Entrepreneur Sheikha Alia Al Qassimi talks about the new fashion collections at Minbart, her boutique in the capital, meeting Sheikh Zayed, and her family’s annual National Day celebrations, which involve a road trip around the Emirates.
How will Minbart be marking National Day?
Every National Day, we create exclusive collections in-store. We also hold our annual initiative, Art in Minbart, during Abu Dhabi Art around this time.
Customers this year came to us to decorate tote bags and masks – many of them chose to paint the UAE flag on them. Last year, we encouraged customers to decorate shoes and collaborated with the brand Flossy.
The amount of people who wanted to express their pride for the UAE really impressed us again this year. The initiative is open to all, and we had French, Spanish, Lebanese, Egyptians, Emiratis there – everyone.
The creativity we witness is brilliant. We bring in artists to help customers customise their items and the amazing thing is, clients wanted to do all the pieces by themselves, and want us to do the event every month.
What key pieces from the boutique will you be wearing on National Day?
Jewellery by New York-based W Britt, who produce beautiful 18-carat gold cuffs shaped as Arabic calligraphy. For National Day, we ordered sets of three bracelets spelling out UAE, so that customers could buy and wear them together.
We also love a Canadian designer based here, called Maggie Jonk – she co-founded the label OE-O Studio with Hernan Hoentsch. Maggie devised a brilliant technique for stretching fabrics until cracks appeared, after which she’d paint over them to give a marbled effect. We love her abayas, as they are so different from anything we’ve seen before.
That’s what Minbart is all about, introducing designers who are unique to the market. I wore one of her creations to an event – it was black with splashes of blue paint all over it. People went absolutely crazy about it and all the pieces sold out in one weekend.
What does National Day mean to you?
Our life and my family is always very busy, so my dad makes sure he takes us on road trips every National Day. We love moving from Abu Dhabi through the emirates to Fujairah, seeing how beautiful the landscape is – from the coastline of Abu Dhabi to the rocky mountains of Ras Al Khaimah.
We don’t tend to pre-plan the trip much, but will stop for lunch somewhere or take tea from a roadside stall along the way. It’s all about enjoying the country – and although we celebrate our love for the UAE every day, National Day is different.
How are the family dressed for the occasion?
My mother tells us not to take off the National Day bracelets she gives us, but sometimes we like to accessorise differently. So we’d usually wear our traditional thobes and abayas, with UAE flag scarves and badges.
We also like to give the National Day accessories to people we meet on the street – it’s something my siblings and I grew up doing and it still brings us such happiness.
Would it cause offence if expatriates donned the national dress on December 2?
I think we are absolutely equal in this. Whether we are local Emiratis, expatriates or residents, we – them with us – share the same vision. We, as Emiratis wouldn’t have done it without them and this is home to them.
We get a lot of visitors around National Day and my dad insists on taking them with us on the road trip, just so they can see what we see.
We dress them in kanduras and ghutras, I give them my shaylas and abayas. It’s a day to be celebrated by everyone.
Describe a particularly memorable National Day.
There was one in particular in the 1980s. I was about 7 years old and was performing a dance as part of my school group for the late Sheikh Zayed. All of the rulers were there, and Sheikh Zayed requested to see me. I went to him, sat on his lap and, I promise you, I can still hear his voice in my ear today. [Click here to see the video.]
What did Sheikh Zayed say to you?
He asked me who I was and when I said I was Alia Al Qassimi he was surprised. Ironically my uncles were sitting on the right and left-hand sides of him, but as I looked much younger than my age, they didn’t recognise me immediately either.
We then talked about my schooling and I remember how sweet, gentle and incredibly warm he was.
National Day marks a day a nation became united. It’s the day when the future of this country began. Sheikh Zayed once said: "I had many dreams. I dreamt of our land keeping pace with the growth of the modern world." I firmly believe we’re witnessing his vision today via the way the UAE is shaping up and how diverse and modern it is.
We celebrate this fact every day, but National Day is when we outwardly express our love for this nation to the world.
• Minbart is in Al Muneera, Al Raha Beach, Abu Dhabi. For more information, go to www.minbart.com