Interview: Adil Iqbal - Tribal dress

FASHION designers, like all creative people, have myriad sources of inspiration. However, almost all of them would agree that – at least to some extent – looking back to their roots gets the creative juices flowing.

For Edinburgh-based designer Adil Iqbal, 23, his origins serve as the direct source of inspiration for his latest collection on his label, Adil. The Scottish-Pakistani designer graduated in 2006 from Heriot Watt University and has since taken his designs to Alternative Fashion Week in London and to New York Fashion Week. He has also worked with labels including TataNaka in London and Hugo Boss in Germany.

His first collection was stocked in Che Camille in Glasgow, and his autumn/winter 2009 collection will go on sale in Edinburgh boutique Kakao by K on Saturday as part of an in-store exhibition showcasing his very personal influences.

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Iqbal was recently granted an award by the Scottish Arts Council to travel to the Hunza area of Pakistan, in the country's north-east, and research traditional embroidery and textiles in the area. However, due to the worsening political situation in the region, the trip was postponed.

Not one to give up, however, and keen to showcase a more positive side of his parents' country of birth, Iqbal decided to look directly to the region to inspire his latest collection and prepare him for a future visit.

His pieces will hang in Kakao by K alongside images by the Boston-based photojournalist Jodi Hilton, who travelled to Pakistan last year to photograph the Kalash tribe – one of the five most endangered tribes on the planet – whose traditional dress comprises intricate embroidery in a rainbow of colours on heavy draped and pleated black textiles. And the exhibition will be complemented by a range of hand-woven ethically-produced scarves by Pakistani textile designer Sana Anjum.

Born and brought up in Edinburgh, Iqbal is keen to remain in the area rather than travel to London in search for work like so many of his peers. His Scottish heritage is a strong influence for him, but Pakistan and its people also fascinate him, he says.

"My family, my mum and dad were born in Pakistan and at home we have a very Pakistani upbringing, so that's who I am in a way," he says. "One aim of the project was so people can see a different image, a more positive image of the country; it's not all about terrorism and bombings. Pakistan has this tag of being a dangerous country and people can't see beyond that. There's so much talent there, in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, and I'm trying to use my identity as being Pakistani but also being from Scotland to inspire my work."

Iqbal's pieces are at once contemporary and classic, as well as very wearable and very Scottish. He has taken influences from Hilton's images and translated them in an abstract way: diamond-shaped embroidery on a Kalash dress becomes a diamond print on a wide belt; heavy draped fabric becomes a high-waisted skirt in draped jersey; elaborate hats are translated for a Western market and sombre pleating becomes kick-pleats on a flirty velvet dress. Everything is beautifully finished in high-quality fabrics.

"The Kalash tribe wear a lot of black, lots of gathered pleats," he says. "There's a lot going on, very long dresses and a lot of volume, and they have got this ethnic feel with the intricate embroidery. Being a designer you get inspired by it but when you transfer that to your designs you only take certain very specific details."

The Kalash people are a 6,000-strong tribe based in the Hindu Kush mountain range in the Chitral district of Pakistan. They speak their own language and their culture differs dramatically from the rest of Pakistan. They are polytheists and focus very much on nature when it comes to their spirituality.

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Their women wear long black robes, often embroidered with small shells, hence their nickname "The Black Kafirs" ("non-believers"). Their unique way of life and beautiful clothing have been a source of inspiration for a number of artists, photographers and designers.

"The Kalash are a very unique people with an exquisite culture, including religion, dance, music and clothing that dates back thousands of years," says Hilton, who travelled to the region for a few days last year to photograph the tribe at work and at play.

"They have found ways to maintain this culture in the face of much adversity and oppression over the centuries. When Adil proposed his idea to me of linking the photographs with his design work, I was intrigued. I like the way in which different mediums, in this case photography and clothing design, can overlap and complement each other. Perhaps he can be an inspiration for me in the ways I approach photographing the Kalash in the future."

Iqbal hopes to travel to the Hunza region in the future to continue his research when the political climate improves. In the meantime, he pours over images of the Kalash people, finding inspiration in the tiniest details of their clothing and translating it from the snow-topped mountains of Northern Pakistan to the rainy streets of Edinburgh.

• Adil's autumn-winter collection will be showcased alongside work by photographer Jodi Hilton and textile designer Sana Anjum at Kakao by K, 45 Thistle Street, Edinburgh from Saturday until 16 January. Visit for further details.