Iten Khalil is a proud Egyptian woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, architectural project manager…and fashion designer. She wears many labels, and hopes to one day see women everywhere wearing hers.
Iten’s passion for fashion is nothing new. As a young woman growing up in a Muslim family, she challenged herself to express personal style in creative ways while respecting the conservative dress expectations of her faith. These expectations have never been something she viewed as a restriction, but an opportunity to cultivate her eye for design.
She took that eye and applied it to her studies at the University of Alexandria where she received a BA in Interior Design with an emphasis in theatre design and costume. Iten became enthralled with the potential of wearable art and drew constantly, creating looks within her personal boundaries as well as looks for women of other cultural backgrounds.
I first saw Iten at the Louisville Bespoke Fashion Show during the week of Derby. One of the event representatives pointed her out and said, “I can’t wait to see what she shows tonight.” I turned to Iten, and a woman I later learned was her mother, and the first thing I noticed were their beautifully ornate head covers that stood out in the loud fashion crowd. Where some women were making statements of freedom and femininity through exposure, Iten and her mother were making the same positive statements with coverage. It struck me as a bold and refreshing contrast. There was a welcoming warmth about Iten, and she exuded gratitude as she scanned the room taking it all in.
Viewing her creations in the Bespoke show I assumed that Iten had been creating garments for years. As it turns out, it was only her second show, and the first with more than one look on display. Her first piece won an award during KMAC Fashion Week earlier in the year, and it was that showing that garnered the attention of the Bespoke organizers who invited her to be part of the event.
There was an Egyptian village of support involved in bringing Iten’s Bespoke show looks to life. She designed each piece in meticulous detail, and wanting them to be made of Egyptian fabric and in that style, had them physically made by her family’s tailor in her home country with her mother helping oversee the production. Her mother then flew to Louisville with the garments to attend the show.
The diversity of the show is just the beginning of Iten’s vision for continuing to develop her designs, with the dream of catching the attention of a national design house in need of looks for both Western women as well as women from conservative traditions. According to Iten, the Sex and the City 2 portrayal of Middle Eastern women in love with high fashion, often worn under burkas or only in the privacy of their homes with friends and family is 100% accurate, with those women representing a large untapped market for designers who could be creating garments that honor conservative dress desires in innovative ways that women without those needs would also enjoy.
Iten is looking to collaborate with local seamstresses in the future and to continue pushing herself into new realms of design for women of all cultures. She is truly a boundless artist with a passion for her heritage and traditions, as well as an eye for bringing people together through fashion in ways they might not otherwise intersect. It is my hope that Iten, and women with a similar heart, will be the next wave of designers who will build bridges between groups often in needless conflict through a common appreciation for elevated wearable art.