Ali Abdulrahim’s AW18 collection reflects upon Dagombe culture and the accepted tropes of masculine fashion
Ali Abdulrahim (Alec to his friends) makes menswear for sensitive, intelligent souls. Raised in Ghana, trained in Belgium and now based in London, he established Mai-Gidah (meaning ‘landlord’ in Hausa, a term used to address one’s elders) in 2015 and his cross cultural, thought-provoking designs aim to strike a balance between the contemporary and the classic. For AW18, shot here exclusively for Nataal, he digs deep to explore familial bonds, craftsmanship and sartorial traditions of home while experimenting with the tenets of masculine dress.
What originally sparked your interest in fashion?
My sister was a seamstress and a teacher in Ghana, and my mum has always traded in cloth too, so the process of clothing has always been around me. They never taught me how to stitch and sew, I just learnt by making things for myself and my friends. When I got to Belgium I worked in an atelier creating costumes for theatre productions such as Moulin Rogue but I still wanted to have traditional training so I decided to study fashion at university.
What motivated you to start your own brand?
It was simply for the love of it. The time came when I decided to fully bury my soul into it. I would be deeply unhappy if I didn’t. At first all my focus was on making unique pieces with a lot of details. I realised quite soon though that practicality is of equal importance. The clothes have to feel right on the body. I want my designs to be wearable and approachable but still stand out and be different.
How does the label feel now?
Grounded! This is the result of a slow and organic process. Everything has happened on our terms and at our own pace, which has enabled us to develop our signature. Being an independent business allows us to grow in a way that stays true to our craft and our values.
What inspires your choice of colours?
I’m inspired by nature in Ghana and often look at the many tones of Ghanaian sand. There is this one that is grey-blue, and if you mix it with water it turns into clay and if you bake it, it becomes brighter. For AW18 blue is an important colour, and I’ve also drawn from the earthy tones of my prayer mat. My background is Muslim and even though I am not a very good Muslim, I do pray every morning. It is the only way I know how to get to something higher than me.
How does Dagombe culture influence your work?
Dagombe is a very rich culture and one that I am proud to be part of. The traditional attire tends to be loose and long, which inspires the volume of my coats. It’s also known for its pocketing and the amulets attached to the clothing during festivals and rituals are supposed to protect the wearer. In each of my collections I think about how to do pockets in different ways that reference this symbolism of protection. For AW18 pockets relate to thinking about my mother. I see traces of her in everything I do, in everything I am, and the pockets represent the safe place of eternal, maternal love.
Your silhouettes are quite challenging.
Yes, that is a conscious intention. It’s quite difficult to get men to wear something unconventional, or something they perceive as non-masculine, but so far we see the changes from season to season in terms of the risks our customers are willing to make. This is in keeping with the current conversations around redefining masculinity. Our collections are a soft environment – the drapes, the colours, the length, the prints. For us, it’s about pushing those boundaries and perceptions and helping men to find new paths to walk.
What is the future vision for Mai-Gidah?
It would be amazing if the brand became an archive that people use for reference many years from now. I am not a loud person, I just want my work to speak for itself through the stories in the designs. I want people to make themselves happy by wearing and loving the clothes. Dries Van Noten is a great inspiration of mine – he is a quiet force. He has a solid business and is a solid influence but it’s almost like he is not there. That is the type of brand I aspire to be.