If he’s good enough for Karl Lagerfeld, he’s good enough for us, we meet Nabil El-Nayal, LVMH shortlister and RCA graduate.


Syrian born Nabil El-Nayal, the man behind the label Nabil Nayal, won a BFC scholarship which led to a place at the Royal College of Arts and he hasn’t looked back since. He created a capsule collection for high street giant River Island which sold out in just three days, worked as a researcher for Burberry’s CD and has a whole host of prestigious awards to his name. Nabil was even the first fashion designer to use 3D printing back in 2010, juxtaposing his Elizabethan inspiration with his use of the most modern techniques.

If all that wasn’t enough, Nabil can not only boast about recognition from Kanye West at PFW, he can also impress you with his Karl Lagerfeld anecdotes too. Swinging effortlessly from strength to strength, Nabil has also worked with one of our previous features, Jennifer Davies on a music video. We caught up with the designer to find out as much as we could about Karl, chat about his mum and his desire to build a legacy.

Nabil Nayal and Karl Largerfeld

You met Karl Lagerfeld (jealous!) did he give you any pearls of wisdom?

I was talking Karl through the collection and explaining the story and the concepts behind the garments. There was a pause and then he said: “this is magical”. I was shaking! We share the common belief that a collection begins with a white shirt. “You cannot hide behind a white shirt!” he exclaimed. I nodded and thought “he gets it…this is a dream right?”

Why did you decide to make a shirt for Karl? Can you describe the process of designing it for us?

Actually, I didn’t make the shirt for Karl!

Karl saw the shirt at our stand in the LVMH showroom and exclaimed “I love it, I love it, I love it” followed by “We must buy this for Amanda Harlech”. It was such an extraordinary moment I still can’t quite believe it actually happened. I met Alexandra Shulman at a Vogue event and she told me this type of story can really make a brand.

What made you want to become a designer?

I’ve always felt that fashion chose me. I was brought up in Syria and from a very early age, I was surrounded by beautiful fabrics. My idea of fun was to play in my father’s fabric shop; I would climb up the hundreds of rolls of fabrics and look down to a sea of colour, print and metallic embroideries. It was a massive change when we moved to Sheffield in 1998 but, studying at MMU in manchester, I really found myself and decided where I wanted to be. I won the womenswear award at graduate fashion week and applied for the BFC scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art. I still feel like I’m just at the start though. There’s a long way to go yet!

What was the first thing you ever created?

I was 3 years old when I began sewing. I remember tearing down my mother’s net curtains in the middle of the night to create something that resembled a gown. I had this vision of her wearing this dress and I built this huge story around it. Of course my sewing must have been terrible, but that did not bother my mum who was thrilled – thank goodness!

How would you describe your own personal style?

I wear shirts, T-shirts and jeans – it’s about the collection not about me.


Who’s your ultimate style icon?

Elizabeth I.

Who do you imagine will wear your clothes?

Amanda Harlech.

What was the most valuable thing you learnt whilst at RCA?

I was taught by Wendy Dagworthy, Tristan Webber and Julie Verhoeven and it was at the RCA that I first met Sarah Mower. Together they pushed me into new territories and taught me to push the boundaries of what is possible. In June 2010 I became the first fashion designer in the world to use 3D printing and I’ve not stopped innovating since – I’m currently undertaking a research doctorate in how 3D scanning can become integral to the design process. I think it’s vital to challenge everything and be ruthlessly innovative.

Who do you think are the most exciting designers in the London scene at the moment?

Personally – I look to the past and the future for my inspiration. I try not to get caught up in what’s happening right now. I love to study how things used to be done, whilst imagining how we could take that forwards using new technology. The shirt Karl bought is a perfect example – it has a dramatic silhouette in the style of a stiff, Elizabethan, starched collar which would be very impractical these days. However I achieved that through a modern bonding process with plastic which means that you can wash it and the unhemmed edge will never fray.

What are your aspirations as a designer? 

To create a legacy; just as obsessed as I am with the Elizabethans, I want future generations to look back at this moment and be inspired by what we do. I want to cut through the noise and create pieces that a woman will keep in her wardrobe forever. I want to create meaningful pieces which tell a story and reflects a moment in time through my research and innovation.

Words: Lily Walker.


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