Young Uyghur fashion designer puts spin on traditional silk for the catwalk

By Li Jingjing in Urumqi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/12 21:43:39

A model poses while wearing an Alim Adil gown. Photo: Courtesy of Alim Adil


 

Alim Adil Photo: Cui Meng/GT



 

Design by Alim Adil Photo: Courtesy of Alim Adil

Alim Adil explains he had to travel far from home before he clearly saw the beauty that had surrounded him every day growing up.

The rich and colorful patterns that set off the 25-year-old designer's work on the catwalk are inspired by the traditional daily wear of Uyghur women. In particular, Adil's use of Atlas silk, a distinct fabric unique to his home, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

For centuries, Atlas silks were prized for their bursts of color and creativity, the light material perfectly suited to Xinjiang's summer heat.

But despite Adil's designs catching the attention of high-profile celebrities such as Fan Bingbing, he explains the art's future is hanging by a thread.

Homespun tale

Adil came to Beijing when he was 16, and later enrolled in the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology.

Over the past five years, Adil experimented with Atlas in his designs, seeking the best combinations of color, material and aesthetic.

"It's very hard to balance traditional features with modern fashion," Adil told the Global Times in a one-on-one interview.

But he soon realized that he need to dig deeper. Adil poured over the numerous essays and dissertations written about Atlas silks. But despite the abundance of literature, he found that few scholars had actually tried silk weaving - a skill still kept alive in many households in Xinjiang, especially in the southern cities of Kashgar and Hotan.

The entire process, from harvesting the silk to weaving and dyeing, is long and difficult, even for the most skilled weaver.

So to better understand Atlas silks, Adil traveled to Hotan several times to study with local weavers.

The most fascinating part, Adil explains, is that methods vary and patterns are unique, originating from the artisan's own vision.

Patterns often contain images of plants, animals or religious motifs, while all the dyes are made from natural pigments, said Adil.

But the colorful and traditional designs are in danger of becoming a thing of the past.

Adil blames not only a lack of incentive for Atlas silk weavers, but also the low-cost printed replicas and products from Uzbekistan flooding the market.

"Atlas is in a position it shouldn't be. It can do much better," said Adil, who has since devoted himself to bringing Atlas to a wider market.

Tracing the past

For Adil, his study of Atlas silk has in part been a journey to understanding his own culture.

Adil showed a talent for art in high school. During that time he won numerous awards for his work.

But in order to expand his horizons, Adil tried a number of different jobs in order to, as he put it, "force himself to associate with more people."

At the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, Adil delved straight into fashion design. Slowly, he was surprised to discover that all his works were drawing heavily from Uyghur culture.

"I asked my tutor why that is, and he told me 'because those are your roots.'"

But when he looked back on the years since leaving home, Adil realized that he didn't really understand the culture he had come from.

"No wonder other people are prejudice against us (Uyghurs), even we ourselves know so little about our own culture," he said.

For Adil, Atlas silk served as a lighthouse in his journey into Uyghur culture.

"When I started, I aimed at helping to save Atlas and let more people know about a culture that they may have no idea about. But in fact, it helped me to find myself," said Adil.

Sewing full circle

Bring traditional Atlas to modern fashion and wider audiences is what Adil aims for with his Urumqi-based fashion label, Alim Adil Couture.

Keeping in step with international fashion and youth trends, his gowns, suits and wedding dresses all feature Atlas elements.

The results have been a cut above. Photos from his Beijing fashion show in June garnered serious attention on Sina Weibo, with many people asking for links to buy Adil's designs.

His gowns have also found favor among celebrities, such as Chinese film diva Fan Bingbing.

Adil attributes his success not only to his rediscovery of his roots, but the perspective his travels provide.

"The reason that make designs more fashionable than locals is because I have been away for so long. I was educated for eight years in other places, learning new things." Adil said.

"Because I'm out of the circle, I see more clearly when I look back."


Newspaper headline: Pattern for success


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