Image credit: Parkwood Entertainment/Disney+
Whirling dervish-style dancing and joyous screaming.
It’s an authentic reaction to a life-changing event. And if you’re an up-and-coming fashion designer who grew up in Azerbaijan, and your meticulously crafted headpiece was just worn by Beyoncé, your life is definitely about to change.
So you scream, and you dance.
“That was my first reaction; that’s what I did,” says Saida Mouradova, a Los Angeles-based designer whose elaborately beaded modular crown is worn by Queen B in the 24-time Grammy-winning singer’s new “Black Is King” film, which debuted last week on Disney+ to the streaming service’s 54.5 million subscribers.
Saida, along with Bey fans across the world, tuned into Disney+ in the early morning hours of July 31 to see the premiere of “Black Is King,” an 85-minute visual feast that celebrates a far-reaching cultural experience of African beauty with an homage to the ancestry that flows through Black America.
The film incorporates music from Beyoncé’s 2019 “The Lion King: The Gift” album, and showcases an extravagant wardrobe that weaves ancient African art and images with haute couture by some of the fashion industry’s biggest names – from Valentino and Burberry to several Black designers like d.bleu.dazzled, Loza Maléombho and DÉVIANT LA VIE.
And then there’s Saida, a designer born in former Soviet Union republic Azerbaijan, who escaped war at 16 and lived in refugee camps in Sweden before moving to New York and then Los Angeles, where her forward-thinking fashion design company, Object & Dawn, is based.
Established in New York in 2017, Object & Dawn’s creations are hand-crafted in an unrivaled modular style, which is used on the brand’s accessories – ranging from intricate headpieces and harnesses to elegant chokers and necklaces to inventive, wear-as-attire garter belts and a variety of other gender-neutral jewelry and accessories.
Catching Beyoncé’s eye
It’s easy to see why Queen B took notice of Saida’s headpiece. The two artists have a shared philosophy with their creations, which blend ancient craft and history with a modern aesthetic. In “Black Is King,” Beyoncé merges traditional African music with her contemporary style to create a fusion that offers a fluidity from old to new.
“There's a lot of ancient roots, ancient history and ancient craft and all these pockets of culture that we've forgotten, and Beyoncé is bringing it into the modern world,” says Saida. “It's manifesting in this incredible visual masterpiece and, in that way, I think we speak the same language. We are, in some ways, trying to do the same thing.”
Beyoncé chose a headpiece called “Rushi” from among 22 different Object & Dawn creations, all of which are named after historical and mystical figures, with “Rushi” paying tribute to Lui Rushi, a Chinese poet and painter (and courtesan) from the late-Ming Dynasty period. “Rushi” was the first piece that Saida designed for Object & Dawn, and similar to all of her works, “Rushi” is customizable, which allows the wearer to interchange modules as well as implement add-ons.
“I love being able to customize the pieces. Everyone is different. The pieces are very wearable, and I can take pieces off as the day or night goes on,” says Saida. “Like at Burning Man – I danced all night. And, at some point, I was like, ‘It's getting a little heavy.’ So I removed pieces, threw them in my backpack and danced another three hours.”
Beyoncé chose to wear the entire “Rushi” modular system in “Black Is King.” Saida says she can’t think of a more inspiring and influential artist to showcase her wearable creation.
“I have a list of artists that I want to work with, and Beyoncé is number one on that list. I don't know how to even describe that feeling. For a designer, my brand is just over two years old; it's not something that typically happens that quickly. So for it to happen like this, in this climate, it’s a boost of energy and inspiration for me as a designer.
“Something this strong and this powerful and this symbolic, to be a part of that, I feel like we just made history in a way. To be a designer and be part of a visual message like ‘Black Is King’ ... it's the ultimate, right? It's the ultimate goal. It's the ultimate feeling we strive for – that validation.”
The perfect scene in ‘Black Is King’
Object & Dawn’s “Rushi” crown is featured midway through “Black Is King” as Beyoncé floats alone, atop the ocean. A narrator speaks: “Water signifies life, water signifies purity, water signifies hope, and water signifies the ability to be reborn.”
