UAE-based fashion brand Autonomie has just launched its first collection in the region. Based on the concept of authentic storytelling the brand aims to offer a playful, bold, contemporary and fresh aesthetic to serve the dynamic and innovative woman of today. Founder and Creative Director Maha Ahmed decided to launch a fashion brand following her fashion studies and experiences developed from living around the world, with an aim to serve a greater purpose than simply offering clothes. Through Autonomie, she hopes to inspire a world of collective independence and by reminding individuals that no matter where they may be in life, they are never alone. We meet Maha to find out more about her vision for Autonomie and the new collection “Ukiyo”.
How would you introduce your brand to the world?
Autonomie is a story-telling based brand, where every collection recites a new story, philosophy or concept. The point of every collection is to bring people together and help them relate to each other through human experience and let them know that they’re not going through life alone. Aesthetically, the brand is very fun, playful, bold and modern.
Tell us about your debut collection “Ukiyo”.
Ukiyo is a collection that’s very close to my heart, after all, it’s the debut collection; my firstborn. The inspiration stems from a personal experience that I wanted to share as I believed it would resonate with a lot of people. It’s the idea that we often put off living, but instead wait for life to happen. This usually results in our lives passing us by. We wait for the “perfect” opportunity, not realising that we are very much capable of creating our own opportunities. So Ukiyo was an invitation to the world to be more present, to be happy and to seize every moment. On the aesthetic part of the collection, this message was reflected in the fun and playful colours, prints and silhouettes to reiterate the idea of living life to the fullest and to remind people they are alive!
How would you describe your signature style?
I would say the brand’s signature is our custom prints. It’s a significant element of my own approach to design and it’s something that I have enjoyed doing ever since fashion school. I go about it as if I am doing a painting on canvas and then incorporate it as part of the design. This, as well as playing on shapes and symmetry. You’ll find a lot of pieces that lack symmetry like a high-low silhouette or slanted shapes. I feel like “imperfect” silhouettes or asymmetrical ones are more interesting.
What inspires you?
I think I am mostly inspired by human experience: a feeling or an emotion. The human experience is so complex and multi-layered that it’s like an infinite ocean of inspiration for me. I then work on trying to translate that feeling or experience visually. The most enjoyable part of my job is the visual research because it’s like embarking on a journey and you don’t know where you’ll end up. You start with this idea or concept that could become a whole collection. I never know how the collection will look like until I am done. It’s the story that guides me.
When do you feel at your most creative state of mind?
I would say I am most creative when my mind is clear, but this is something that it’s very hard to achieve in the life we are living, especially if you’re trying to run a business. So, you kind of have to train yourself to get inspired regardless of what’s going around you. That’s where more solid methods come in handy like doing collages for example to get my creativity going or the visual research process. These are all methods that allow me to get inspired.
You are quite new to the industry – what is your vision for the future of your brand?
I hope to create a community around the brand, where people can relate to one another and create a safe space for them to express themselves and share a part of themselves. This vision is not limited to a certain nationality, age group or gender but rather to all people. That leaves infinite room for expansion plans taking the brand internationally, targeting a completely different consumer and lots of collaborations with artists, creatives and brands.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing now?
I think the biggest challenge I am currently facing is delegating; how to let go when you want to make sure everything is done right and trust that the people around will get the job done and get it done well. Building a team around you, where everyone is operating with a clear vision is not something you achieve in a day so I am currently working on that.
Who is the woman that you design clothes for?
I think the Autonomie woman is a brave woman who’s not afraid to experience something new. She likes to take chances. She’s bold, feminine and a strong woman, but most of all she’s human and her life experiences are what makes her unique, just like the rest of us.
Do you have a favourite piece from the Ukiyo collection?
I would have to say it’s the multi-layered skirt. It consists of four different fabrics in different lengths and they just all come together effortlessly.
What’s in the pipeline for the rest of the year?
We have finished designing the fall/winter collection which is currently in sampling. I think it’s going to be great! The plan is to focus more on brand communication to make sure people really have a grasp of the story and vision
What is the motto you live by?
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer,” I say that because I believe we all have to start somewhere and that big things are earned with consistency and hard work. But before all of that, we have to allow ourselves to dream, to follow our passion and dare to take a chance on ourselves.
Who is a woman you would love to dress?
I would say Cher she’s very inspiring and definitely a big style icon.
How would you describe your brand in one word?
What is a message you would send to readers to tell them why they should go out and buy your designs?
I think the brand makes clothes that are meant to make you feel something, inspire you and empower you. There is a piece for every single event or occasion in this collection, whether it’s going to work or attending a cocktail party. So go shop and feel inspired!