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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wearing Aysha Saeed is like taking a trip around the world….

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a trip. I could barely contain myself when I would tell friends that I was spending almost two weeks in South Africa. I could actually see a sense of glee as their faces lit up.

So why did I choose to visit South Africa? That’s a question I was asked both in NYC and in South Africa. Simply put, I came here seeking inspiration for my brand, particularly for the Spring 2011 collection. After all, a fashion designer needs to see and discover new places in order to design; so traveling to exotic locales is a vital part of my job description….tough job, right?

Now returning on my long flight back to New York from Johannesburg, I decided to summarize this trip into a blog post, but am having difficulty doing so because there is so much I want to share with you. But I can say this much: the trip was everything I had imagined and then some. For instance, as we were descending into Cape Town, the landscape took my breath away; the sight of Table Top Mountain was breathtaking in the early morning hours. As the plane touched the tarmac, I found myself saying out loud, ‘This is Africa.’ Crazy as it may sound, I found myself saying this statement quite a few times for the next two weeks because I never thought I would come here.
In a just two short weeks I covered a lot of ground; I had to, I was on a mission. It started with my exploration of Cape Town. My first impression of this costal city was that I’m in a typical European city till I really started to discover it. Like so many other parts of Africa, it was beautiful beyond compare, with a color and serenity I’ve never seen in Europe or Asia, let alone here at home. Our guide drove us to the Cape of Good Hope, the southern most tip of Africa, that mysterious place that the 15th century Portuguese explorers passed at their peril; would they fall off the earth, which was after all flat!?

OK, back to my seeking inspiration…. Well, it was not difficult to discover just how African women inspired me. No, not so much by their sense of fashion, but by their decorum, the way they carried themselves, their zest for life. On my second day in Cape Town, I visited District Six, a village called Lagos, a poverty-stricken area with houses of tin, no running water, dirt roads, outdoor latrines, etc. But instead of sad faces, I saw a vibrant community with hustle and bustle, kids playing their games and singing African chants; or perhaps songs; women busy doing household chorus or working to earn a living, weather be it burning off hair of sheep heads (which seems to be high in demand as people were queuing to buy them), or working at a pottery workshop making cups/plates painted with bright African colors to sell to tourists.

I did get the feeling that women run the show here, which may explain why, every few blocks I saw hair salons (more like a square tin box with windows cut out and spray-painted signs denoting ‘Women’s Salon.’) These women work hard, and, at the same time, want to look good --- my kind of woman. Of course I found them inspirational. All women everywhere want to look their best, regardless of the circumstances.

South African hospitality was both welcoming and touching. It all began from the amazing hotel where I stayed, called appropriately enough, One & Only Hotel, in Cape Town. It may well be the only ‘six star’ hotel in Africa, and yes, it did live up to its reputation. In most things luxury is found in the details, and there were plenty of luxurious details that One & Only offered that made me feel I was definitely residing in a ‘six star hotel. For example, I had a ‘Pillow Menu’ placed on my night stand, and a choice of over a half-dozen different types of pillows! I did not order anything from the Pillow Menu, but it did put a smile on my face---and maybe that was the point of it all. But it did get me thinking that I need to start offering our customers a ‘pillow menu.’ Of course I don’t mean this literally. I want to offer my customers a service and details in my garments that will add a tinge of super luxury into our brand, details that can only surprise and delight because they’re unexpected, and will therefore ‘put a smile’ on their faces, too, and make them feel they’re wearing a six star brand, but at a coach price. And what are these details? Stay tuned, the wheels are churning!

For me, an African safari was thrilling and super fun. As an animal lover, I loved seeing wild animals roaming freely; it was a sight to behold. Although the African landscape was dry and brittle, I found their colors beautiful beyond compare, and those colors have stayed in my mind long after the event itself. I’m thinking of fabrics that would look best in the colors and contrasts of African earth.

The glistening taupe-colored skin of lions napping under a tree set off still more color schemes in my mind. Because it had not rained for a while, the grass was brittle to its core, but yet there were patches where green grass was peaking through with black dust surrounding it. When I asked our guide about the prevalence of black dust, he explained that in order to make new grass grow in dry seasons, old grass must be burned off completely (which explained black dust); and only then could fresh grass poke through…which was in a shade of teal green. Hmmm. Mix black with teal green and experiment until you come up with just the right color scheme. That was worth a mental note.

Well, to sum it up, my South African trip did not inspire me to do a literal Spring 2011 Collection, which should properly consist of safari jackets, animal prints, etc. Many designers have followed their instincts with African-inspired collections. So instead, in my collection, I intend to explore my own personal take of South Africa….a land of people, just like everywhere else, making it in their own way; only they seem happier than people elsewhere. Perhaps that’s because their land is breathtaking, and, after so many years, their land now officially belongs to them.

So upon my return, I quickly adjusted my Spring 2011 Collection mood board to incorporate inspirations I garnered from South Africa. And so here they are, or will be: the collection will reflect the strength of South African women and their balancing acts of survival, and, at the same time, doing what they can to stay beautiful. It’s a balancing act they seem to have perfected. As for the collection’s color pallet, it will reflect the earthy tones of the African plains. And to bring a rich color into the spring styles, I am looking to diamonds from Kimberly. So there will be plenty of color in the shades of yellow, pink, and blue, reflecting these precious stone found in South Africa; and maybe a touch of green to reference the vast South African plains and that valuable stone’s aura of luxury. Simply put, Spring 2011 will be a rich, vibrant, alluring - yet practical - collection. And let’s not forget my version of ‘pillow menu’…be sure to watch for these details.

Well, there you have it; now you need to be a little patient and keep an eye out for our Spring 2011 Collection. I am certain when you wear it, you will say, wearing Aysha Saeed is like taking a trip around the world….



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