From Riyadh, to Washington D.C., to Boston, to New York city, meet the young and oh so talented Mai Al-Athel. A fresh new talent from Saudi Arabia who at the tender age of 22 has by far a lot of creativity and aptitude to spread across the globe. Not only is she talented but a bubbly personality that was a pleasure to interview. Read on and get to know a little bit more about the kind of work she has gotten to do that many of us dream of doing.
Ghadeer Al-Otaibi: Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Mai Al-Athel: Hello, hello! So, let me see what can I say about myself… My name is Mai Abdullah Al-Athel, I am a 22 year old from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. So, I grew up in Washington D.C and moved to Riyadh when I was 12 years old, studied high school in Riyadh, graduated and moved to Boston where I studied at university. I went to Suffolk University in Boston, MA, where I studied business management, nothing creative unfortunately! I just recently graduated from Boston and moved to the one city I’ve always wanted to live in, New York! During that time I interned at a startup brand management agency called LuxCartel. For the first time in my 4 years of university did I feel like I was doing something I genuinely loved and enjoyed AND I was living in one of my favorite cities in the world… After Paris that is! It went by like a bolt of lighting, too fast for my liking. All in all, I am happy to say I was able to get such an opportunity.
G.A.: What did your internship involve?
M.A.: My internship was at a startup business, directed at brand management, named LuxCartel. Basically what we would do is take in up and coming designers and bring them out both in New York and internationally. During Market Week, the week after Fashion Week when all the buyers make purchases for their boutiques, we served as a showroom for the designers we were working with. We also work with magazines (Vogue, V Magazine, Nylon) where they pull looks for editorials and use them for the shoots. Basically what we do is pimp the designers out!
G.A.: When did you get into sketching/drawing?
M.A.: On a lazy cold Boston winter night my best friends cousin and the creator of MinkBlog.com, Marcela Contreras, was illustrating for her blog and I asked her to teach me how to illustrate or at least show me how to mess around on her Wacom Pad. Doodling a little, they told me that I had a natural talent and that illustrating on a pad came naturally to me. Since then I was hooked, stole my best friends Wacom Pad and have been illustrating every day since then.
G.A.: Why did you start out? Was it a passion built up inside you?
M.A.: I have always loved art and creativity in all its forms. I’ve been passionate about fashion ever since I can remember. Fashion never really ‘came’ into my life and I never really ‘discovered’ my love for it. In a sense, it was always there and it just matured from playing dress up to finding comfort in the smell of my Vogue’s. Illustrating came in when I realized that I wanted to incorporate both my love for fashion and for the arts but wanted to be different and innovative in a way. There are an endless number of fashion websites/blogs out there and I just wanted to have something that stood out.
G.A.: What do you aspire to be?
M.A: At 22, I’m still in the process of finding that out. I do, however, know that I am a creative person and I find comfort and happiness doing things that incorporate such.
G.A.: How has your journey been so far?
M.A.: So far I’ve been very blessed with supportive people all around me that have given me the opportunities and the freedom to do what it is I love.
G.A.: What inspires you?
M.A.: All that is beautiful inspires me. Also, it’s funny and quite unconventional but mystery. Mystery inspires me to the end of time.
G.A.: What’s insipid to you in fashion and in art?
M.A.: People that do not believe in mixing high street (Zara, Top Shop, etc.) with high fashion (Celine, Prada, etc.) I don’t understand why people think that the more expensive the thing is, the better the quality, and the nicer it is. When knowing that something doesn’t necessarily flatter your body but just because it is in for the season you will start wearing it.
G.A.: What are your passions?
M.A.: Fashion, it’s past-history, present, and future. Design, styling, the fabrics, the smell of leather, the cuts, the hems. Everything that has to do with fashion from what happens backstage to what is presented in editorials and shows.
So when you are passionate about something it makes you happy. Little things make me happy and I always seek to find them. Little things like finding a Space Invader mosaic hidden on a lamppost in Paris or behind a sign in New York.
I find pleasure in hunting for and discovering new hidden/underground boutiques. My dad always jokes with me and says I should major in luxury management since I spend most my days, when we’re travelling, scouting for little shops and spending hours on end online looking for random websites that sell the most austere things.
G.A.: Future plans with your talent?
M.A.: Within the next few years inshallah I plan on opening a concept boutique. Something that will incorporate everything I have learned and everything I love. This is why I find a passion in discovering new places and faces. You know the saying “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I’ve ever known.” It kind of applies to me here. I discover to inspire myself and inspire my idea of how I want my future boutique to be like. This will incorporate my passion for the arts and fashion.
G.A.: In 20 years time, what do you see yourself doing?
M.A.: I see myself prancing around fashion month with little Mai dressed in Little Lanvin taking little notes on her mommy’s lap! I want to be my own buyer for my boutique with little Mai being my little helper.
G.A.: If you weren’t what you are today, what would you be doing?
M.A.: I cannot see myself doing anything else. Ever. This is my life, my happiness.
G.A.: What type of art are you into?
M.A.: The fields that interest me the most are: Abstract expressionism, Surrealism, Dadaism, the Pop Art movement, the street art movement, installations, print making, and photography.
G.A.: Who is your favorite artist?
M.A.: I appreciate them all from Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings to Andy Warhol’s print making, from Annie Leibovitz’s sensual photographs to the more provocative ones by Helmut Newton. From the street art of Banksy and Mr. Brainwash to the installations of Nele Azevedo and Dan Havel and Deak Ruck. Marcel DuChamp’s Dadaist sculpture to Joan Miro’s ceramics and murals. All very different but all very beautiful!
G.A.: Who is your favorite designer?
M.A.: To pick a favorite would be impossible. I think all designers are extremely talented in what they do and will get that much appreciation from me. I do, however, think some designers are more my style and that their collections consecutively awe me. Namely, Alber Elbaz (Lanvin), Phoebe Philo (Celine), Alexander Wang, Helmut Lang, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez (The Proenza boys), Ricardo Tisci (Givenchy), David Neville and Marcus Wainwright (Rag & Bone men), and last but definitely not least, Isabel Marant.
G.A.: What’s it like being a Saudi artist in the making? Do you feel like you have to work that much harder because of the society you live in?
M.A.: It has its downs most definitely. I remember going in for an interview and being asked what my passions were and what I see myself doing in the future. As soon as I said it the interviewee looked at me, laughed, and said those these are your ambitions and goals? I won’t lie… it hurt to see that some people don’t care for things that make this world a more beautiful place. That being said, I still have never ending hope especially now with the Art movement going on in the Gulf.
To be able to view some of her past work and follow up on her current work, make sure to log onto her website www.maialathel.com, Tumblr page contempretty.tumblr.com and to follow her on Twitter @MaiAMalathel