The following story was written by Della Murad, a refugee from Iraq, a Kurdish fashion designer, and the creative director of a U.K.-based charity, Gulan, which promotes Kurdish culture throughout U.K. and the world. Have a story to share? Submit it here.
Bringing Kurdish Fashion and Culture to the World
by Della Murad
Working with fashion and costumes has always been my passion, a release and escape from where I could not only express my identity but in many cases a muse for the way I should live my life. A clear blueprint of passion, diversity, uniqueness, connection and celebration of identity.
Kurdistan: The Origins of Creativity
I was born in Kurdistan, in the town of Halabja. I grew up in Baghdad and went to university there and graduated with credentials as a Biology teacher. When my family moved back to Sulaimaniyah a Kurdish city in Northern Iraq, I got my first teaching job in my hometown, Halabja.
Years passed, I got married and had two children. In 1986, my husband and I fled from Iraq. We went over the mountains to Iran, and spent one year in a refugee camp before arriving in the U.K. in 1989 as a Kurdish refugee. Having already been through years of hardship and tumultuous passage, I was finally able to establish a safe home and plant roots for my children and me.
Colorful and Vibrant Clothes
My earliest exposure to fashion and design were traditional Kurdish clothes, during the many Kurdish events to raise awareness for the plight of the Kurds in Iraq. During these events, I made a conscious decision that I would bring awareness through wearing my own Kurdish colourful and vibrant clothes.
It was too often that my home country of Iraq was associated with negativity but, instead, now strangers would come to me and ask me about what I was wearing. This made me proud, but more than proud it gave me an outlet for my passion. A way to reconcile the past with hope through fashion.
I started organizing fashion shows targeted at Kurdish and Middle eastern audiences. At these shows I would often showcase my own extensive collection as well as old traditional clothes that had been passed down through the generations.
This was a great learning experience for me as I realized the great variety of Kurdish clothes and the marked differences between the different regions and the different tribes.
Producing Fashion Shows
When I first arrived in the U.K., I had various jobs. I started a business cooking Kurdish food, I worked as a stylist for a Kurdish Satellite TV, and I worked with several other Kurdish organisations.
Initially, my first fashion shows were produced on a small budget and through the patronage of many Kurdish elders who wanted to ensure that their heritage was not lost in the abyss of negative news that surrounded that region.
Before long, however, my shows were gaining more popularity, and often with an ever growing non-Kurdish audience. It was then that I applied for a Millennium Fund Grant, and was awarded a sum of money which would allow me to showcase a much larger production.
I decided that I would start to produce my own designs, a modern contemporary collection that would be essentially Kurdish, but would incorporate other influences.
The show was received with such success that before long I was asked to take part in other fashion shows at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Museum of London and British Museum.
Going Back to Kurdistan
Again, I decided to showcase my own designs, and began to add to my collection which was steadily growing. In 2007, I was contacted by the office of the Prime Minister in Kurdistan, and was asked to return and produce the first Kurdish fashion show, which would take place in two major cities. This was one of the most challenging and rewarding events I had ever been a part of.
It was a cathartic process, returning to a place where once I was unable to celebrate my heritage, to now pioneering a movement within the Kurdish fashion world. The show in Kurdistan was met with such positive reviews that I was sponsored to produce a more expensive production in Dubai in the spring of 2011.
The show in Dubai was televised on major TV channels and was covered by many local newspapers — a first for Dubai and a first for Kurdish fashion.
I met Sarah Panizzo in 2003, when she worked with me on the fashion show funded by my Millennium Fund grant. We continued to work together, and in 2008 we formed Gulan, a charity registered in the U.K.
I then became the creative director of Gulan, which aims is to celebrate and highlight the varied, ancient and diverse Kurdish culture through all forms of art.
Since taking the post of creative director, we have produced events and yearly festivals at the St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, at the Royal Geographical Society, and in 2014 and 2015 at the Ismaili Centre in London, as part of the Nour Festival of Arts. We have been fortunate enough to invite guests and speakers from all over the world.