As Libya tries to overcome years of isolation and re-enter the energy market, one woman is attempting to export an entirely different commodity – Libyan fashion designs.
Rabia Ben Barka, Libya’s first and top fashion designer, spent years studying fashion in European capitals but the traditions and style of her North African home country have always been salient in her designs.
Al Jazeera’s Amr El Kahky reports from Tripoli where Ben Barka is trying to put her designs – and country – on the international fashion map.
Rabia Ben Barka, the self-styled Libyan “ambassador of fashion”, counts the country’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, and his wife among her many clients.
Combining traditional embroidery and designs with modern cuts, such as pairing jeans with a national robe, her shows have sometimes shocked conservative Libyans.
Now Ben Barka – who established her first company in the 1960s – will finally take her unique designs to the US in September this year and February next.
She says: “My style is unique… because the embargo has been [lifted]… we can breathe and we can show the world what we have… this is the time for me to show myself in Paris and Milan and everywhere.”
The Tripoli-based designer, who has studied fashion in London and Milan, has already staged shows in Italy, Germany, Lebanon, Niger, Chile and Egypt – where she won a regional best young designer award in the 1970s.
Ben Barka insists, however, on staying as true to her Afro-Arabic roots as much as possible, and will only stage shows using Libyan and African models.
“I emphasise the Arabic culture with the African culture, because we are part of Africa… so our clothes are very similar… it’s also African, Tuareg, Arabic… it can be anything, but it’s part of our land,” she says.