Aristhane is not just a fashion label, but a whole fictional world, braided with its own speakable languages, folklore, religions, philosophy and arts - all narrated by Maïssane Zinaï, the founder and creative vehicle of the brand. Being a Sarabande Foundation, British Fashion Council scholar and CSM graduate, she boldly expresses herself both via physical garments and complex story telling.
Blurring the notion of cultures, and setting people free from preconceptions about themselves and their origins, Aristhane offers to challenge reality and share its mythical planet with the public. Strong archetypes in her designs built out of Algerian identity and Sufi Islam beliefs, allow not only to view Muslim culture from a different, more modernised perspective but unlock the power within the wearer and embrace it. With such a multidisciplinary approach, Aristhane gives a whole new idea of creativity, reality and clothes in respect to identity and the space around it. 
Tjasa wears skirt NOOR, jacket SIGMÏA; Jojo wears top and short KLËION.
Hello Maïssane! It’s nice to meet you. Let’s start our interview with a discussion of how your interest in fashion was sparked. Did you have any special experiences or memories that cemented your decision to pursue a career in fashion?
Somehow fashion has always been part of my experience. I have a weird love-hate relationship with it. Lots of anger and also amazing ecstatic moments! First as a family ritual with my mother who loved to go out and find the more exciting pieces, a lot of archives to dress us with my siblings, just like my grandfather used to do when she was younger. It was a game for her and more of a torture for me as other kids were not always the kindest about what I was wearing, archive Kenzo, Marithé et François Girbaud pieces. Even then, I understood fashion’s power to define identity and inclusion. However, I also recognised the industry’s shortcomings in representing diverse bodies. As an athletic build, locating a well-fitting pair of jeans felt like an endless quest - a sobering realisation even at a young age. Still, fashion continued enthralling me. It was part of my creative process on every level, from writing fantastical stories to outfitting dolls, my door to learn history as well as an obsession through cinema. But the catalyst came when I realised fashion allowed me to fully embrace my true calling - storytelling. When you have such a spectrum of interests along with a strong inclination to challenge yourself and a compulsive need to create stories, fashion is the right medium and no other medium can so powerfully create entire universes, cultures and interactive environments while producing something rather concrete: a comfortable and yet powerful piece of clothing to support other main characters, fighters and dreamers in their everyday lives. Fashion only can truly blur the frontiers between fiction and reality, between dimensions, the intimate and the social, self-perception and self acceptance.
You come from a very versatile background, as a designer. You had a whole wealth of different experiences starting from a career in sport, and bioscience, ending with a dream of becoming a military surgeon. How do you think these things influenced you in terms of building character and creative vision in fashion?
They are essential. My vision of fashion has always been a collection of interests. If we put all of them together, I think I’m mostly passionate about culture as an embodiment of people’s experiences on this Earth. What is it to leave a trace? How can one culture prove it was here? How can the memory of one person survive time? These are the fundamental questions that have driven all my learning and research since a young age. Some people love to collect vinyl, cards, and archive pieces, I’m a collector too but my trade has always been skills and knowledge. I always loved learning about anything from theology to history, from fencing to snowboarding, some self-taught and some I’ve been lucky to meet amazing teachers and people to show me how. In the middle of all of this, there was a visceral need to tell stories. Fashion became a thing for me when I was 19 years old and realised I needed a medium to visually manifest all these other parameters and settings which make a culture, these stories I was creating. Had a genuine experience with theatre, but never felt like an actor. I'm a musician but more of an interpreter, I’ve been an illustrator for a publishing house as a first part-time job but here again, I’m more of a 3D and 4D person then a 2D, creative direction and fashion is all of me finally put together without compromise. As you mentioned my academic background was supposed to lead me to a career as a military surgeon as well as being a high-level athlete, and a fencer - I’ve been those things. I did study maths and physics, even coding. I did World Cups and spent all my weekends taking planes and trains to competitions. I enrolled in medicine, and did my first hospital internship, I enjoyed all of this but it wasn’t uncompromising for me. It was me split and scattered. Aristhane is me.
Let’s talk about your experience while studying Womenswear Design at CSM. What do you think was the biggest lesson you learned? And how has your uni life enforced your creative activity?
