The Fabric Souk
Downtown Kuwait City, Kuwait
Now it's time to talk about the fashion frenzy in Kuwait. I found the Fabric Souk by complete accident the day that I wandered around downtown at the Old Souk. As I mentioned in that story, I became uncomfortably aware after a while of the fact that I was the only woman I was seeing. It felt like that scene in The Birds when they all walk out of a building and find a town full of birds sitting, staring, waiting. There was something kind of eerie about it to me, to be honest. I started to walk around randomly, trying to find somewhere to sit and rest for a bit past the eyes that were following me. I could not find a quiet spot without men! Finally I saw a few scattered women, and they all seemed to be headed in the same direction. I followed them and bam! Jackpot. I found all the women at the Fabric Souk, which was literally a mall entirely comprised of fabric stores, trim shops, and tailors. I have never seen anything like this.
I am going to go ahead and assume that most Americans think that women who wear Abiyas, the long, black, blousy robes, care nothing about fashion. Oh man. How wrong we have been. I found women made up in Kuwait beyond anything I have ever seen back home in America. I mean, these women look completely flawless. And the malls in Kuwait are serious. The fabric souk is the DIY side of the fashion world here. I came across a really nice woman who was kind enough to respond to my question of "what is going on here?!" with an answer and some of her time. She didn't want me to photograph her face, a common thing I experienced in Kuwait, but she took me around and let me photograph the process. Here is the scoop: the women bring their fashion ideas here from things they have seen in magazines, blogs, etc. They buy all the fabrics and bangley stuff that they want for their creation. They can buy everything they would ever need for their outfit, and they then just walk upstairs to one of the many tailors who then create the garment from the women's vision.
The woman I met creates designs, buys the fabric, has the tailors create the garment, then marks it up massively and sells it to the rich Kuwaiti's (even though I am pretty sure she is one of them). She showed me on her phone photos of the outfits she had created and I was really impressed with how beautiful and stylish they were. She told me about how she just throws her junky abiyas on to go out, but when she is at home she is glammed out to the max. I told her I did exactly the opposite, but then I realized that no, I just look junky all of the time. These women put so much care into their appearance! There is a whole fashion world that goes on under those abiyas. You will see some of this as you see the fashions that man the manequins outside the shops. I have to say that for me personally, and I have spent time thinking about this, one of the pluses of the abiyas would be the fact that I could be more lazy than I already am with fashion. I would wear tank tops and running tights under and call it a day. The fact that they are dressed so creatively and flawlessly underneath really begs thought for me.
As with the rest of Kuwait, all these shops that are all about women are manned by men. Most of the people selling the fabric are men. Most of the people doing the tailors are Indian, and there was a smattering of African, Indian, and Phillipino women as is the case in the rest of the city. The only people shopping were Kuwaiti women, who are mainly denoted by their abiyas. It was a really interesting experience for me because, culturally, we just don't have things like this in America. I loved looking at all the bling, all the glitz and glam, and thinking about the fact that this whole world of secrety style existed under all the black robes that surrounded me.