Doe-eyed beauties swathed in brocade vests and wispy pantaloons recline on a velvet divan against the backdrop of Erbil’s ancient citadel. The explosion of color and exotica would have left Jean Leon Gerome, the celebrated 19th century orientalist painter, in a swoon. Welcome to Lara Dizeyee’s world, the newly minted princess of Kurdish haute couture.
The Viennese-born oil and gas professional burst on to the regional fashion scene in April with a spread in Vogue Arabia. Now she’s going global. Dizeyee will be showcasing her designs at Paris Fashion week in early July.
Dizeyee’s dizzying rise is vindication of her long cherished dream to create a unique line of luxury wear blending Kurdish traditions with contemporary twists that leave a woman “feeling like a queen.”
“I always believed that my work would reach the world stage. I wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t shocked, when I received the invitation to Paris,” Dizeyee told Al-Monitor in a recent interview at her workshop in Erbil’s Ainkawa neighborhood. “I knew from day one that those designs would go somewhere because I created them with so much hope and love,” Dizeyee said. “It’s a big achievement for me and for my people. Alhamdullilah, I am very happy.”
Courtesy Lara Dizeyee
Each of Dizeyee’s collections center on themes that are meant to showcase her native Kurdistan’s wild beauty and the resolute spirit that helped her people survive decades of atrocities under Saddam Hussain. Hailing from the storied Dizayee tribe — her father, Homer, is a celebrated poet and her cousin Safeen is the Kurdistan Regional Government’s foreign minister — the designer says she was inspired by “the beautiful dresses I saw my grandma wearing as I grew up.”
There are tribal variations, but a typical Kurdish woman’s dress is a nightmare for the impatient lover. The first layer consists of a long dress, its signature billowing sleeves knotted at the wrists. A waist-length gilet is fitted on top. A coat and harem pants complete the ensemble.
Dizeyee has tweaked each of them with her own distinct flourish. The linings of her gold filigree embroidered coats are every bit as sumptuous, their ribbon piping subtly revealed as one walks. Pearl beads accent high collars to finesse the regal air.
For photo shoots, Dizeyee brings out her treasured collection of heavy ruby-encrusted gold necklaces and bangles passed down from one generation of Dizayees to the other. “I want everything to be authentic, down to the last detail,” she said.
Many fans are delighted by her play on the klash, a traditional men’s woven white shoe, adding tassels and vivid embroidery that make them the perfect accompaniment for jeans.
Lara Dizeyee works with her tailor Ahmed Kobani in Erbil, April 30, 2023. (Amberin Zaman/Al-Monitor)
Her “rock” is Ali Kobani, a Kurdish tailor from northeast Syria who worked in Damascus for long years. At first he doubted her direction, asking, “How can you mix all these colors, are you out of your mind?” When he saw the results of “Dream,” the first collection, Kobani broke down in tears, Dizeyee recalled.
When in Kurdistan, women from leading tribes such as the ruling Barzanis and the Talabanis, as well as other notables like the Zebaris and Jaff, wear traditional Kurdish gowns. The palette of the month is plain colors, with the coats, dresses and vests coming in varying shades of the same hues.
Beyond Iraq’s borders, however, Kurdistan’s elite can be spotted in the latest from Prada and Gucci, their opulent lifestyles the source of much ire among ordinary citizens.
Dizeyee’s creations are highly coveted across Iraq — her order books are bursting with aspiring clients. However, she will not start selling her outfits until she feels the moment is ripe, she said.
Sazan Amin, a Copenhagen-based Iraqi Kurdish makeup artist and influencer, is aside from her models, one of the rare women to have worn Dizeyee’s clothes. “The dresses are so beautiful, yet so comfortable, so silky on your skin,” Amin told Al-Monitor. “Lara is doing something different. I feel sexy in her clothes,” Amin said.
Fans include Zehra Bell, deputy consul general at the US mission in Erbil, who is noted in foreign service circles not only for her brilliance but her sartorial flair. “I have always loved Kurdish fashion, but Lara Dizeyee’s couture impression on Kurdish dress is nothing short of magnificent. My first traditional Kurdish dress was from dear friends in Rojava,” Bell said, using the Kurdish name for Syrian Kurdistan, where she served prior to Erbil. “My second I bought from Erbil’s queen, Chopy Fatah. My dream is to own one of Lara Dizeyee’s creations next, which takes Kurdish design to the next level,” Bell told Al-Monitor.
“I have always considered fashion its own form of international diplomacy and Lara’s Vogue feature proudly puts the Kurdistan region on the map, where it should be,” Bell added.
Courtesy of Lara Dizeyee
Carrying traditional costumes to couture is a well-trodden but tricky path. In India, designers such as Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who made Priyanka Chopra’s wedding dress, have succeeded, gilding tradition with modern accents. Dizeyee’s collections are similarly universal in appeal.
Dizeyee hopes that her outfits will be worn at the Oscars and Cannes film awards. She’d love to dress Amal Clooney, the Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani and Kurdish singer from Turkey Aynur Dogan. She said that above all, though, “It’s not about fame or money. I have a bigger message. I want the world to recognize and know what a Kurdish dress is.”