Trust your gut, rely on yourself to initiate the motion, don’t apologise or rather do and apologise later. Reach and meet the people you want to know, admire and want to share your journey with. Don’t over-design, time seems always short but art is so long. I met wonderful people and found great opportunities which still resonate today. One of the highlights of my university experience was the opportunity to explore different disciplines and areas of interest. I spent more time in the metal workshop, library, and 3D-making studios than in the fashion studios, and I took on part-time jobs to pay for my stay in London. These jobs ranged from freelance set designer work for Fashion Week installations, short films, and photoshoot sets to remote tutoring maths and physics/chemistry. Through these experiences, I met many of my current collaborators and friends. I was able to invest all I was earning in my fashion projects and present something solid to my tutors. I was fortunate to find two wonderful women, Anna-Nicole Ziesche and Heather Sproat, who pushed me to work harder but also helped me understand my limits and take care of myself. I also had the chance to meet with the Designer Initiative team of the British Fashion Council, Dominic Osbourne, Katie Rawle, and Giulia Manganelli, who changed everything for me with their invaluable support and guidance. Additionally, I was mentored by the brilliant Craig Green and his team during my Internship year thanks to the Mentoring Matter scheme. He was one of the reasons I wanted to study at CSM, and I was not disappointed. I’ve been mostly quite experimental there and only started making real clothes during my DPS years because I was fascinated about how people can make detailed stuff. I learnt on my own and I think my final collection was a fair mix of conceptual and wearable pieces. I’ve seen for the first time how my pieces could make people proud of who they are. I have a very dear memory of the eyes of my good friend Jeanne Schmidt who’s a talented painter herself when she modelled my Digital Wallflower Selfie Dress aka Balenciaga Project. She felt seen most beautifully and said for the first time in her life she was proud of being tall and remarkable as believe me she is. Throughout my university journey, I discovered my love for beautiful materials, such as leather and silk, and the thrill of collaboration. I also learned how to cherish my family heritage and take inspiration from my unusual background. Accepting my neurodivergence as an asset and something I needed to take care of was also an important lesson for me. Finally, it’s at CSM that Aristhane’s concept emerged as a valid fashion standing point.
The most fascinating thing about your brand, designs and creativity, is that you not only create garments but the whole world around them with speakable languages, religions, cultures and mythology. How did this process start in your mind? Why do you feel it’s important to be developed in such detail?
As mentioned earlier, Aristhane as a fashion brand is the first step toward a bigger metaverse which the label will keep building season after season, world after world. I started it 19 years ago. Since the age of 6 years old I’ve been creating this full universe composed of multiple worlds, characters, languages, and spiritualities articulated all together. I was a lonely kid at school and spent too much time in competitions in my free time. This universe was a refuge for me, a coping mechanism and a platform to digest, apply and articulate all the knowledge I was building around my many specific interests. I spent so much time in it for years and I’m now 25 years old and it’s still there. It is the strongest constant in my life so far and I want now to bring it to life as long as I can do it! (It is now composed of 54 worlds, their diverse yet complementary cultures, 7 spiritualities, 5 languages, two fully speakable) I’m not doing it alone. Mythologies are songs which are sung by multiple voices and so is the Aristhane universe. The fashion collections are what we see first, they are an introduction to these 54 fictional planets and their cultures. Today I’m in charge of this part alone but soon I want to have the opportunity to collaborate with other fashion designers I admire and offer them these different worlds and see where they can bring them! On the other hand, we have the Archives part of the label which is every piece of material that can justify the existence of these worlds. I’m obsessed with creating sense, and meaning and for this, you need a disciplined approach to world-building. Everything we create exists for a reason and this highlights the importance of working with specialists! In the long run, I want this universe to become a platform for experimentation, a full metaverse. A realm where ideas can be challenged. To be functional, it needs structure and to follow vigorous ethical logic. For my collaborators, it’s an enjoyable way to apply their knowledge while having fun creating something of their own. There is active research about what it is to leave a trace. How can one culture prove it was here, how the memory of one person can survive time? On my side, it’s about never stopping learning and discovering. The archives can be sound designs, performance recordings, new sports demonstrations, writings, biology academic papers, journalistic political reviews, events, food, furniture pieces etc, anything necessary to prove the existence of a place and its people. It does involve people beyond fashion, researchers, artists etc; It's the most exciting part of the label!
Levents wears top FLOMÏA, skirt MAÏSS.
Talking about your universe and realities you put into your garments. What do you think people can learn from them? What do they bring to the actual reality we live in?
Initially, every inspiration for these multiple worlds is drawn from personal experiences or pieces of knowledge I encountered. Today as these worlds become collaborative, they are also linked to the experiences and knowledge of my collaborators. Aristhane is a celebration. Let’s take Günrun, our first world for example. I’ve designed the Günrulëans, its inhabitants, in a way that follows my beliefs and inclinations. Unconsciously I created a place with people who think, believe and behave in a way that more or less secretly looks like mine. My Algerian legacy deeply hints at the place’s geography, its history, and its people’s character. As an autistic creative, I also shaped the Günrulëans with similar mind patterns and dynamics. As personal as the place feels, it’s amazing to see how my collaborators in this world, without labelling themselves as Sufi or Muslim, Algerian or autistic still relate strongly to Günrun’s philosophy and practices! Fashion can be either too abstract or too literal, but if you create a context around it then it can become real and practical for people. You give them heroes they can identify with, and then you dress them still through these contexts and you really help, you make them proud, make them queens, kings and warriors: powerful people.
My work with the label has a vocation to extirpate the universal truths intertwined in particular traditions and cultures.
