The jewel in the crown of the Syrian-born designer’s SS’19 collection is without doubt the impressive Tilbury print, drawn from the now famous speech of the same name given by Queen Elizabeth I. Her mastery of language was used to inspire and empower as she announced: “I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too…”
Indeed, this very determined, courageous woman lies at the very heart of Nayal’s collection, inspired by the many women in his life, including the aforementioned Queen. “My interest in Elizabethan dress is not so much about the period as such but it’s more about Elizabeth herself and about that really powerful and strong woman that is determined to overcome obstacles,” the designer explains, referring in part to his mother, who brought her uncompromising style of dressing to Syria in the 1980s.
Growing up there, it was Nayal’s grandmother who taught him to make clothes from a young age, and at 14 he returned to the UK. Unlike other children at that time, clothing for him was about wearing what you loved and the possibilities of fabrics. Instilled with an appreciation of the craftsmanship and value in garments, he also believed in their longevity (passing them down through the family) which still informs his design aesthetic now.
This love of dress history grew into a fascination in handcraft and Elizabethan techniques like pleating and smocking, which led him to complete a PhD in Elizabethan dress and contemporary sportswear technologies. This unique clashing of cultures, techniques, methodologies and timeframes is what marks him out a design practitioner of remarkable note and the industry has already take him to heart — he was a LVMH Prize finalist in June 2017 and winner of the BFC’s Fashion Trust Grant in May 2018.
“My interest in Elizabethan dress is about Elizabeth and that really powerful and strong woman who is determined to overcome obstacles”
Nayal drew from the extensive archives of the British Library, which supported his research, so this became a very natural choice of venue for him to show his SS’19 presentation. Accompanied by a harpsichordist, models languished around the ornate instrument, navigating a book strewn set (the books were driven here from by Nayal’s parents from Sheffield.) Present were his signature classic white bonded-poplin shirts, this time further refined; ruffs or pleating adds a touch of excitement on simple, wearable tops while a black taffeta shirt-dress adds quite drama, synched to perfection to create the most elegant of silhouettes.
Chiffon dresses in whites and beiges are punctuated by the vibrant images from the tilbury print appearing bold on a full-length cloak as well as a tabard. “To read these texts in the library and see these images and then to be able to put it on a contemporary, tailored piece was really exciting,” he says of the application of the print adding, “And that’s what gives everything a bit of an edge.”
As Nayal’s career develops, he aims to continue his relationship with the British Library and remains above all, a strong advocate for the vitality of research-based work: “I love being able to straddle that line between academia and my practice," he says. "I see myself as a design practitioner, somebody who invests a lot of time and tries to bring out the value in archives.”
Watch the video as Nayal discusses his PhD in Elizabethan dress, archival research and collaborating with the British Library.