The Style Feature: Alaa Balkhy

BY Anum Bashir

Born in Jeddah, raised in Montreal, and currently residing in New York City, Alaa Balkhy truly is a global millennial. We met years ago at a brand event; I was instantly drawn to her warm smile and loving disposition, which had me at "hey!" We chatted for hours about our respective platforms, ideas that fueled our passions, and the distinct paths we wanted to individually (and perhaps someday collectively) take in the fashion industry. It was a fast friendship to say the least. Describing herself as a Serial Entrepreneur, Alaa works across multiple markets as a Cultural Consultant, Art Director, and Illustrator. Her work primarily focuses on brand development, art direction, business development, and design strategy. A passionate people connector bridging continents with her work, Alaa is keen to continue the merging of two distinct regions of the world that are equal parts home and native to her. Having personally drawn inspiration from her style and social platform for years, it only seemed fitting to have my friend Alaa Balkhy be featured in this month's edition of The Style Feature.

AB: Where were you born/ raised, and where are you from?

AB: I was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and grew up in Montreal until the age of 9.

AB: Where are you based today?

AB: Today I am based between Jeddah and New York.

AB: What do you do for a living? How did you end up doing it?

Cultural Consultant, Art Director, and Illustrator. My work focuses on brand development, art direction, business development, and design strategy.

I am also the founder of whimsical illustration brand “Fyunka”. With youth and culture being the focal points of my artistic direction, the brand quickly became a success, both locally and internationally. Under my creative direction, Fyunka went on to collaborate with brands like Rimmel and Netflix. One leap of faith after another, I decided to make the big move to New York City in 2012 to pursue my MPS in Design Management and Strategy from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, graduating in 2015.

Today, I am also the Co-Founder of Minaazine - a biannual magazine focusing on Arab culture and design. And earlier this year, I established Alaa Bint Hashim - a slow fashion brand that is heavily inspired by my back-and-forth travels between Jeddah and New York.

AB: Earliest fashion memory/ influences?

AB: I remember the summer of 2003 so vividly - I was 14, flipping through Sayidaty magazine, and saw the Louis Vuitton multicolor bags by Takashi Murakami and fell in love almost immediately. The very next day, I journeyed over to the closest LV boutique with all my savings in tow, and made that committed purchase (which I claim is one of my earliest investments in fashion). It was the tiniest multicolor LV bag that I could afford which I still own to this day and regard as incredibly prized.

AB: I absolutely love your style. Share with us some of your style rules and tricks

AB: I love to mix regional brands with vintage and luxury designers. It creates for a more eclectic ensemble which I love. 

- A slip dress always doubles as a skirt, so thats a style hack I often resort to. 

- For me, comfort is key. I never leave the house no matter how good an outfit looks if I'm uncomfortable.

- There's no such thing as too many white t-shirts. I collect them, and they all have their own special place within a plethora of outfit recipes. 

- You will never find jeans that perfectly fit you, and you have to get them altered for your body. Stop the pursuit, and head to your tailors. 

AB: 5 designers you are loyal to/ always wear?

AB: I might be biased to Jeddah based brands, but I find myself wearing a lot of:

- Sotra

- Haal

- Nasiba Hafiz

- Otkutyr

- Vanina World

- Reemami

- Faisal El Malak

AB: Where do you shop?

- The Break

- General 3 AM

- Farfetch

- Flea Markets (vintage is such a great way to spice up your wardrobe without being too fiscally reckless).

AB: Any outfit recipes to follow?

- As long as you feel good, the chances are you probably look great. 

- If you've found something that works for you, try replicating that very outfit in a variety of other ways. If the shoe fits, you know? For example, I always find that a perfectly fitting slip dress worn under a relaxed blazer looks great on me. So I'll find new and interesting ways to replicate that look - be it with color, texture, different styled blazers and/ or accessories.

AB: Favorite pieces in your wardrobe right now?

- An oversized Levis denim jacket that I thrifted at a store here in Manhattan.

- A Nasiba Hafiz slip dress

 AB: New or vintage?

AB: Always a mix of both - Vintage for me is more affordable since I'm trying to cut out fast fashion from my life. Plus it's more responsible to consumer pre-loved/ vintage. I'd rather have one good designer vintage blazer in my closet than ten new high-street ones which would probably tally up to costing the same amount of money.

You also can't discount the fact that purveying vintage adds the element of uniqueness to your closet - not everyone will have what you've purchased.

AB: Dressed up or dressed down?

AB: Dressing up is always fun! The process is so enjoyable, and to me, it's like starring in a movie. I come from a culture where women always loved to look put together. Our hair's always done, and the makeup is always just right.

But sadly, moving to New York meant dressing up a lot less for me. I've adopted a more relaxed urban aesthetic since. Unlike Saudi, where the weddings, occasions, traditions and parties can be so so extravagant, I've grown up seeing women spend hours getting ready together, so I secretly miss it.

AB: What's your take on trends?

AB: I'm not one to advocate trends, although I understand them from a business perspective. We need trends for the market to keep moving and shaping itself. I'll keep believing that one should wear what they want, when they want.

AB: One designer to watch right now?

AB: Mariam Al Sibai

AB: A style no-no?

AB: I don't believe in such a thing, and that's why fashion (at times) gets a bad rep at times. I don't want to be the kind of person that says what people should/ shouldn't wear. It's just clothes. Wear what you like, and hell, enjoy the heck out of it!

From my experience, opinions and perspectives change, and that's great.

I used to think socks and sandals were a no-no and they became a trend, so I've learned not to veto anything. Same holds true for fanny packs which we saw all over social media, on practically ever style mavens and strutting the streets. They were out, and now they're in.

Scrunchies are another great example, which also give me a good laugh. Boy was Carrie Bradshaw wrong about them. Scrunchies are having such a moment, and I'm here for it! 


AB: A fun fact about you, no one knows?

This is not a fun fact, but I am an Ornithophobia.

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