“It means a lot to me that this outfit is going to be part of the UAE heritage through The Zay Initiative. Knowing that The Zay Initiative aims to empower women, regionally and globally, and to tell a story, aligns with the idea behind this outfit – to highlight the local culture but also bridges the traditional and the contemporary.

Being part of the Expo 2020 Dubai and being inspired by the Al Wasl dome tells a story of its own and becomes part of UAE history. The story behind Expo will continue to live through this outfit. I wanted to donate this dress to become part of the UAE heritage. I know it will be well preserved and documented in The Zay Initiative’s archive, it will travel to exhibitions, and continues to tell the story of the UAE and of Expo 2020 Dubai well into the future.” Mayssa Karaa

Mayssa Karaa, American Lebanese vocalist and songwriter, and the Artistic Director at the Abu Dhabi campus of Berklee College of Music was one of the three artists who performed the theme song, This is Our Time, at the opening ceremony of Expo 2020 Dubai. Emirati pos star Hussain Al Jassmi and soul signer Almas completed the trio.

Mayssa’s iconic outfit comprising of a tailored jumpsuit and embroidered cape was donated by the artist to The Zay Initiative’s contemporary heritage collection.

The Concept

To create a look fitting the occasion, Mayssa approached celebrity stylist Maya Eltal who introduced her to Lebanese designer Jean Louis Sabaji.

“I liked the contemporary, modern, forward-thinking approach of the Expo but I also wanted to be respectful of the local traditions. We looked at pictures of the Expo design concept and Jean Louis was inspired by the design of the Al Wasl Dome. He suggested introducing the same design into our outfit. I didn’t want a traditional dress and suggested we go for a jumpsuit as it is young and vibrant. He suggested we add the cape. I liked that concept as it is modern but classy.” Mayssa Karaa


Mayssa Karaa outfit

The Inspiration

With the theme Connecting Minds. Creating the Future, the Expo 2020 site was designed with the Al Wasl Plaza and its iconic dome at its centre. Al Wasl meaning ‘connection’ in Arabic, is the perfect name for this central hub, the place where people and cultures meet. The trellis design on the dome which inspired the design on Mayssa’s outfit is a three-dimensional visualisation of the Expo 2020 logo.

The logo of Expo 2020 is inspired by an ancient golden ring found by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President, and Ruler of Dubai at the Saruq Al Hadid archaeological site in Al Marmoom, in the desert outside Dubai back in 2002


Mayssa Karaa

The Design

Celebrity stylist, Maya Eltal and Mayssa Karaa have a longstanding working relationship, having collaborated on outfits for other projects like music videos, before. Maya often collaborates with designer Jean Louis Sabaji, making this an obvious three-person partnership in creating this iconic outfit.

“I see myself as more than a stylist. I have a vision, and I collaborate with talented designers to bring that vision to life. I often collaborate with Jean Louis Sabaji. He is young and very talented. He has elegant taste and a beautiful eye that few people have. We share a common sense of beauty and often work together.

For this design, I wanted to celebrate the vision of where we are. The new Dubai. Futuristic, modern, and avant-garde while still celebrating our heritage – a fusion between tradition and futurism. I envisioned an outfit that is strong and modern yet feminine and elegant. We chose a jumpsuit as opposed to a traditional dress and added the cape to give it a regal and dramatic look.”

Designer Jean Louis Sabaji created the custom JLS deep V-neck tailored jumpsuit in ivory beige silk crêpe accompanied with the attached cape. It was his inspiration to recreate the Al Wasl dome inspired design on the cape. The motifs are embroidered with gilded silk thread, pearls, beads, and eco-glass in keeping with the Expo’s sustainability ethos. It is iconic and creates a unique and subtle link between the event of Expo 2020 and the garment, creating a tangible connection with history and legacy.

Maya’s vision included iconic jewellery by Lebanese design house, Yeprem. “I did a lot of research to find the right pieces and designs. I wanted jewellery that reflects the futuristic and modern ethos of Dubai and Expo 2020 in a luxury, high-quality design.”

Mayssa Karaa

The Legacy

“Symbolism has been part of fashion from time immortal. Dress is never a silent cloth but rather a fabric weaving culture and creativity. As we truly believe it is the language that narrates our story without having to speak. The theme of the Expo 2020 Dubai was ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ and had three subthemes: opportunity, mobility and sustainability. All this is embodied within this garment. The Zay initiative is privileged to have participated in many different capacities in this First-of-its-kind-in-the-Arab-world; be it through exhibiting at The Women’s Pavilion,  organising and presenting panel discussions and events other pavilions, and becoming custodians to some iconic garments such as this example.” Dr Reem el Mutwalli


Click here to hear Mayssa share her feelings and thoughts about her participation at Expo 2020 Dubai