Iraqi Designer's Vision: Covered, Still Sexy

Nov 10, 2011
Originally published on May 23, 2012 11:16 am

Renowned Iraqi fashion designer Hana Sadiq has dressed both Queen Noor and Queen Rania of Jordan, as well as members of the royal families of Saudi Arabia.

For the past 25 years, Sadiq has shown her collections throughout the Middle East and Europe. Thursday night, she wraps up her first tour of the United States with an event at Washington, D.C.'s historic Lincoln Theatre. It's called "Turaath — A Celebration of Arab Culture in America," and it's sponsored by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Sadiq trained as a painter. While studying art in Paris, she tells Tell Me More host Michel Martin, she was inspired by memories of her grandmother, who dazzled guests at her home with her style. She entered rooms with grandeur and grace, wearing long flowing dresses with vibrant colors and traditional details. Sadiq thought her grandmother was far more chic than any of the European women she knew.

"I thought, my god, what I'm doing here?" Sadiq says. "I have to teach the women how to be feminine again and sensual as they were before."

Sadiq is known for her intricate designs, featuring detailed embroidery, vibrant colors and traditional calligraphy drawn from Arab culture. Many of her designs feature long, full sleeves and sweeping skirts. She says these elements are not about modesty, but are meant to signal that a woman is pampered, that she isn't dressed for household chores or work.

"It means she is served," Sadiq says, "she's not doing dishes, she's not working in the farm or gardening."

Sadiq's 2011 collection focuses on the idea of love. "All these people, they talk a lot of violence in the world," Sadiq says, "so I went back to the classic way of how we see love."

There are dozens of words in Arabic that mean "love." Sadiq signs each of her designs with one of these words to celebrate love and peace. Her dresses have verses of love poems embroidered on them.

With her first tour of the U.S., Sadiq hopes to show American women a glimpse of Arab fashion that celebrates the culture. She also wants to offer an alternative to the Western conception of glamour. She says fashion in the U.S. finds allure in gowns that leave skin bare, with open shoulders and high slits at the leg.

"But it's not sensual, it's not feminine," Sadiq says. "This is what I want to show them: You can be covered, but also very, very sexy and feminine."

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are going to end the program today by talking fashion. No apology. It's a hobby for many people and, for others, dare we say it, a way of life.

In a few minutes, we'll visit with Kevan Hall. He's dressed First Lady Michelle Obama and A list Hollywood stars. We want to ask him about his rise to the top of the fashion world, one of the few African Americans in those ranks, and maybe a word or two about his new bridal collection.

But first, we take a look at high fashion in the Arab world. Renowned Iraqi designer, Hana Sadiq, is known for her intricate designs with elements like embroidery and even calligraphy drawn from Arab culture. She says she hopes to create an elegant look tailored for the modern Arab woman.

She's designed dresses for members of the royal families of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other gulf states, but now, for the first time, she's bringing her distinctive style to the U.S. Tonight, she's wrapping up her first U.S. tour at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C. at an event called Turaath, a celebration of Arab culture in America.

And Hana Sadiq joins us now. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

HANA SADIQ: Thank you to give me this opportunity to explain about our heritage.

MARTIN: Which is what Turaath means, correct? It means heritage.

SADIQ: Turaath, in Arabic, it means heritage. Yes.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, wonderful. Thank you for coming. Now, when people think of American fashion, I think that they think, you know, casual. I think, when people think of European fashion, perhaps they have a sense of maybe tight tailoring and things of that sort. When you think of Arab fashion, what do you think of?

SADIQ: I want to just explain, very clearly, that, when we speak about fashion, it means for inside the community of Arabic families because the best that they wear, they wear it for the people they love. It means husband, family or friends. They don't wear their best clothes for people they don't know in the street. So this is the difference between two culture, the Western and Eastern culture.

MARTIN: I see your point because I think, for many Americans, their image of Arab women and how they attire themselves, they're perhaps used to seeing public figures wearing what we would call Western attire. You know, the skirt suit and a dress. But if they see women dressed in a traditional way, many times, they see them covered, so they don't have a sense of what else is possible.

SADIQ: Yeah. What's going on.

MARTIN: What's going on. And so you're saying that, really, showing your best is for the home?

SADIQ: It's for people they know. And when I went to the West, they think that our dresses, because they are long and long sleeves, it's for traditional conservative women, which is not true because the long sleeves and long dress, in our culture, means that the woman - she is pampered and it means she's served.

MARTIN: Oh, so she's wearing long sleeves because she's not doing dishes?

SADIQ: She's not doing dishes. She's not working in the farm or gardening.

MARTIN: How did you get bitten by the fashion bug? How did you fall in love with fashion?

SADIQ: I started as a painter. I was famous in Iraq and Baghdad. You know, Baghdad was beautiful city with the river and the nicest sky and the palm trees, and these were inspiring anybody. And then I left Baghdad. I studied in Paris about painting and ceramic and whatever connected with art.

But I had nostalgia for our heritage and I remember my grandmother. She was using all these long, beautiful dresses and when she enter, she was much more feminine than any other western dresses. These dresses gives the woman grandeurs, very, very sheik and classy. Everybody looked at her when she enter.

And I thought, my God, what I'm doing here? I have to teach the women how to be feminine again and sensual as they were before.

MARTIN: Now, your styles - I've seen both traditional flowing styles that some might associate with more conservative wear, but I've also seen more figure-revealing styles that hug close to the body. Are you - do you sell some pieces or show some pieces in some parts of the world but not others, or do you bring your whole collection wherever you go?

SADIQ: No. It's the same collection. This collection, it's about love. All pieces is signed with the name of love. You know, love in Arabic, it's not like an English, one or two words. I found more than 70 words for love in Arabic and we use it in our poetry and in our songs. So I use this collection like peace against violence. All these people, they talk a lot of violence in the world, so I went back to the classic way how we see love, and through the fashion you can love her fashion, her dress, but you admire the woman and then you forget about her dress immediately.


MARTIN: Finally, and thank you for coming, by the way. Before we let you go, is it your hope that women who are not of Middle Eastern heritage will wear your designs?

SADIQ: I'm working on the Arabic woman first.


SADIQ: They have to respect their heritage so the others they respect them. Second, why not? Red carpet, I see a lot of actress but it's all the same. It's open shoulders, open sleeves, open - we see a lot of legs, but it's not sensual, it's not feminine. It's not because you show your breasts, it's feminine. This is what I want to show them, so you can be covered, but also very, very sexy and feminine.

MARTIN: So what will you be wearing tonight?

SADIQ: I'm wearing turquoise because Iraqi color of Babylon Gate was turquoise, ceramic turquoise. And I'm always proud to be Iraqi also.

MARTIN: Hana Sadiq is an Iraqi fashion designer. She is based in Jordan. She's known in Italy as the Ambassador of Arabic Fashion. She wraps up her first U.S. tour tonight at the event Turaath, which is held at the historic Lincoln Theater in Washington, D.C. Hana Sadiq, thank you so much for speaking with us.

SADIQ: Thank you. Thank you very much.

MARTIN: If you'd like to see some of Hana Sadiq's designs, go to, click on the Programs tab and then on TELL ME MORE. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.