NYFW for Spring 2021 kicked off Sunday night. By Tuesday afternoon, it was already a sea of beachy caftans, floaty djellabas, floral printed garden party frocks, utility pants, comfy oversized sweater, tunics, lug sole boots, distressed denim, and logo t’s including one that said: “Fuck You You Fucking Fuck”.
Yes, I agree there are a few things I would like to give the middle finger. Still, with few exceptions (Libertine’s wonderful collection and the showing of “House of Cardin” among them), it’s been a predictable ho-hum push and pulls between the dreamers and the pragmatists.
This season one collection stands out. Sukeina, designed by Omar Salam, is outstanding. It has me thinking of Ferre, Alaia, Rucci, and McQueen. The Nice born New Yorker presented his first show in conjunction with NYFW last February at the Spring Studios. I was intrigued and wanted to know more.
I spoke with Omar by phone on Tuesday morning. Salam calls his spring collection “Miracle” in response to a time when everything in the world seems grim.
“It’s important that at this time when everybody seems to be doing something safe to go back to that very word that is so dear to our heart, which is to inspire. To really inspire”- Omar Salam.
Omar describes his collection as “buoyant, hopeful, and exuberant”. “I would hope that someone would see this and think that was done at a time when the world was doing its best.” Omar admits that he rarely uses color, but he did for this collection because “when it’s the most gray, you need the most color.” The designer observes that the use of color is “dangerous” if not done well.
Among the fabrics Omar uses are mesh and neoprene. He braided, laced, and beaded mesh and changed the body and texture of neoprene by using up to 15 different fusings. The designer uses feathers to add a playful, surprising touch. Omar chooses fabrics that are “underwhelming” and very “simple”. As long as they have a nice honest feel and touch, they can retreat it.
Omar loves the idea of being conservative and covering up. “I have an obsession with covering people’s necks. It’s very monastic. There is nothing more sensual than a covered neck,” But he will also use sheer materials such as silk chiffon. “It’s a bit hide and seek” admits Omar, who notes that his woman is definitely not dowdy.
I noticed a complete absence of prints. Omar says that he is cautious with prints because there are already others like Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera that do it very well. “It’s not that I don’t like prints. But for me, it’s important to do something that needed me to do it for it to be done. And print was not something I felt needed me”.
“From the beginning, I made the decision that I did not want to be lumped into a large group of designers who are polluting the planet but not doing anything new or fresh or uplifting,” says Omar. “Being a new designer, I needed to look at the spectrum of all that is out there and say, okay, what is my contribution to this industry that has not been tapped into?”
Omar founded Sukeina in 2012. Sukeina is the name of his beautiful late mother. It also means bright light. Omar, whose West African parents were diplomats, initially pursued a career in screenwriting but realized that storytelling was his first love and that fashion was his calling. Fashion is a language that speaks before one says anything, acknowledges the Parsons graduate who cut his teeth working for seven years at Sonia Rykiel, and two years at Christian Lacroix.
Sukeina reaches out globally. Many of Omar’s customers live in Japan, Asia, Dubai, and Qatar. They are attracted to his artistic, architectural, and exceptional evening wear and elevated sportswear. In 2018, Naomi Campbell chose to wear one of Sukeina’s designs; it created a buzz. Omar says he has been selling more since the pandemic hit.
Since Omar presented his spring collection, his company is garnering a lot of attention. For the past seven years, Sukeina developed a strong Direct To Consumer business. Today, stores are coming to him. The designer wants to make sure he has partners who understand the DNA of the brand. “We are not making something that is going with the grain” admits Omar. “Everybody is making jogging pants and pajamas, which is wonderful, but it would be a terrible world if we didn’t have beauty to aspire to.”
Anna Wintour has been mentoring Omar since July. She gives Omar guidance and is helping to introduce him to the right stores. It can’t be just any store. Ikram in Chicago is now carrying his collection. He is meeting with Isetan in Japan and is in conversation with Maison Marche here in the U.S. Matches Fashion in London is of interest, and so is Bergdorf Goodman and Farfetch. “We are trying to be very careful to make sure that our mindset and the stores that carry us go together, so it’s a good partnership”.
I mention to Omar that Ralph Rucci called his spring collection “incredible” and that I see vestiges of Rucci, Ferre, McQueen, and Alaia in his work. While Omar has tremendous respect for all these creators, he is not inspired by designers because, as he puts it, “it’s boring to reinterpret what someone else has done”. What generally inspires Omar are the monks, the Mongols, or the West African tribes and their very simple living ways.
Case in point: the dramatic gown which ends the spring show. It is braided like the sculpted wood combs given to women by the men who want to court them. It’s a custom found in some West African tribes and somewhat akin to a love letter.
I asked Omar, who is also the creative director of The Frallain Group, a leading promoter of African luxury brands if there were anybody he would love to dress. “I have my eye on Anna. I want to dress Anna for the Met Gala.” Here’s hoping there is a Met Gala in May, and that it is not virtual.