Amsterdam, Bekkaoui initially set his sights on studying architecture. However, his path took a turn when he realized the boundless potential of the fashion world. At ArtEZ University of the Arts, known for its diverse art programs, Bekkaoui delved into various artistic mediums, exploring the realms of fashion design, architecture, and visual arts.

“After graduating, I was thrilled to win the Grand Prix for the best women’s collection at the Festival des Jeunes Stylistes in Hyères,” he shared excitedly. In that same remarkable year, Bekkaoui was invited to showcase his Grand Prix collection and open the Paco Rabanne couture show in Paris. Reflecting on his passion for fashion, he expressed, “Fashion is like a second skin on the human body, shaping how individuals present themselves in public spaces.” Bekkaoui’s diverse and inclusive mindset, cultivated during his academic years, also led him to pursue work as an interior designer. “Most of my projects are for venues hosting theatrical and dance performances,” he explained.

Last year, Bekkaoui designed the interior of the largest cultural centre in Amare, the Hague.
As a multi-cultured artist, Bekkaoui gets his inspiration from different worlds and cultures. But it isn’t as easy as one may think. “It takes a while for people to appreciate your work. If you keep doing what you do and believe in what you do, they will eventually appreciate your work/designs and your name will become an established and successful brand,” he explained.

Bekkaoui is famed for his conceptual and activist approach to fashion. “I am always inspired by what is happening in society. And as curious as I am, I follow what’s happening, reflect on it and then shape it,” he said. “It’s about the here and now of our contemporary society with its international developments. I get a lot of inspiration from what’s happening around the world.”
His keffiyeh collection tells the story of the Palestinians’ unparalleled resistance in the face of growing Israeli brutality.
“The Palestinian Hatta (scarf) is not just a piece of textile. It has an enormous power of communication and is connected to traditions and craftsmanship,” said Bekkaoui. “It is a symbol of resistance all around the world,” he added.
When the World Keffiyeh Day Collection came out, there were voices in the world of fashion saying that fashion and politics should be kept strictly separate. 
“I have read comments in the press saying that what I was doing wasn’t okay. Which I honestly think is ironic,” said Bekkaoui.
 “When you see what is presented on the catwalks by big fashion houses, like the pro-Ukraine T-shirts, you will understand the double standards those people adhere to,” he added sarcastically. 

In fashion, like the rest of the world, “we’re taught that people are equal and that everyone has human rights. But in reality it is not always this way because as soon as it gets too difficult you see that people quickly think in boxes,” he said.
Working on the collection was not easy; Bekkaoui did a lot of research on the origin, meaning, and ways of construction of the keffiyeh. Research was conducted “with the help of the Textile Museum. With the necessary craftsmanship we started weaving the fabric, thread by thread, using cashmere and wool,” he added.
The collection is an ode to the keffiyeh, “which is a piece of fabric that has been communicating and speaking to us for centuries,” Bekkaoui explained.
It is all about the context: “Without the context, the keffiyeh is a collection of threads, without soul, without substance.”
Bekkaoui’s collection is not just a political statement; it expresses sustainability as well. “I like sustainability, not just with materials, but also with intangible issues, like passing on traditions and history of the things that matter,” he explained.

“What is currently happening in Palestine is devastating. The injustice done to them and the genocide committed against an entire nation are unprecedented. And what’s weird for me is that all world leaders are watching and none of them is helping,” he added.

“The dehumanizing situations those people are living in, without food, water, or electricity, watching their loved ones getting bombed or slaughtered every single day… This has to stop,” he stressed.
According to Bekkaoui, everyone has the right to speak out about what is going on in the world, regardless of their profession. “You express yourself with the means you have. For some that is art, for others a text or a protest sign, for me it is my work,” he said.
“And I think that the Palestinians are the strongest people I know on earth. They have been fighting occupation and injustice for 75 years, and they never gave up,” he added.
Palestine is known for its Majdalawi fabric, which is woven using a single treadle loom, a foot-operated machine. This fabric originated in the Palestinian village of Al-Majdal Asqalan. The village was occupied by Israeli forces in 1948, its inhabitants were displaced, and the centuries-old practice would have died out if not for a cultural preservation project that set up a handful of studios in Gaza in the 1990s.
“With fashion, you don’t save lives, let’s face it. However, you can raise awareness, touch people, make them think, or move them,” said Bekkaoui. “I feel proud after each collection when I see people’s reactions and feel that I have touched their lives. And that gives me the power and inspiration to keep going,” he added.

Bekkaoui is proud when something he believes in is recognized by people through his work. “Fashion adds a lot to the world not just in terms of making it more beautiful but also making it more known about,” he said.
Clothing can change people’s perspective about themselves and others, he added.
His advice to emerging designers is to focus on their own identity: “Your identity reflects a fashion trend to your own authenticity. Real essence comes and goes, but real fashion remains authentic.” 
It is not difficult to remain innovative, according to Bekkaoui, if you remain authentic and develop a vision that remains close to yourself. “It’s all about passion. It’s the main trigger in our business.”
In addition to his own fashion label, Bekkaoui sets up projects that are politically engaged. For the Cobra Museum he linked contemporary non-conformists to the work of Cobra artists. He won the coveted international fashion prize Hy.res, was the winner of the Amsterdam Prize, and was a finalist of the Dutch Design Awards.