For hopeful fashion designers, whose imagination knows no bounds, the biggest hurdle is often marrying unbridled creativity with commercial viability. Will their big moment on the runway merely be a post on social media that shines bright and burn out fast, or will their ingenuity become a blaze that lasts a lifetime – or at least long enough for them to really “make it?”

This is where Qasimi lends a helping hand, with their newly announced fashion incubator programme, Qasimi Rising. It was set up to provide 3 years of financial support and 10 years of mentoring, offered to two promising fashion brands, inaugurally going to Salim Azzam and Omer Asim. The aim is to provide long-lasting support and help to demystify the commercial world for designers emerging from outside of the Western-centric bubble. “We wanted to create a programme  that would help emerging designers from around the world to break into the fashion industry. A way to provide them with the tools and resources they need to succeed, as well as a platform to showcase their work,” says Hoor al Qasimi, the twin sister of late founder, Khalid al Qasimi, who now heads up the label.

The brand was first launched under the name Qasimi Homme in 2008, and after a short hiatus, Qasimi relaunched in 2016 and dropped its then-solely menswear focus. Over the years, the brand has garnered a reputation for its easy-breezy silhouettes and understated allure that reflect a Middle Eastern heritage and multiculturalism. The brand seeks to unite, rather than divide, through the medium of clothes.

“For me, fashion is the best medium to allow this craft to travel beyond the borders,” agrees Beirut-based Salim Azzam. “I have so much pride in sharing this story on a global level and being in London is a reminder that you can do that.” His work is inspired, if not driven by, his hometown of Mount Lebanon, where his atelier has been based since 2016. Salim employs local artisans who embroider his signature whimsical designs onto contemporary silhouettes – from plump lemons and oranges to floral bloom and flying birds.

“I've realized that the women of the region have really limited places for expressing themselves or feeling part of something,” he says, “I’ve made a space where people can dream, feel safe, come and express themselves, that's what’s most important to me.” Salim Azzam is a household name in Lebanon and the designer radiates belief and confidence that his brand will touch people globally, “I hope I can bring more opportunities to the women and tell the stories that need to be heard everywhere,” he explains.

For design duo, Omer Asim and Maya Antoun Qasimi Rising is also an opportunity to uncover stories they have (much longer) been expressing. Their tales are  communicated through tuck and drapes, exposed seams and unfinished edges. “We always start with conversations around our anxieties and fixations,” says Omer, “and that leads to a dialogue that we start to navigate through.” The pair met 16 years ago at a dinner party when Maya was studying jewellery design at Central Saint Martins and Omer was first experimenting with fashion having studied architecture. Coincidentally, the duo actually lived around the corner from each other in Sudan and went to the same school without ever crossing paths.

Since then, they have established a brand that looks beyond the finished products and peels back the layers of what goes into making clothes and how that enriches them. “We find the process of making, and the ephemera of the making process, to be very rich in itself in relation to our displacement,” says Omer.

For the debut Qasimi Rising show, the collections, each woven with personality, truths and authenticity, went on display as part of London Fashion Week in the hallowed halls of Somerset House; the Rising Star’s archive garments formed the backdrop to Qasimi’s latest collection. Omer Asim presented six deconstructed jackets, hanging from wooden beams that “encourage the viewer to look closer,” says Omer. While Salim presented three white cotton embroidered looks, which he explains are “enough to tell you that we come from that mountain. Where it smells like oranges, the sun is always shining and there are a lot of beautiful birds.”

Qasimi’s collection, which takes centre stage, is made in collaboration with Sudanese painter Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq, an artist Hoor has worked with for many years, including the exhibition of her work at the Serpentine last year. One of Kamala’s latest paintings "Blues for Martyrs" honours all the lives lost during the Khartoum Massacre in 2019, and features as a print across separates. The whole affair speaks of serenity and community and these works come together harmoniously under one roof of shared understanding.

“For Salim and Omer, this presentation is an industry introduction. The aim is to bring them to the forefront and generate excitement, as well as to showcase their creative strength,” says Hoor. “[We are] fostering a community of like-minded individuals who can learn from and support each other.”

By Augustine Hammond