It’s no surprise that many creatives — whether in fashion, architecture, design, or music — are the product of two cultures. Often their work lies at the intersection of both, creating something far greater than the sum of its parts. That’s certainly true of Anissa Meddeb, one of Tunisia’s most exciting young fashion designers, who was raised between France and Tunisia. Her work straddles both East and West; combining a European and Arab design sensibility as well as a Japanese-inspired aesthetic.
“I always find inspiration in traditional garments from different countries and I’m particularly inspired by the heritage and craftsmanship of Tunisia,” Meddeb told Arab News. “I look at North African silhouettes such as kaftans, djellabas, and sarouel pants, and I like to reinterpret them. I mix and match them with Western sartorial inspiration to create something new and unexpected.”
Meddeb’s interest in fashion started early, driven by hours of drawing in notebooks. “I don’t know when I discovered that passion exactly, but recently I found a little notebook in my parents’ house from when I was eight years of age, and it was filled with drawings of different outfits and accessories,” she said.
While Tunisia may seem homogenous to those who do not live there, the reality is very different, Meddeb explained. “There’s not one single Tunisian aesthetic. There are multiple, that come from the different civilizations we experienced in Tunisia over more than 3,000 years: Berber, Roman, Carthaginian, French and Italian. The aesthetic that I chose is essentially Mediterranean; the colors are mostly shades of blue and white, and the cuts are architectural and pure.”
Her work is full of clean, symmetrical lines that mesh with traditional texture and patterns to create something new and contemporary. Meddeb begins her creative process by gathering research images and drawing them, or by working directly with traditional pieces that inspire her to reinterpret them. “Sometimes, it all starts with a fabric that particularly inspires me; something that will influence the overall vibe of the collection. I like to search for exciting textiles during my travels — in Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, New York — as those bring something unique (to my designs).”
New York is a city close to Meddeb’s heart, as she studied at Parsons, arguably the most prestigious design institution in the world. Those years taught her a lot. “The first year at Parsons is the ‘foundation year,’ when you explore a wide array of skills and practices such as painting, woodworking, sculpting, imagining spaces, making maps. This is when I understood that a good designer — whether in fashion, architecture, interior design, or product design — should have a multi-disciplinary approach and look for solutions outside of their field. We were often in groups and so I also realized the importance of working with others.”
Since the start of the Arab Spring, Tunisia has seen an explosion of creativity — indeed, the entire Arab World seems to be filled with creatives who sell online around the world but are very much rooted in their respective communities. That creative boom is illustrated by the sheer number of regional designers whom Meddeb namechecks.
“I have a big crush on MarrakshiLife, which is based in Marrakech in Morocco,” Meddeb said. “Its aesthetics resonate with my own: The use of stripes, comfortable shapes, and geometric cuts inspired by traditional Berber garments. (Someone else) whose work I admire is (Lebanese designer) Rabih Kayrouz. And in New York, I got to know Gabi Asfour at Parsons. He is originally Lebanese and Palestinian, and he is the co-founder of threeASFOUR, an avant-garde collective of three designers. I interned for them for a year, and I learned so much working in their studio, drafting complex patterns, and I was really inspired by their design process.” She also cites Lebanese brand Second Street (“I like their approach of being socially conscious and offering free fashion design education for talented people lacking resources”), Tunisian designers Salah Barka and accessory brand Elbe, among others.
The future seems bright for Meddeb, even given the current state of affairs. “What the COVID-19 crisis has taught me is that it’s good to set goals,” she said. “Even if, sometimes, they can’t be met, it at least gives me a roadmap to follow, so I never step away from my vision and dreams.”