As her Moroccan home developed cultural aesthetics somewhere between tradition and modernity, so did Madiha Bassoud. As the starting point of her collection, Bassoud proposes a fresh turn on one of Maghreb’s traditional garment: the djellaba. For this reason, Patrimoine’s clothes are rectangular and show impeccable finishes and detailing. This collection is a way for the young designer to honor her cultural heritage, a project where influences from both Casablanca and Montreal meet to create an intriguing and original result.
Baron: Which path led you to fashion?
Madiha Bassoud: I think I was six or seven years old when I really got into fashion. My mother works in dressmaking, so fashion was never really far from home. When I was nine, I pearled a wedding caftan my mother was working on. That was such a thrill! When I had to pick a course of study, I knew enjoyment couldn’t be the only reason behind my decision. It had to be what I was meant to do! So I went to Collège LaSalle in Casablanca and was awarded a grant to study in Montreal. Such a possibility had never occurred to me. I was now facing two options: go to Montreal or Dubai. I asked my aunt for advice and she told me to start with Montreal before going to Dubai. I’ve now been in Montreal for six years.
B.: What inspired Patrimoine?
M. B.: I knew, right from the start that I would base my work on Morocco. Not only does it represent who I am, but there’s also something special about this country. In Casablanca, as you move from one borough to another, it feels like you’re traveling through time. Both the modern and ancient aspects of the culture are next to each other in the city. So I decided to explore the traditional and modern sides of my experience in both Casablanca and Montreal. I focused on the djellaba because it’s such a strong traditional icon in Morocco.
B.: For those who aren’t familiar with Arab clothing, what’s the difference between a caftan and a djellaba?
M. B.: For starters, a djellaba is an everyday garment, not meant for ceremonial occasions. It is a long, loose-fitting unisex outer robe. It sports a hood and trimmings. The djellaba is traditionally handmade. If you remove the hood or the trimmings, it is no longer a djellaba. The trimmings hide the seams, which makes the djellaba impeccable on both the inside and the outside. This is something I wanted to apply to my clothing, by paying extra attention to every detail and finishes. The caftan is a formal overdress without a hood, intricately decorated, that can be wore with belts.
B.: How did you transpose these features to your collection?
M. B.: I analyzed the djellaba in details and tried to understand how it’s worn. Is it used differently in the country or in the city? At what length is it worn? A djellaba has openings instead of pockets. When the weather gets really hot, men pull up their djellaba and take their arms out through the openings, which makes the garment shorter. That feature made me add similar openings to my collection’s coat, to make it well ventilated. I’ve also spent a lot of time conceiving the hood and assembling the inside finishes and trimmings.
B.: But none of your clothes has a hood!
M. B.: That’s right, but I created a backpack in the shape of a hood! The triangular shape of a hood gave me a hard time, but I knew I had to incorporate it in Patrimoine, since it’s such an important part of the djellaba. When you’re walking in the Moroccan countryside, you can see farmers put their lunch in their djellabas’s hood! That’s where I got the idea of a hood-shaped backpack.
B.: What do you think of Montreal’s fashion industry?
M. B.: There seems to be a communication problem between the industry and the media. They never seem to talk about the crisis the local designers are going through. The industry’s reality isn’t as glamorous as what’s being reported by the media.
B.: What issues is fashion dealing with?
M. B.: Fashion is consumable, like food. You’ll even see people choosing clothes over food. Since the fashion industry is really pushing the international economy forward, shouldn’t we do everything in our power to develop fashion production and design here in Quebec? I don’t want to talk about politics, but I think it is essential to make our clothing locally. If I had a choice, I would also have some work done in Casablanca, since they have develop an expertise with jeans and t-shirts. I’d rather work all night long and do everything myself instead of ordering production in China. Sure I would earn less money, but I could still make a good living!