She's dressed the likes of Amal Clooney in her own styles, while her boutique is brimming with brilliant designer pieces from bygone eras. Farah Hosny meets the Egyptian designer and curator of Bambah Boutique; Dubai's hub of all things vintage.
“It all started with vintage,” Maha Abdul Rasheed says, seated demurely atop a pin tucked pale grey couch. The ‘it’ she is referring to is her now renowned boutique, Bambah, which is essentially a chic ode to all things sartorially bygone. The store, located along Dubai’s Jumeriah Beach Road, is a dual dimensional success story. It started out as a curator of sorts, sourcing vintage pieces from across the globe and following the clamouring for old world glamour that arose as a result, Abdul Rasheed herself started to design ready-to-wear, vintage-inspired collections; styles which fused past and present and soon found themselves gracing the figures of everyone from Kaley Cuoco to Amal Clooney.
Clad in a tea length skirt embroidered with red poppies around the rim, Abdul Rasheed herself epitomises the exact aesthetic of her brand. But her current standing, high on the sartorial ranks of region, began far from that. The Egyptian-born brunette was raised between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE, before she started her career in the financial sector in the latter. “Random, I know!” she laughs. “But eventually I realised that no, I’m not one for finance or the corporate world and that I’ve always wanted to do my own thing.” An avid collector of vintage, Abdul Rasheed gravitated towards fashion. “I’ve always been a collector of vintage by nature; whenever I travel I’ll go to people’s homes, fairs, trade shows, anywhere – I’ve always found this adrenaline rush when you shop for vintage that you don’t get anywhere else,” the designer says passionately. "I like to rummage through racks, I like to come up with all these unique ideas, I like to play around with the pieces…” she adds. So she joined forces with her brother Hussein, a multimedia producer who has “always had an eye for collectibles,” to pool their talents and pull their passions out of the hobby sphere and turn them into a real life profitable project, with Bambah on one side of the villa and The Zoo Concept, an eclectic concept store, on the other.
Abdul Rasheed is now often touted as the woman who imported a previously foreign concept of vintage shopping into the Middle East, inducting the glimmering city that is Dubai into the hallowed halls of shopping for pieces from a different era. But she wasn’t without her reservations about convincing people to buy old, to revere the used, in a city where everything that glitters is likely quite literally 24 carat gold. “It was very tricky in the beginning because Dubai is all about the newest, the shiniest, the brightest,” she elaborates. “So you don’t know how people are going to react to vintage because they enjoy being ahead. So to convince them to go back was a bit tough at the start!” But reactions were entirely positive, with the boutique receiving rave reviews.
Though Abdul Rasheed paid attention to every minute detail, finicky about the presentation to ensure it was not reminiscent of vintage shopping abroad where it’s often all overloaded racks and musty scents, it was the inherent appeal of vintage to Abdul Rasheed that, as it turns out, was shared by many. “I think something a lot of people really liked is the fact that with vintage, there’s one of each,” she explains of the intrinsic uniqueness aspect that goes hand in hand with vintage shopping, “and people are starting to realise that it’s not about how expensive or how new the piece is, it’s just all about how you make it fit to your personality.”
After a few years, Abdul Rasheed was inspired to start her own vintage-inspired, ready-to-wear line - a line which, at its core, extracts style elements from the past and reinterprets them in a modern day fashion vernacular. The jump from sourcing to creation happened as a natural corollary for her. “You can’t help your inspiration and to me vintage inspires me in every way. So it started like I would come across really interesting pieces like an old Balmain jacket or a YSL skirt – and you can’t help but think how to modernise it and how to make it fit in today’s world.” That was the beginning, but it eventually evolved into a full-blown collection of new pieces, inspired by decades long gone. “The essence of the brand will always be vintage,” she says, but with the collections she currently creates, she instead blends old world and new world fashion. “It’s very feminine. It has a lot of ruffles and bows and polka dots. But it’s daring - yet still classic and elegant.” She cites the line’s now popular bow tube as the perfect example; a risqué fashion choice but with an aesthetic that is most certainly old school. “You remain true to the aesthetics of the brand but you just work on it and see how you can make it better and how you can make it more adaptable for today’s world basically,” she explains.
And not only did the young ingénue win a slew of awards for her work and the boutique, but her pieces have been also donned by a plethora of style icons, fashion bloggers, and celebrities, including Amal Clooney of whom Abdul Rasheed says, “she was my biggest achievement as she is one of my personal style icons.” And Abdul Rasheed’s own style mirrors exactly her brand’s; whimsical and elegant; Grace Kelly meets Alice in Wonderland in classic silhouettes combined with daring cuts. And in the same way that her own style is tied to the brand, the brand is tied to her. “I always say having your own business is like having a child; it’s the same kind of commitment, same kind of responsibility; like you can’t neglect, you can’t just take off one day and not think about it. And your thoughts follow you everywhere you go. Like you can’t disconnect," she explains. “It’s also hard because it’s a very subjective industry. So trying to find the balance to try to please – you can’t please everyone – but trying to please as much as you can is also very exhausting. But it’s fun, no complaints!”
Despite mild challenges, Abdul Rasheed has most definitely found her passion in this world and is planning on expanding Bambah’s ever growing reach, particularly in the direction of her home country. “I didn’t get to grow up in Egypt but when I launched Bambah I always wanted to stay true to my roots and Bambah is a very typical Egyptian name and that’s where it came from basically. And at the same time most of the Arab or Middle Eastern customers will recognise the word and can trace it back to my roots.” She even had furniture flown in from her mother's and grandmother’s old homes in Egypt for the boutique "so there’s this whole Egyptian touch to it. I always think about Egypt and about how Bambah would do here.” She even shot the lookbook for her last collection in Cairo at the iconic Mena House Hotel, a nod to her hometown.
On the shorter term front, she is currently working on her SS16 collection and shows no signs of slowing down. Fashion is where she will be firmly entrenched, for the foreseeable future. “With fashion there’s just always something new happening. I love that you stumble on so many amazing ideas by mistake. There’s just always this adrenaline rush that I myself feed off.”
You can check out their Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram @bambahboutique.
Photos produced exclusively for CairoScene by @MO4Network's #MO4Fashion
Styling: Gehad Abdallah
Photography: Lobna Derbala
Location: Dokan Boutique