Minimal artistry: A dual design philosophy

A conversation between designer Anwar Bougroug and writer Jareh Das uncovers ideas about style, activism and the dual influences from Africa and Europe.

Anwar Bougroug

Four years ago, Anwar Bougroug launched his titular Scandinavian-Moroccan lifestyle brand for genderless fashion and accessories. Since then, bougroug (the brand) has masterfully brought together design philosophies that originate from the founder’s North African and Northern European heritage ­– all of which are translated into unisex designs. From tailor-made silhouettes to minimal accessories, the full range is handmade in bougroug’s Marrakech headquarters by artisans using techniques handed down for generations. This socially conscious label, as Creative Director Anwar notes, ‘strives to push forward conversations around sustainability, gender equality, and sexuality through product design and brand positioning.’ 

In the interview that follows, he talks about the blending of Moroccan artistry with Scandinavian minimalism, as well the ways in which fashion can contribute to sustainably and a more engaged future where brands are inclusive, fair and experimental. 

What inspired you to create a label blending together Moroccan and Scandinavian influences for your label bougroug?

I was born and raised in Norway, and I’ve spent most of my life there. I also went to ESMOD [international fashion and business school] in Oslo, which obviously shaped my taste and identity as a designer. I always knew that one day I would start my brand, and I have actually been saving money since my first ever job when I was 16 years old. I found my voice as a designer when I realized I needed to be true to how I am and what I stand for. Growing up in Norway with Moroccan roots, it has definitely shaped me, so it only makes sense to tell my story through my label.

‘I am 50% Norwegian and 50% Moroccan in my design identity. This truly reflects me as a person …’

How does the collaboration between Oslo and Marrakesh work for bougroug?

My family and I would always go to Morocco for two months every summer. It was so lavish, and we’d spend all summer creating clothing for weddings and for the winter in Norway. I used to come back with such a kick-ass wardrobe for the next year. This completely changed the way I view fashion and the endless possibility you have with the craftspeople in Morocco. When I did my graduation collection, I noticed how natural it was for me to implement all the knowledge and experience from the craft and design I had learned from my holidays. It elevated my work so much and my teachers were very impressed. I knew that by working in this way, I was creating something unique, and filling a gap that wasn’t filled before.

Bougroug styling for @schonmagazine

How has Moroccan culture and history informed your label?

I am 50% Norwegian and 50% Moroccan in my design identity. This truly reflects me as a person also, because I have decided to take what’s best of both worlds and create my dream universe. The tolerance, purpose, minimalism and style from Norway, and the community, warmth, craft and tradition from Morocco. Both worlds are sublime in their areas, but they lack what each other have and bougroug is the link in between that brings everything together. It’s very intriguing to work this way and I am very thankful for having two pools of endless inspiration.

‘People that connect with our brand often times are immersed by our values first before they see our products, and that’s truly magical’

Fluidity in fashion and design is a big topic particularly on the African continent where intolerance to queer communities is rife. What are your thoughts on fashion as a platform for activism and freedom of expression?

Fashion is communication, in my opinion. In the very end, we don’t just buy stuff, we buy into worlds and universes that we want to be part of. We want to dream. Many of us dream about worlds that are totally inclusive, that celebrate diversity and fluidity, and that’s what fashion is really about: creating the dream universe. People that connect with our brand often times are immersed by our values first before they see our products, and that’s truly magical. The fact that bougroug has also become a community and a representative of a modern Morocco, and not just another regular fashion brand, is something I am so unbelievably happy and proud about. Fashion is about newness, politics and breaking the boundaries in the time you’re operating. It makes it so much more exciting to create a collection that might change someone’s life, rather than only creating a couple of garments you hope someone will buy. If fashion isn’t used for activism it gets very boring. The biggest stars in fashion, whether it’s photographers, stylists, designers, editors … everyone that’s ever made a mark in history was through activism.

Sustainability, gender equality and timelessness are important to your label. Are the any other brands you admire that embody this ethos?

I love Orange CultureRich Mnisi and Nao Serati from the continent. They carry a lot of the same values and ethos as us and it’s amazing to see their success across the globe. Outside Africa, I love Acne Studios, Marni and Barragán Collections.

What else does fashion mean to you?

Fashion was the first place I went to escape from reality and dream. It was John Galliano for Dior, when he did his Egypt themed collection, that I understood for the first time that fashion was an immense world of stories and fantasy. You can change everything and everyone with fashion. It’s something so superficial, but yet it’s so deep. It regards everyone, because everybody needs clothing, and everyone uses fashion to communicate who they are and what they stand for to their surroundings. It’s so cliché, but fashion has become my life. I think about it all the time. What people on the streets are wearing, what my friends and family are wearing, what I wear…I’m so involved in everyone’s wardrobe nowadays that it’s actually quite hilarious. But I wouldn’t want to change it for anything.

All images courtesy of Anwar Bougroug.