That struck a chord with Saida.
“It’s such an important scene, so emotional. As a feminist, I have always felt very strong about the oppression of women, and that scene is all about elevating women. And with it taking place in the water, it’s like a birth … it's such a strong message to me personally, as a woman and as a mother.
“We (Saida and husband-business partner Michael Long) are both water people. We both can't live away from water. So, when we saw it, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is right on point.’”
Growing up in the Soviet Union
The modular, sustainable designs that Saida has engineered for Object & Dawn are rooted in her don’t-throw-anything-away mentality and her knack for re-purposing.
“In the Soviet Union, you didn’t throw anything away,” she said. “You fixed them up. If you loved something, and you had it for a long time, then you might pass it on. That was the culture that I grew up in. To this day, I have some well-made designer pieces that I bought 10 to 20 years ago. And I love them because they're high quality and they represent my style, so I want to have them forever, to keep telling my story with them.”
“I'm trying to create something with Object & Dawn that is very similar. Things that represent who you are, that fit you and that you can have for a very long time.”
Saida grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan, in a mixed family with an Azeri father and Russian-Ukrainian mother, so cultural mixing was always common to her.
“We grew up celebrating two New Years,” Saida says. “My neighbors spoke several languages; people were different colors. So, racism and segregation have always been strange concepts to me. I had to learn about that the hard way. Living in Sweden left its mark.
“My dad had friends who would come to our house in their traditional clothes. That was my first memory of a person from India – a woman in a saree. My dad had a Moroccan friend who would pray at sunset if he was over and it was time for prayer. We had all these people coming and going to our house, with lots of mixed couples and their children. I grew up with several kids who had one black parent, one white parent. Not many people in Soviet Union grew up in an environment like that. It’s a very different conditioning and mindset. Baku was very unique in that sense.”
Saida later spent time in a refugee camp in Sweden, after escaping war-ridden Azerbaijan with her mother. Her father could only join them a year and a half later, after they had received asylum in Sweden.
After completing her BFA in Fine Arts in Sweden, Saida was admitted to Parsons Paris, where she lived for a year before traveling to the United States and landing in New York City. She graduated Parsons Fashion design three years later having won several awards with her Thesis Collection and a paid internship in the middle of recession that followed post 9/11 NYC. Her world travels and early interaction with various cultures have contributed to her world view and to her vividly imaginative designs.
“I'm trying to recreate that unity in my art, that fluidity that can respectfully exist between cultures.”
‘Functional, affordable artwork’
Saida’s fashion-art is crafted with ancient techniques and modern styles that result in exceptionally wearable art. The local Indian artisans Saida works with are skilled in these techniques and have the ability to craft her modern art designs by hand.
“I want Object & Dawn to represent a union of everything that's good about ancient craft and techniques and blend it with modern designs, so it doesn't lose validity, so that it doesn't lose its power. It's showing it in a different light, in a modern light, rather than taking something from another culture and putting it in a fashion collection,” she says.
Object and Dawn engages in an ethical production that supports and uplifts the communities it employs. The brand’s production focuses on ancient hand-made techniques that bridging the gap between fashion and art. Working with global artisan communities the brand focuses on modern design while implementing vanishing techniques no longer used in the fashion industry.
“We use raw materials to build modern-day fantasies, crafted completely by hand, with knowledge and skills of the artisans we employ and their communities,” Saida says.
Object & Dawn promotes self-expression and the spiritual bond between Saida’s handcrafted items and their owners. While making accessories that are built to last and that provide endless customization options, Saida says she hopes to strengthen that bond and push the limits of what’s possible.
With items starting at $99 Object & Dawn pieces are affordable to people of various means. And they are readily available via the brand’s website, objectanddawn.com, and in several stores across the United States and in Italy and France.
As for the buzz over Beyoncé's use of Object & Dawn’s “Rushi” headpiece, emails and messages are pouring in since the debut of “Black Is King.”
“It’s obviously created quite a bit of interest for us,” Saida says. “It’s very humbling because it’s such a milestone for me. I’m having trouble finding the words to describe it.”