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Young designer draws on Palestinian traditions

By Mark Tutton for CNN
  • OmarJoseph Nasser-Khoury is an up-and-coming Palestinian designer
  • His work draws on the rich tradition of Palestinian embroidery
  • Nasser-Khoury says he aims to use traditional embroidery in a modern context
  • His designs are being exhibited in London

(CNN) -- A promising young designer is hoping his dramatic contemporary designs will spark new interest in traditional Palestinian clothing.

OmarJoseph Nasser-Khoury's designs draw heavily on the rich tradition of Palestinian embroidery, fusing its unique motifs with edgy tailoring and luxurious fabrics. An exhibition of his work, entitled "Silk Thread Martyrs," opens Friday at London's Mosaic Rooms, to coincide with London Fashion Week.

Nasser-Khoury was born in Jerusalem and grew up in the Palestinian territories, his mother's embroidered shawls serving as as his impetus to go into fashion design.

"The work was such an amazing work of artistry and such a new take on Palestinian embroidery and costume," he said.

Moved to reinterpret the work in a contemporary way, he moved to London in 2008 to study fashion.

"I was not so much inspired, but more provoked by them. I felt urged to reuse the techniques and employ the colors in all sorts of arrangements, in something much more fitting for modern life and modern reality," he said.

Palestinian embroidery uses the cross-stitch technique common around the world, but its designs are specific to the region, with individual villages and towns developing their own unique patterns.

It really starts with people in that region actually embracing their own culture and celebrating it -- and then it can go anywhere.
--OmarJoseph Nasser-Khoury , designer

Nasser-Khoury says he would like to remind young people in the Palestinian territories of their heritage and show that it can be relevant to modern life.

"It would be very good for people around the world to be interested in what's going on in the Arab world but I think it really starts with people in that region actually embracing their own culture and celebrating it -- and then it can go anywhere," he said.

To produce the collection Nasser-Khoury worked with a Lebanese group called Inaash, a non-profit organization that teaches traditional Palestinian embroidery techniques to women living in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

Inaash says that as well as preserving Palestinian heritage, the skills it teaches women help them earn a living. It says its embroidery project benefits 450 women workers.

Nasser-Khoury moved back to Jerusalem six months ago, where he plans to continue working with local artisans.

He says restrictions on the movement of people and capital mean there is no functioning fashion industry in the Palestinian territories.

"All the trouble and problems in Palestine and Jerusalem are ironically very inspiring. I'd rather it be dull and calm but it's very inspiring," he said.

"But it's a very frustrating and depressing place at the same time -- so unless you immerse yourself fanatically in work and channel all that depression and frustration and anger into something that's productive you can't really function."

He says that while very few young Palestinians wear traditional dress these days, he believes there is an appetite for a new take on old traditions.

"I think people are hungry for something different and something closer to their identity and history," he said. "So, I've got hope in Palestinian youth and Palestinian society that they will re-embrace their culture in terms of fashion."

The exhibition is at London's Mosaic Rooms and runs from February 18 to March 9.