In 2004, when Ahmad Al Ghanim and Bader Al Hejailan got together with Sheikh Hamad Al Sabah and Saad Al Humaidi – two other Kuwaiti creative entrepreneurs – to launch the lifestyle magazine ‘Thouq’, perhaps no one realised the impact it would have or how, nearly a decade-and-a-half later, it (and they) have evolved and maintained its relevance and context at the cutting-edge of regional style.

Thouq was, from the very first day, ground-breaking in many aspects. The most obvious was through the magazine’s portrayal of both male and female models on its covers – something we take for granted now but which, then, caused ripples of minor controversy. They each had a background  in different creative disciplines, and the creation of Thouq allowed them to share their creativity with – as we now know – an audience hungry for something that reflected itself.

Ahmad recalls those days, “At its formation in 2004, Thouq Magazine was a picturesque, limited edition, and definitely original. It has transcended to become a cutting-edge style guide for the region’s young and trendy circle. Showcasing the best of fashion, art, culture and travel. Thouq Magazine featured ground-breaking photography and exclusive high-profile interviews and essays.

“Thouq magazine pioneered in many levels throughout the years. The fashion-forward magazine used Kuwaiti models, artists and designers in a bid to create a progressive stance for its growing social circle. Thouq has collaborated with esteemed artist and designers to create events and special artworks.”

Fast-forward to today, and Thouq has evolved through a number of identities. Bader reflects on those early years, and brings the story up to date.

“To us, Thouq was a creative state of mind and not just a conventional print publication. Thouq evolved to be a brand with popular social networks, limited-edition books, an online shop, travel guides, and a concept shop for exclusive design items, clothing and affordable art.

“Today, we create beautiful ideas through our physical and online shops such as pop-art pieces, design accessories, and trendy streetwear.

“The founders’ tastes in fashion and contemporary art is an example of young Kuwaitis who, like their Arab counterparts are fans of the digital age media and incorporate their culture with modernism treating the colors of contrast with fun and enthusiasm.”

What of Arabs’ relationship with style? To the rest of the world we appear exotic – our traditional dress, furnishings and lifestyles drip of style in the eyes of others. To us, perhaps, we’re simply being functional within our environment. Where, historically, do they see we’ve shown our greatest collective and individual style messages?

Ahmad feels that young Khaleeji men in general spend a lot of time and effort in looking beautiful and chic. “That’s why people of neighbouring countries consider our society an extremely fashionable one.

“Yet, some people’s perception of fashion in our society is a little unusual. Because the same people who flood the shopping malls everyday, and always make sure they look trendy and glamorous, are the same people who think fashion is trivial and inconsequential.

“I think our biggest challenge is to understand that fashion is not about putting on famous labels, it’s about finding your own unique perspective through the art of mixing and matching different items from different labels and places.

“Fashion is evolution, and Khaleejis have come a long way. The traditional-wear also got an upgrade. With a lot of upcoming skilled designers who are creating their own take on traditional-wear.”

We contend that the Middle East is today one of the world’s most switched-on and stylish regions. Driven by what though? Is it an appreciation of beauty; or simply a competitive nature to collect and show ‘the best’ with no thought or education?

“We all want to look beautiful and successful,” Bader suggests. “However, nobody is obligated to follow fashion. It won’t be a shock to find people even in New York City who care less about fashion. I believe it should start with passion.

“Today with the open borders of social media, our region’s sense of style is absolutely high and engaging. The average individual in our region interprets fashion as buying new clothes and accessories from high-end stores. But I’m surprised everyday by how some people in Kuwait – especially men – are looking effortlessly trendy and fashionably up-to-date. They are also familiar with new independent designers and upcoming trends.”

If you know Kuwait, you’ll know SoMu. It’s the new and trendy souk in the ‘old’ district of Almubarakiya. A beautiful place located behind Souk Bin Duaij and next to Souk Al-Kuwait building.

It all started when the original Thouqers opened their first concept shop in an abandoned but promising corner. That is what Thouq visionaries only ever wished for Kuwait’s oldest commercial and cultural hub, Souq Al-Mubarakiya. And the souk has once again became a thriving hub for arts, culture, and fashion.

Today, SOMU is thriving with new locally conceived businesses. Different concept shops that offer a wide range of stylish products. Amazing restaurant and cafes with indoor and outdoor seating areas.

It is developing to be the stylish-heart of an ever more style-aware Kuwait. Thoughts turn to the whole concept of style. Is style innate, or can it be learned?

Bader feels that, just like any skill, style can be learned. “Style is a very positive state of mind. And dressing up is very uplifting. Even though many people dismiss it, but the power of fashion is astonishing.”

Perhaps we in the midst of creating our own unique contemporary Arabian style-signature? What is it? Where and how is it revealing itself? Or are we too close to it, perhaps it will only become clear when we look back to 2017 in the years to come?

“The style of Arab men, especially Khaleejis,” says Ahmad, “is a mixture of modern and traditional. We all love dressing up and sometimes mixing and matching different styles. We always look for quality of design and fabric. We are definitely going towards a mature and unique sense of style.

And what of the challenges that lay ahead in our society if we are to hope for an increasing appreciation and adoption of style? We leave the final words to Bader, “I think we need to adopt a more effortless approach to style. We don’t have to follow every new and crazy trend. I think we need to appreciate beauty in everything and love the imperfections in life around us. Though fashion tends to repeat itself and come up with crazy ideas, we should always have fun along the way.”

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The Style Edition was guest curated by Ebrahim Al Qassab. You can read Ebrahim’s approach to style right here