Chapter 8 - A return to self

Chapter 8 - A return to self 

In previous chapters of Salim Azzam, we celebrated oddness as an authentic superpower and marveled at the show that unfolds when we unleash the truth within. Chapter after chapter paved the way for a greater story being told; a story of transformation, not to something new, but to our brightest, most vibrant essence. 

I played with fashion as soon as I could draw, and the image of a butterfly recurred in my childhood sketches. I drew them on abayas and sketched them onto veils. Butterflies fascinated me as a young designer and as a child; revealing the fierce yet fragile beauty of our earth through the light flight of their wings, their symmetrical beauty, and their quiet movements. Most of all, I was fascinated by their inexplicable presence; how they emerge from a caterpillar’s chrysalis into their delicate, dancing selves. 

It’s a transformation that holds wonder at its core but is not always wondrous. Before a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it first must stop and stay still, so it can fully dissolve. 

My childhood orbited around dance and the fabrics that allowed it. Dance reverberated through my life, pulling me into its rhythms. I danced through family weddings where I searched out of the corner of my eye for an audience, excitement rushing as cousins formed circles around me. I danced through festivals, through holidays, through the rooms of my home in the mountains, through the seasons of the year. 

My dancing body longed for fabrics and silhouettes that allowed it to freely move. My shorts didn’t flow, they held my legs still. I begged my mother, Najwa, to give me her abaya. It was a striking blue velvet embroidered with gold threads that danced across its chest. Eventually, worn down by my begging, she handed it to me. I was thrilled. I snipped off the sleeves, flipped them upside down, and created wings for myself. I was exhilarated by the possibilities held within its fabric, that it could, with some careful altering, become something exquisite; and that I could, with my imagination, create something new. 

When it was finished, I slipped it over my head, feeling the velvet fall across my body. I could dance. The show was on. 

Only my father came home to find me, dancing through the house in a beautiful blue abaya. His jaw set with confusion, love, and shame; and the sound of fabric torn in half became the soundtrack to my stillness. My dancing self retreated behind closed doors, shielded from the gaze of my father, until it stopped moving altogether. 

In 2016, I reconnected with my love of creating new possibilities through fabric and design. The more I brought this part of myself to life, the more confidence I had to express other parts. No longer dancing behind closed doors, I was ready to be seen, to emerge swaying, stepping, and bowing to the rhythm within.

This is not just a story about how the threads of design and dance run through my life. It’s about how I had to let go of the ways I expressed myself, only to reclaim them when I dared to be myself. It’s a tale of transformation, the sort of transformation that knuckles into you, takes you into its chrysalis and molds your shape into something real. The sort of transformation that isn’t a transformation at all, more of a whole-circle-becoming, a return to your truth, to your meaning. What will you return to?