Global Young Designer Spotlight: Kalita Al Swaidi
We rummage through the suitcase of Kalita Al Swaidi, founder of resort-wear label KALITA. She lets us in on holiday-dressing rationale, travel-inspired designs and where to stay and play in her favourite destination: Sardinia.
20 October, 2020
Kalita Al Swaidi, founder and creative director at KALITA, knows about holiday dressing and holiday daydreaming. Her teleport-me-there-now destination? Sardinia. Her holiday wardrobe? Unfussy, glamorous jewel-toned gowns à la 50s icons. In effect, she is our dream holiday companion (provided her stance of sharing clothing - namely hers - is "go for it, darling").
After rummaging through her suitcases, we can concur that the resort-wear label founder's chic holiday staples are in abundant supply. Swooning over the travel pieces that transition effortlessly from beach-shack lunch to 8pm apéritifs in the city's most exclusive bar, we're taking a leaf out of her book and packing KALITA, KAILTA, KALITA from here on out.
Kalita Al Swaidi
Iraq; Texas, US
Where are you from and how has your background shaped you?
My father is Iraqi and my mother is Texan, but I grew up in London. In some ways, my mixed background drew me towards the fashion world as I never really felt as though I fit in - because of that, my language became clothes. The heady colours and smells of Old Baghdad, where my father spent his childhood, for instance, are an assault on the senses and have gone on to influence my collections: you'll recognise golden tones from in the city's ancient coppersmith's market and rich hues inspired by the many souks there.
What is your first fashion-related memory?
My ever-elegant mother and her hooped gold earrings that I used to play with (or steal!) before she would put me to bed. My mother has been a strong influence on me from a young age; her architectural background had a significant bearing on my approach to designing my pieces. She taught me about the "golden ratio" and how everything in nature relates to it.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Maximalist minimalism. I've always loved the unfussy, glamorous and thrown-on look of the 50s icons that packed for a week's holiday in one suitcase. Looking and feeling great shouldn't be an arduous task - it should feel playful and light or however you wish it to be and this is a focus I've carried through all my collections.
Where is your design studio and what does it look like?
The studio in Bali is the perfect KALITA vision: an old shopfront warehouse filled to the brim with cutting tables, colour and archive collection pieces. Here in London, it is all very city chic: a pared-back office with clean lines and piles of colourful KALITA pieces everywhere.
What songs do you have on repeat in your studio?
We listen to the radio mostly and then at Christmas we get all excited and put on something adequately cheesy.
Shop your own line. What are three of your favourite pieces?
The Brigitte (one of the brand's most iconic maxi-dresses); the Aphrodite beach gown - the moment I see it I can almost smell the sea; and the new Calypso maxi.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from everywhere: the people I meet, my heritage, the colours in nature…each collection is like a mini-history or everything that has inspired me over the past six months. Nature, in particular, plays a big part in my work and what I do - just being outdoors or by the sea does so much for my wellbeing and creativity.
All your fabrics are dyed using low impact azo-free dyes. What was the rationale behind this design decision?
I made the decision early on that I wanted to take responsibility with the brand, making it as ethically sound and sustainable as possible. Azo-free dyes have higher absorption rates which minimize the grey-water run-off during production, thereby minimising the pollution of natural waterways and local ecosystems. Raising awareness of ocean health is incredibly important to me, as is the elimination of plastic in our packaging; we use a natural packaging that is made from corn or straw and is 100-per-cent biodegradable, plus each KALITA piece bought directly from us comes in its own muslin bag.
Does travel influence your work?
It definitely does. The idea for the label was born after my first trip to Bali in 2014. I find that getting out of your comfort zone and going to a new place is a great instigator of creativity.
The best cities in the world to go shopping…
New York has always been a favourite of mine, exploring the back streets and quirky shops of Soho and Noho. Paris and especially La Place Royale is also amazing for the vintage finds.
The holiday staples to never be without…
My Brigitte gown, Celine sunglasses, a great book and my husband.
If there was one destination you could go back to immediately it would be…
I would go back to Sardinia and sit in the square in San Pantaleo with an Aperol spritz in hand, accompanied by hunks of pecorino cheese and truffle honey to devour.
What do you think makes a good hotel?
I've always thought that it's the people who work in a hotel that make it memorable; at all the hotels that I adore, I know the staff by their first name.
Five hotels in your bookmarked pages on Instagram, and the five KALITA designs you'd pack for each…
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Antibes, France - The Brigitte gown.
Cervo Hotel, Porto Cervo, Italy - The Lotus dress, which comes in a short and longer length version.
Villa TreVille, Positano, Italy - The Calypso maxi dress.
El Fenn, Marrakech, Morocco - The Clemence maxi dress.
Cliveden, Berkshire, UK - The Maia top and Inky skirt.
Your favourite weekend escapes include…
The Pig near Bath; Cliveden where my husband and I got married; and fishing on the River Tees.
Tell us your steadfast tips for selecting and packing a weekend bag…
Layering, layering, layering and making little lists before you go away which excite you about your trip and get you organised as well.
What are you reading at the moment?
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I don't want to finish it.
Podcasts to download now…
Saturn Returns with Caggie has been fabulous and the second season is coming out soon so I'm looking forward to that.
Where's your next adventure?
Hopefully Switzerland for skiing and a cosy Christmas.
What's your take on souvenirs?
A little something from my adventures is always a bonus, usually a bottle of the local tipple - my grandfather used to collect grappa bottles, so I always bought him one during my travels.
One piece of travel advice…
A cashmere throw for the plane which can double up as a scarf when you arrive.
And finally, what's in your SUITCASE?
KALITA, KALITA and more KALITA!
KALITA's Pocket Guide to Sardinia
STAY: Cervo Hotel
DRINK + DANCE: The piano bar of Hotel Cala di Volpe, Phi Beach and Rumours
SHOP: In Porto Cervo's piazza