This gold-encrusted combination overgarment tunic dress (Thawb_kandurah_ryasi), previously worn by Sheikha Fakhrah bint Sa’id Al Nahyan, was displayed at the exhibition accompanying the launch of the first edition of the book Sultani: Traditions Renewed; Changes in Women’s Traditional Dress in the UAE during the reign of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan 1966-2004, by Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli.
Two launch events took place: a public launch at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in 2011, under the patronage of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan; and a private reception at the palace of Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa bin Zayid al Nahyan, son of UAE president, hosted by his wife Sheikha bint Saif al Nahyan. Attended by most female members of the al Nahyan family, when each donated one outfit to the exhibition to be preserved by the author and added to The Zay Collection.
Sheikha Fakhrah bint Sa’id Al Nahyan is the maternal cousin and wife of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan, and mother to four sons and five daughters. She holds a master’s degree in Islamic studies from Mohammed the Fifth university and is a Ph.D. candidate.
Before the 1980s, it was common to employ contrasting colours and techniques within the components of UAE traditional dress. Women used to wear an overgarment (thawb) that was distinct and in contrast to the tunic dress (kandurah) underneath. Soon this evolved into matching sets known as (thawb_wa_kandurah), where the two garments were made of the same or matching fabrics and colours.
By the late 1990s, this evolved further, as the two separate articles were merged into one and became attached at the neckline, using the inner tunic as lining and creating a combination overgarment tunic (thawb_kandurah).
This example is exceptional as it is embellished in pure gold, thus known as thawb_kandurah_ryasi; the word ryasi denotes high status, which is reflected in the value of the ornamentation. The garment is reserved for special occasions and, as its name suggests, is worn by the elite or privileged brides.
The overgarment (thawb) fabric is a very light and delicate French silk chiffon, accentuated by radiating horizontal lines of shiny, rainbow-coloured Swarovski iron-on crystals (fsus), 18-carat gold coins (hruf) or (mshakhis), and smaller gold discs (niyum) with protruding convex centers, reminiscent of two styles of traditional thawb (myaza‘) and (mnaghad).
The neckline, central axis (bidhah) and all vertical hemlines are densely machine embroidered in metallic gold thread (zari). The same is applied to the sleeve cuffs (swarah) or (hyul) of the inner, gold checkered white silk satin, tunic (kandurah). These embroidered areas are then heavily embellished with an array of hand stitched 18 carat gold coins (hruf) or (mshakhis), smaller gold discs (niyum).
This garment (thawb_kandurah_ryasi) represents a physical example of the traditional Arabic saying (zinah_wa_khazinah), meaning ‘beauty and wealth in one’. Traditionally, the gold decorations were designed to demonstrate style and reflect social standing, but they could also be melted down and sold in times of need. However, post the millennium and with the abundance of wealth they are just reapplied onto other garments as trends change.