Syrian Designer Zena Presley Talks Wearable Art And Standing Out In The Industry

Zena Presley SS17
Zena Presley SS17
Photo of India Doyle
2 November 2016

Clothes may often be displayed in exhibitions, but Syrian-born, and now Dubai-based, fashion designer Zena Presley is going a step further by putting art directly onto her designs. Through collaborations with international creatives, Presley is aligning the two mediums to blur distinctions between fashion and art. As part of our Behind The Seams series, Culture Trip catches up the designer.

How did you begin as a designer?

I have always had a fascination with fashion — especially unconventional pieces. I would try to stand out with the way I dress, but I always felt like I wanted to bring more to the fashion scene. I want to make an impact and push the limits of creativity, and I am also very passionate about art. Two years ago I was inspired by a certain painting, and I got the idea of creating wearable art. I was instantly in love with the idea and decided to pursue this as a career, and to try and use art and fashion as a form of self-expression.

Zena Presely

Print and graphics are significant in your aesthetic, how did you develop your style?

The concept of the Zena Presley brand stemmed from art, and so art is a constant in my collections. I started with the idea of collaborating with different artists to bring their art to more people in the fashion world, and to help make art accessible to more people. This concept has been driving the brand. I am also a huge fan of everything print, and love incorporating it into my work.

How do you find the Dubai fashion landscape, and how does it differ from other markets such as Asia and UK?

Although Dubai is relatively young in terms of the fashion landscape, there is a huge movement towards homegrown brands. The city is investing a lot in different platforms that nurture and support new talents, and is hence attracting quite a crowd from around the region.The Asian and UK markets are definitely more concentrated in terms of upcoming designers, which makes them tougher than the Dubai market. When starting my brand I was also highly encouraged by the region’s acceptance and love for creativity and originality.

You’re originally from Syria, what role can fashion play in commenting, reflecting, or raising awareness for the crisis happening in the country?

I am very proud of my Syrian origins, and one of the reasons I aspire to succeed is the fact that we have very few Syrian designers able to leave their mark in the fashion industry internationally. I believe my work will reflect nicely on Syria and portray a more positive image. I also try to raise awareness for the crisis, and I recently did a collaboration with a jewelry brand: together we created a bracelet called “The Bird Story” that helps support education for refugee children. I would love to be involved in other similar initiatives in the future.

What have been the biggest challenges of launching your own label?

I would say for me the biggest challenge is knowing where to invest. It’s very important to have a strategy and stick to it rather than investing everywhere and doing too much too soon. What I would like to share from my personal experience is the importance of working with a PR company. New designers need to make sure that they can differentiate themselves from other designers and express their individuality rather than just follow the trend. That is what will resonate in today’s market.

Zena Presley

If Culture Trip were to spend a day with you in Dubai, where would we go?

I would choose to show Culture Trip the side of Dubai that is not very well known to people. When you think Dubai, it is usually all about the glitz and glam. However I would like to take Culture Trip to the traditional souks and the modern art scene as well in order to show them a bit more of the authentic side of Dubai.