In 2001, shortly after 9/11, I designed and upcycled two burqas into this top and skirt. I wanted to create something that represented ‘East-West’ in a time of discord between two countries I love. Also, I love the Japanese designer Issey Miyake and the burqa pleats always has that vibe to me (although much harder to manipulate). I moved the suffocating burqa net that usually covers the face to the bodice which caused quite a stir back then. This design was featured in a D.C. art show, shown on National Geographic television ... and it even caught the attention of the Washington Post, who put me on their front page in a story about Afghans living in America. The reporter erroneously stated that I transformed burqas into a bikini, and for a while, I received threats from Taliban supporters as a result (these threats lasted for many years and I received countless emails and comments online being called names I can’t repeat here).
On top of it, I was kind of a black sheep in the local community (and among family) because I wanted pursue my dream as a fashion designer in New York - which 20 years ago- was unheard of among the Afghan community. So many challenges to overcome then! The young generation now should be grateful how much easier they have it than us from the “first generation of immigrants” filled with judgement and “what will the people think” lifestyle for girls (where you moved your body the wrong way, you got labeled something). So they called me names but I obviously didn’t listen lol....
In the photo shoot, I added a pakol hat on my model to represent my Nuristani side (interesting fact: the pakol hat was first introduced in Afghanistan among the Nuristanis. Nuristan is a mountainous and very secluded part of Afghanistan, in the extreme east of the country, northeast of the capital Kabul. They could be descendants of Alexander the Great, and the hat does resemble those Macedonians wore when they came through Afghanistan. The pakol cap soon became the 'national' dress of the people of Nuristan (who converted to Islam after 1896) and soon Afghanistan. The hat is basically is a tube of wool that is rolled up around the head and sits on the head similar to a beret, and was later also adopted by many Westerners working in the 'golden age' of Afghanistan, and also among the Tajiki people living in the Panjshir valley north of Nuristan.).