My name is Frances Stafford and I have been living between Berlin and Bahrain for the last three years. I first came to Berlin via my work with the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities: my coworkers and I were placed on a project to meet all the big players behind Art Berlin Contemporary and Berlin Art Week in association with the Goethe Institut.
I had been living and working in Bahrain as a curator, producer and cultural programmer since 2010 and designing my own clothes was simply a hobby. I also used to model for Arabic and Indian fashion designers in my free time and worked with many artists, photographers and creatives in general. On the trip to Berlin I met my now fiancé and have been living here permanently in Berlin since December.
Can you please tell us where did your first inspiration come from for your label?
Black Anaar was born from my final large-scale cultural project I produced and directed in Bahrain.
“Little India”, revealed the historical significance of the first non-Arabs who settled in Bahrain and looked at the connectivity between the two cultures. I was responsible for beautifying, highlighting, and developing the Indian sector of the central market, or Souk, in Manama, which included conserving the exteriors of 12 historic houses, creating public spaces where markets and festivals could take place and adding outdoor museum signage to share the rich history of the area. You can imagine the color, food, songs and dancing that we experienced while mounting the project launched publicly in December of 2016.
While working on the project with the local community, I was plunged into the vibrant world of the over 200 year old traditional marketplace that boasted a mix of Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Jewish traders and craftsmen. I was most impressed with the community of tailors who created garments from the plethora of fabric present in shops and along the sides of streets. It was from these bustling alleyways that I designed and created my first Black Anaar pieces.
I spent hours looking for vintage fabric and special pieces and was pleased that there were many hidden treasures from the 60’s and 70’s. I also worked with local fabric dealers I know to search for special fabric I was keen on using. I created pieces with some beautiful hand dyed linens and vintage Tussah silk while at the same time used special arabesque printed fabric blends to create some loud oriental pieces. I spend a lot of time looking for unique woven shawls and embroidered material as well. Every piece I make is one-of-a-kind and I hope the special nature of the designs will allow their owners to keep them as collector’s pieces.
What is the most important consideration when designing a new collection?
I continue to spend my time between Bahrain and Berlin, and am finding new inspiration in this diverse city, while I continue to draw upon my memories from the Gulf. I am also selling my garments in boutiques and concept stores in Bahrain - mostly to Arab clients who wear abayas- the style of long open coats also present in my collection.
As we have seen Arab women experience a sort of fashion revolution, many women are choosing printed or patterned abayas instead of the traditional black garments the Gulf is known for. I am taking that one step further and presenting these garments as unisex to completely break the gender stereotypes that are so restrictive in the Gulf.
I also have my studio here in Kreuzberg now and am having fun making these traditional type garments with very unusual types of fabrics. Berlin is also a very relaxing place to create. The freedom here is a nice alternative. It is this permutation between the two worlds that has amalgamated in my label’s cross-cultural form of style.
I characterize Black Anaar as Middle Eastern inspired, urbanized fashion that encompasses a diversity of dress, as I try to balance these two divergent cultural poles I am constantly referencing.
Each individually crafted piece enlivens the history of its design, fabric and story with every articulation of its wear and I love sharing the cultural reference points or history of the pieces with my clients. I think now more than ever, it is important to have a realistic understanding of the vibrancy and life that is present in the region - which is unfortunately darkened by incorrect media coverage.
Can you explain a bit about the mythological concept behind your label?
The concept behind Black Anaar comes from the myth surrounding the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent first dressing of Adam and Eve. The contemporary legend that Sumerians described Bahrain (ancient Dilmun) as this garden “paradise” lives on in local folklore.
Its reference can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, although scholars have not supported the local legend. Bahrain was once very lush and had fresh water aquifers throughout the island. It was always an important point of trade with a strong history of settlement throughout the ages and is in close connection with its surrounding area of Saudi, Iran and North Africa in general.
I wanted to use the icon of the original “forbidden fruit” or anaar - meaning pomegranate in Farsi, Urdu, Hindi and other ancient languages - in the name of the brand to call this story of Adam and Eve to memory. By default the story touches on the important inception of “clothing”, unfortunately linked to shame when in actuality clothing had an important protective qualities- shielding humans from the elements, insects and damaging flora.
I find it interesting that in Greek and Roman myth the pomegranate was also symbolically linked to birth, seasons and cycles. When these genesis stories were transmitted to the west there was no reference point for the pomegranate as the fruit did not grow there…and so the symbol was changed to an apple.
I like looking at this example of appropriation, translation and the blurring of facts and truths as a mirror of our current global society. It is this reference to sharing and appropriation between cultures, traditions, global patterns and modes of expression that is explored in the label.
How would you describe your affinity and your interaction with the materials you use in your collection?
For me the anaar is the cultural cacophony of shapes, colors, and textures whereas the black alludes to mystery, the alternative and the subversive, but also to Berlin’s most common palette in fashion.
Can you tell us about any exciting plans for the year ahead?
This year will be really exciting as I will be working on a fashion film and will be planning a runway show in Bahrain as well as Berlin. I will also be creating a new collection.