Alaa Najd is the inaugural winner of Project Runway Middle East.
The aspiring Lebanese designer won the debut season of the talent quest, in a star-studded finale held on December 8 at the Dubai Design District.
Broadcast on MBC, Project Runway Middle East is one 26 international versions of the programme that have been launched since the US original began in 2004.
Some of the big regional names who walked down the red carpet before the show were the veteran Egyptian singer and actress Yusra. and Korean comic and actor Wonho Chung.
Musical performances were provided by Lebanese crooner Wall Kfoury, Moroccan singer Samira Saeed, and Egyptian pop-star Mohamed Hamaky.
Najd emerged victorious after the panel of judges, headed by renowned Lebanese designer Elie Saab, Tunisian fashion icon and television presenter Afef Jnifen, and French actress and former model Farida Khelfa, praised his clothing creations for being modern, creative and marketable.
The 32-year-old defeated an all-male field of finalists, which included the Syrian Issa Hesso, Salim Chebil of Tunisia, and Algeria’s Rayan Atlas.
As well as the title, Najd walked way with benefits that should help establish him as one of the hottest young names in the region’s fashion industry.
In addition to US$50,000 (Dh183,650) from Maybelline New York to fund his first collection, Najd received a one-year contract to develop his own fashion house at Dubai Design District, and a one-year membership to the Dubai Design and Fashion Council.
“It is just an amazing feeling,” he told The National after the show. “To compete and win in the first-ever series is really an honour and it has definitely not been easy, I worked really hard and I am so glad to have won.”
Indeed, Najd’s road to victory was anything but smooth. He managed to claw through nearly each stage of the competition on the back of an elimination battle, as a result of failing to pass the episode’s main challenge.
It was only in the last few weeks that he began to showcase his talents.
He won the last two round by designing a series of outfits for children and gala events. In the final round, Najd’s collection of spring/summer wear and a bridal gown were equally inspired by the lotus flower and yoga.
“I love how the lotus is a symbol piece, and yoga is a way for inner peace,” he explained when previewing the collection. “Also, in the design, I was looking at certain shapes inspired by origami and wanted into include that in there as well.”
Judges commented on the thematic unity to Najd’s work.
Saab — whose designs have been worn by Beyoncé, Aishwarya Rai and Halle Berry — praised the Lebanese designer’s collection, which consisted of light billowy dresses, summery low cut tops, and a beige jump suit, for their consistency.
“They were very well put together and displayed a high level skill,” Saab said. “It is something that a woman wouldn’t think twice about buying.”
The judges were not charmed by Chebil’s collection of satin dresses and minimalist jumpsuits.
“When I saw your work, I saw a lot of influences, particularly Saab’s work,” Jnifen said. “But what I am looking for is your identity and I couldn’t find that.”
Saab added: “Yes, I saw my influence there, also a Dolce and Gabbana, and other brands. By this stage of the competition we need to see who you are.”
Inspired by the present tragedy of war torn Syria, Helou’s collection incorporated colours of the Syrian flag which were embroidered in his collection through various shapes.
The judges praised the artistry, but Saab was cool regarding the Syrian’s chances in the market place: “I don’t think it would necessarily cause someone to stop and say ‘yes, I would buy that.’ “
Atlas’s final showcase was also inspired by his homeland, in that he aimed “to capture the colour and vibe of Algeria, it’s desert and tribes and bring it to the present.”
While judges praised the earthy colours, particularly the idea of including embroidery in the jackets, they lamented Atlas’s poor execution.
“I was looking for something more,” Saab sighed. “I really wanted you to show us the wonderful and intricate designs that we know come from Algeria, instead some of the things that we saw you can find it a general market.”