There is a strange army on the hill of Birsa, busy building their camp. Here a production tent, there a light tower and, beyond, it will be necessary to make room for sponsors and commercial allies with their respective beach bars. In front of the stairs that descend to the house of Aníbal Barca (or what is left of it), an imposing Bedouin tent shelters a beleaguered command of stylists, hairdressers, make-up artists and models. Tassmin, 24, her limbs like reeds, is raffled off by photographers, who are not few. It is a pity that this Tunisian woman is “too African” in the eyes of the Elite agency team, which is also in Carthage (Tunisia) hunting for new local faces, candidates to win its famous international mannequin contest. The tourists who wander these days through the monumental esplanade, part of the archaeological complex declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1979, do not believe the show. It is clear that the site of the old Phoenician acropolis of Carthage had not known such turmoil since the Romans left no stone unturned. The war that gives fashion.
At Tunis Fashion Week, history is literally set on the catwalk. The Municipal Theater of Tunis, the Bardo museum, the muradita palace of Abdellia, the Baron d’Erlanger house-museum or the Carthage amphitheater have served as the stage for a show that, since 2009, has established itself as a showcase for the Tunisian creation ―and, by extension, culture― open to the world. The 14th edition, held from June 7 to 11, has once again defended the positions: a program that gives equal space to art (the exhibition of the projects presented for the restoration of the National Museum of Cartago and the adjacent Cathedral of San Luis , to conclude in 2026) and fashion (about fifteen brands and designers, in this call), which makes it the first catwalk in North Africa, the most important in terms of market and impact. A private effort, without any public help.
“The Government only allocates funds to companies with a large volume of operations, especially because they work abroad. Small and medium-sized creators, like those who show their collections here, are left to their own devices, not to mention the youngest ones”, notes Anis Montacer, director/producer of the Show. The Tunis Fashion Week (TNFW) is the personal commitment of this 46-year-old entrepreneur in his conviction of the “legitimate return of made in Tunisia”. The figures support him: after tourism, textile activity is the second economic engine of the country, whose gross domestic product owes him just over 20%. Only in the first quarter of this 2023, exports of the sector -160,000 workers, the majority women, employed in 1,600 companies- increased by 14.6% compared to the same period last year, entering almost 800 million euros, according to data of the Tunisian Ministry of Industry and Energy.
Considered a local destination, for decades firms of all kinds and scope found in the smallest nation of the Maghreb a guaranteed solution to supply themselves with materials and make part of their offer. France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain produce lingerie and swimwear here, for example (from Dior to Andrés Sardá), and especially clothing. denim. A Tunisian specialty since the 1970s, many of the country’s jean experts have ended up in Levi’s itself. With clients such as Diesel, Guess, Seven for All Mankind or Hugo Boss, the textile manufacturer Sartex leads the segment with almost six million pieces a year, which it also produces in an environmentally friendly manner, using digital printing and 3D modeling technology. that reduce the use of dyes, the cost of water and the carbon footprint left by the coming and going of merchandise. A responsible practice that has inspired Anis Montacer to create her own luxurious and sustainable denim brand.
Outa started walking on Thursday on the cobblestones of ancient Carthage (about 17 kilometers from the capital) with a capsule collection made entirely of recycled marine plastic fiber ―indistinguishable from the denim sight, but also touch―, produced in Spain in collaboration with Seaqual Initiative. For the occasion, the waste used was collected in the not so crystalline waters of the Querquenes, an archipelago off the eastern coast of Tunisia. And Maud Beneteau has been in charge of its design as creative director of the firm, although what shines is not so much aesthetics as technique: the Parisian creator is an exceptional pattern designer, claimed by Hermès, Louis Vuitton and the Maison Margiela de John Galliano. Also an expert in skin, Hedi Slimane kept her by her side during the four years of her revolution at Saint Laurent. With an almost minimalist silhouette, the excess of certain details and accessories can be easily explained: the woman for whom it is intended.
In the maximalist drift, even ostentatious, of most of the collections of this TNFW, the desire to appeal to the Middle East, a sweet tooth market valued at 55,000 million euros, is recognized. Designers like Souraya Sahraoui (the name of her firm, Soltana, is not misleading) and Mouna Ben Braham already have many of their clientele spread throughout the emirates of the Persian Gulf, where these precious dresses, glamorous/retro sensuality, overwhelming in embroideries, sequins and glitter that recall the skill and mastery of Tunisian thread and needle work. Chems Eddine Mechri’s creations are also there, but this designer prefers to recycle sumptuous old fabrics in the creations of Né À Tunis (born in Tunisia, in Spanish), the brand of upcycling in which he has embarked for a decade to greater artisan glory.
Meanwhile, younger designers look to the West. In Calestis, Emna Gahbiche crosses the border between haute couture ready-to-wear deluxe (trained in the Parisian workshop of Alexandre Vauthier) with a modern revision of the diorísima silhouette Bar, while Haroun Ghanmi, one of the assets of the local avant-garde art scene, gambles everything, or almost, on the brutal volumes of vinyl in electric tones. Aziz Ben Abdallah doesn’t show, but he did turn up in Dido’s former domain snoring at her, outfitted in some of the dramatic looks from the first collection of his project, Nebulous, to see if he would make a name for himself. “I started modeling at 16 and since everyone told me how much they liked my style, I decided to take it to my own brand,” he says, before finishing off: “What I want is to get to Paris or Los Angeles.” He is 20 years old, with no little ambition and the example of illustrious countrymen, such as the late Azzedine Alaïa (buried, by the way, in nearby Sidi Boud Said) and Max Azria. Not too bad.