“Trends can be found everywhere: in ourselves, our surroundings, our people, our tribes.” Moroccan designer Amine Bendriouich refuses to allow his fashion label Amine Bendriouich Couture and Bullshit (ABCB) to fall victim to trends or seasons. Instead he creates timeless pieces that he believes will never go out of style. With his work grounded in the conviction that it is not about him, “it’s about the person who chooses the garment,” Bendriouich believes it is the individual wearing the design that makes the piece authentic.
Bendriouich’s designs are visually rooted in the aesthetics of his 1980s childhood, while his technical expertise is drawn from his fashion studies at ESMOD Tunis. Just one year after completing his degree in 2006, he founded ABCB in Casablanca. Based out of Marrakech, Casablanca and Berlin, Bendriouich’s creative influence is not restricted to Morocco’s stylish younger generation and has reached far beyond Morocco’s borders. From Vogue Arabia to France24, Bendriouich’s innovative designs have been recognized on a global scale, landing him esteemed titles such as ‘Best Menswear Designer Award’ at the 2012 Arise Magazine Fashion Week in Lagos and the award of ‘Createurope’ in Berlin in 2009. With such international recognition, Bendriouich’s fashion label has become part of a larger movement aiming to raise global consciousness about African fashion. Not taking his international influence for granted, Bendriouich founded Contemporary Moroccan Roots, a cultural festival which brings together visual artists, musicians and fashion designers from around the world to collaborate in an abandoned factory in Casablanca.
While never claiming an overtly political stance, Bendriouich sees his role as one of a storyteller and themes each season based on his own perceptions of the world at that given moment. The work that culminates is distinctive and thoughtful, and acts as a social commentary while still remaining apolitical in nature. Take for example, In Go(l)d We Trust (2015) in which Bendriouich combines black silk and printed sporty fabrics to play on stereotypes of Arab culture that typically revolve around oil wealth. His 2014 collection, Ich Bin Ein Berberliner was created in collaboration with women of the Moroccan Sahara in an effort to call attention to their artisanal craftsmanship. Modern silhouettes and bold lines are used to confront Moroccan folkloric stereotypes as well as demonstrate the blending of Berber and Berlin culture.
“What makes the summer in some parts of the world, makes the winter in others,” Bendriouich says in regards to his project Winter in Afrika (2013); a summer collection consisting of bright colors and cheerful vintage patterns from the 1980s. The irony however, becomes more than a play on words, enabling us to recognize the inherent global power structure that exists in the fashion industry. As a designer who sees no limits, it is no surprise Bendriouich’s creations are to be taken as more than simply pleasing to the eye. Yet despite the many layers that can be pulled out of each design, what makes ABCB so successful is that the fashion remains at the heart of the work. Just as Bendriouich believes the clothe is made by the person wearing it, the true meaning behind each collection is left open to interpretation.
We caught up with Bendriouich to learn more about the making of his successful brand, the sources of his creative inspiration and to garner his insights on the current state of the fashion industry.
What initially drew you to fashion design?
It’s a funny question because I actually was a kid who drew a lot from very young; from dinosaurs to dogs to weapons. But then when I was a teenager I started designing clothes, for the simple reason that I was only able to wear clothes that my parents would buy me so I used to dream of the clothes I would love to have, fantasize about my perfect wardrobe. So, I started designing clothes. Then in high school, I wasn’t able to invite girls out, so my way to show a girl that I liked her was to take her name, design a logo and a mini-collection for her. Then I would take all the sketches and give it to her. It never worked out but [laughs] I guess it allowed me to develop my design skills. That’s basically what got me hooked into fashion design. Then there was the first edition of the Festival of the Film of Marrakech. Among the jury was Jean Paul Gaultier I went to the cinema and waited for him to come out. I showed him my sketches, of course he overlooked it quickly. He was like “Oh this is good, you should keep doing this” and he put an autograph on it. Since that moment, I’ve never stopped designing.
Why did you decide to include the statement ‘Couture & Bullshit’ after your brand name ‘Amine Bendriouich’?
Simply because I think there is a lot of bullshit in the fashion industry. It is just a cheeky way of talking it out and being honest about it. For me, the seasons thing didn’t make sense. You can’t tell people, “It’s the best thing to have” and then come three months or six months later and be like “no actually, I was wrong, this is the best thing to have.” This whole ‘trend’ thing and all of that, that’s what I consider bullshit. When I started my brand, I was a lot younger and I guess I needed to speak out and say this out loud.
How has the brand grown since you launched your first collection in 2007?
In the very beginning I was working on monochromatic collections. I was afraid of color and I would use only black and white. Then I started working with brighter colors, stripes, and checks. That was Winter in Afrika. Then the collection that followed was Birds of Ghana, and I think that was one of the most important ones because it freed me in my relationship to color. That’s the collection that allowed me to dare more using color and mixing different colors on the same garment. Then, I started integrating Moroccan handcraft into my work because when everyone would say I’m a fashion designer from Morocco, they would be like “Oh you’re doing kaftans.” So I would be like “No, I’m not doing kaftans.” Like if all the Japanese designers were doing kimonos. I needed to take care of myself from that stereotype, so I was only doing urban stuff. But I wanted to use the craftsmanship back then because I respect this knowledge, I just don’t want to use it as decoration on my stuff. The first work was Ich Bin Ein Berberliner in collaboration with the women in the Sahara of Morocco. Then after this came the collaboration with Hassan Hajjaj, The Gnawa Bombs, last year. My last collection, A DNA, is the sum or the resume of my evolution since day one.
Why have you decided to promote your line as unisex?
