When This Refugee Needed A Modest Oscar Gown, This Designer Stepped Up
US label Brandon Maxwell provided a custom-made dress and hijab for Hala Kamil’s red carpet appearance.
US President Donald Trump’s visa ban almost prevented Hala Kamil from attending the Academy Awards this week.
The Syrian refugee, who is the subject of Oscar-nominated documentary Watani: My Homeland, was almost barred from entering the US after Trump blocked visas for nationals of seven MENA nations.
However with just weeks to spare, the executive order was overturned, and producers were able to book Kamil a flight to LA.
Yet the tight timeframe had created another problem – what to wear.
“Along with the quick turnaround, the fact that Kamil is a practicing Muslim and requires modest dressing made the search for a designer that much more difficult,” Hayley Pappas, a representative for the short film, told Refinery29.
“We needed a dress that would cover everything, along with a hijab she’d wear with it. And since she’s probably the only Syrian refugee woman on the red carpet, she wanted to wear something that sent a specific message.”
Friend and film director Chris Temple put a plea out on Twitter on Kamil’s behalf and soon enough, offers came flooding in.
Urgent. Anyone know a designer in LA who can make a dress for Hala, a Syrian refugee? Her film was nominated for the Oscars this weekend!
— Chris Temple (@Christemple8) February 23, 2017
Among those that got in touch was New York-based designer Brandon Maxwell, who’s dressed stars including Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama.
“His email was so nice and sincere, and we didn’t realise who he was until we Googled him,” Pappas told Refinery29. “‘Don’t worry, I have a team of girls who can make this happen,’ he said.”
Working with Kamil, who sent Maxwell colours and ideas, the two came up with the regal purple velvet and fishtailed number she wore on the night.
And while Watani – which charts Kamil’s escape from wartorn Syria with her family – didn’t come away with the Oscar, Kamil said working with Maxwell was “the sweetest experience of her life”, according to Pappas.
The designer also shared a heartwarming message on his Instagram page as the mum-of-four, who is now based in Germany, walked the red carpet.
“Hala’s story sincerely touched me and I am truly honoured that I had the privilege to create this look for her celebrating this momentous occasion,” wrote Maxwell, adding that the rich hue was designed to represent the colour of her favourite flower.
Syrian refugee, mother of four, and focus of the Academy Award nominated short documentary film Watani: My Homeland, Hala Kamil made her red carpet debut tonight at the 89th Academy Awards in a custom #brandonmaxwell look, made in purple to represent the color of her favorite flower, which happens to be my mother’s favorite color as well. To me, every woman is a star and every star has a story. Hala’s story sincerely touched me and I am truly honoured that I had the privilege to create this look for her celebrating this momentous occasion. The goal for my collection is always to empower all women and to not just make them look beautiful, but feel beautiful as well. Hala’s strength and courage throughout her experiences is supremely admirable. Seeing her walk the red carpet full of confidence and elegance, and being a small part of her special night means the world to me. She used to stay up with her husband every year and watch the Oscars from her home in Aleppo, which has now been destroyed, and tonight she walks the carpet. I hope she is having the time of her life. Styled by the wonderful and truly amazing @sweetbabyjamie 💜
“Seeing her walk the red carpet full of confidence and elegance, and being a small part of her special night means the world to me.
“She used to stay up with her husband every year and watch the Oscars from her home in Aleppo, which has now been destroyed, and tonight she walks the carpet.”