I never decided to promote my line as unisex. As a kid, I was impressed with the historical characters who would wear skirts, like the Scottish with their kilts or the Samurai. So, one of the first things I made for myself when I started producing garments was a pleated long dress. When I started my line, it was mainly for men but then I realized that I had more and more female clients going for stuff that I designed for males. I think I discovered this in a very organic way. I believe this sex thing; the gender thing is made up. It’s just another tool used by fashion to sell more. At the end of the day, a garment becomes yours once you decide it’s yours, you know? It’s not about me, it’s about the person who chooses the garment. So I don’t really design for gender or for men or women. I just design what I think makes sense, that I need to like. I would never design anything just for the sake of putting it in the market, if I didn’t like it myself. I’m always inspired by people in my surroundings so that’s generally how the designing process starts. So, I never decided to promote it as a unisex, it was just spontaneous, way long before this whole topic became trendy.
How does your multi-cultural experience living between Morocco and Germany influence your design choices?
I think it’s just amazing because I have this cultural heritage that’s very big, that you get when you were born in a country like Morocco. It’s a kingdom that has hosted a lot of civilizations. We’ve been Jews, Christians, Muslims, Greeks, Romans, Berber; all of that you carry with you as a child. Plus the fact that I was very curious. Before internet was accessible in Morocco, I had to go hunt all these magazines or books that I would find in secondhand bookshops in Marrakech. There was this little souk, that has since been destroyed, that was like my internet. I was very curious and interested in all this culture that was happening and produced elsewhere. When I went to Berlin, it was just what I needed at that point in my life, I went there to complete my kind of studies. I think it’s a big added value, when one goes somewhere else and experiences another culture and opens themselves to it. I think it can get you only amazing results. But my design choices still are very personal and organic and spontaneous and honest regardless of the place I am.
What are your current sources of creative inspiration?
I think my timeless source of inspiration is people. I think people are the richest source of inspiration you can have. I think I have muses around me all the time. All the friends and people I have in my life are big sources of inspiration. Every day I meet new ones. People, they influence you by their works, by their deeds, by their emotions, by their creations, you know. They make music, they make movies, they make art, they dance, they are happy, they are sad, it never stops, it’s alive. So as long as this life is going on, there is inspiration to get from it every day. You just got to be open to it. But recently, I think that I’m more focused on how to integrate more Moroccan cultural heritage into my work. Also, thinking more about introducing technology into my work, in an organic way. My main focus is how to create a solid balance in my production between industry and craftsmanship.
In regards to your Winter in Afrika collection you say, “Fashion needs to think GLOBAL.” What does this statement mean to you?
I say “fashion needs to think more global” because the world is not these fashion capitals. The world is not Paris, New York, Milan. When it’s winter in Europe, it’s summer in South America. In Africa, there’s places where it’s winter like Europe and there’s places where it’s summer. There’s places where there is no summer, or there are places where there is no winter. Fashion until now, I think has been produced for white people, people who live in certain parts of the world. But all the developing countries that are becoming world economic powers are changing the game. If the money is in Dubai or Sao Paolo or Rio, then we gotta make something for these people, otherwise it doesn’t make sense to sell them fur when it’s summer. So yeah, fashion needs to think global. I think it’s happening, still not in the right way as I would think it, but we’ll see. I think everything needs time to set itself up and it will happen at some point.
What inspired you to bring together African artists by launching your annual art festival, Contemporary Moroccan Roots?
The idea started after I did this first show in Casablanca in 2007. The next day I was broke and I had the choice to buy cigarettes or to pay a cab to go get my collection back. The night before, everyone was telling me, “Oh it’s beautiful,” “Oh it’s nice,””Oh but I can’t wear it!” I was like “Ok, guys but that’s not the point. The skies’ beautiful. The trees are beautiful. The sea is beautiful. It’s not about that.” I just realized that people, in order to understand my work, they need to understand where it’s coming from; the culture it belongs to, the scene it belongs to. At this time, there was also all these old guys going on TV and press saying, “These kids who are singing rap or electronic music, DJs, graffiti artists, are importing this culture from abroad, it’s not our culture.”So the idea was like, “Ok guys, you think we are not Moroccans? Ok.” So I called the event, Contemporary Moroccan Roots. We are Moroccan, just contemporary Moroccans, and ‘roots’ because in a few years, your kids will have us as their references. We will be the people they are looking up to. So yeah, I wanted to do something to explain where I come from and what I stand for.
What are you loving most about Moroccan fashion right now?
The fact that it’s still young, it’s still a baby. Everyone is excited, they’re doing a lot of things. There’s a lot of new brands and designers. Some better than others but it’s good, it’s happening. So what I love about it now is that it’s still a baby, it’s not pretentious yet. We’re still on the ground and I like that.
What’s next for AB-CB?
Oh wow. There is a lot. We are opening our first store in Marrakech in the Medina, in this space that will gather a lot of different creatives. The space is called Shtattou. I have very positive feelings about that space. That’s the next step. We are launching the new version of our website and online shop finally very soon. There is a lot of collaborations going on in different places in the world; in New York, Berlin, London. Also, in that shop [in the Shtattou], there will be a space where I will have stuff from other people that I love. So for example, I have a selection of amazing vintage clothes from Zoe Bedeaux; the artist, stylist, muse, model. I will have jewelry from the ALAMA Project, some Maasai jewelry. I will have a few pieces from the Moroccan fashion designer and artist, Yassine Morabite. I will have artworks; the first artist I will have will be the contemporary painter, Mohamed Mourabiti, one of the most important contemporary Moroccan artists in Morocco. I’m also working on a collaboration on a light piece with Yahya. Chandeliers and designer works on brass mainly, he’s the guy who designed the box for the Wu-Tang Clan secret album. So yeah, we are working on a lighting piece which I’m also very excited about. That’s all I can tell you about for now but I promise I’ll come out with more when it’s time.