In this way, because we never hide our sources, we are giving a platform to these traditions to shine and reach beyond their cultural limits, and preconceptions people can have about them. This is the power of fiction and fashion together.
On another hand, I just want Aristhane to become a place to dream and innovate together. Being inspired as creatives and customers, share this fictive space to challenge reality. From medicine to ecology, economics, politics, sport, and cultural studies, Aristhane aims to become a portal for highly specialised researchers to exercise their imagination and theories to find real solutions for our world through fiction. Fiction always enabled the research to go further,  because Aristhane is multidisciplinary and completely safe from our physical and philosophical boundaries of reality but still exists coherently following an exigent logical creative process, it can enable us to push the limit of meaning, create words, visual and emotion to identify concepts still blurry here on Earth. This is to better understand the world we live in and the abstract notions floating around us daily.
Except the concepts of other universes, what else do you put in your pieces ideas-wise? How do these notions contribute to the general feeling of wearing your pieces?
As a woman on the autistic spectrum, I have always been very particular about the fit and feel of my clothes. I know firsthand how it feels to struggle to find garments that are both comfortable and empowering. If you add I always had quite a muscular body while being short, trying new trousers and tops always led to a global meltdown. It’s something I refuse for people wearing my pieces. I always make sure to infuse a sense of comfort into my garment. I take great care in pattern cutting and pay attention to every detail, from the fit of the hips and shoulders, the tension on the tights to the length of the sleeves to sublimate a strong arm; It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it when I receive positive feedback from people who have a hard time finding clothes that make them feel confident and strong. And through it all, I always keep a constant pirate vibe - a perfect blend of sexy, active, bold, and comfortable.
What about your silhouettes and shapes? How do you engineer and build your garments?
All the silhouettes and garments are inspired by the fictional planets we bring to life. When I’m designing I’m asking myself: “Where are we? Who is she? What does she do in this outfit? How does she talk and walk?” or simply “What does this culture look like and what does it value?”. This constitutes most of my mind map to extract the shapes I will need. When it comes to material and colour, I directly reference them from the biosystems themselves. On Günrun, something that helps is the capacity its people have to blend in their environment like a chameleon. Therefore in the East, we found plenty of references from the salty landscapes of the Pewyrom Mizse, dry dead-like Bromwë Leach flowers with very vivid and squishy inside - the cold weather indicates layering, and their martial culture guides the functionality of the pieces with a focus on strength. Finally, their sense of honesty, transparency and pride in themselves define how fluid and see-through the pieces can be. On Rëmstem, a hedonistic world from the same Khierogg system as Günrun, all the design settings are completely different! It’s like dressing the characters of a movie except here it’s more interactive as you can become one of them from wherever you are in London, Dubai, Paris, Hong Kong or New York.
In your designs, it’s possible to catch references to your native Algerian culture. How does your cultural heritage inspire and nourish your creativity?
There is a sense of rebellion and a form of idealism motivating my creativity which is inherently rooted in my Algerian legacy. The references can be caught in the silhouettes, choice of fabrics and revisiting of Algerian traditional garments but always in a more sporty way. Haïk, Burnous, Sarouels, Karako - we can find them in the design of coats, skirts, trousers and jackets. The traditional embroideries from Algeria where my mother comes from are revisited with Mycelium leather laser cuts on velvet - the layerings, low dropped silhouettes and pirate vibe embody this North African heritage mixed married to a more occidental experience. But that’s not all. More importantly, there is an understanding of how cultures intricately echo each other. When I think about this heritage of mine, I see mostly parallels and a strong sense of universalism. Many worlds I created have been unconsciously fed by this vision I also link to the Sufi teachings I own from my parents. Per the long Algerian history and colonised past, I feel this country has a culture of resilience, intellectual and artistic mix and pride which is similar to other ancestral cultures from similar oppressed past. Living in the UK, I keep discovering a lot of echoes between Celtic and Gaelic cultures and Algerian ones for example. It’s an interesting thing when we know I have always been fascinated by both Ireland and Scotland from a young age. We hear it in the language, and the wordings but also have a look at the symbols, folklores and somehow, it translates into the character of the people.
On another hand, not on the political level but spiritual one, there are a lot of similarities between the Japanese Bushido way and Sufi spirituality. Some artists already talk about this unexpected rendez-vous of culture in a brilliant way, Jim Jarmusch is the one that comes to my mind straight aways. It’s this sense of connection I want to transmit in my work. while widening the perception people have of Algeria and contributing to translate the Sufi spiritual approach to the world.
Ola wears skirt MANOÏY, top and tights JELLY.
In your collection, you also have different archetypes of personas, that contribute a lot to the representation of women in fashion. How do the characters you create reflect your intentions as a designer and storyteller?
The characters I create dictate a lot from the design to the material choice of the garments. They are visual emanations of the cultures and ecosystems of the planet of the Aristhane universe. They guide the movement of the garments, their level of fluidity but also how technical they need to be. They are hybrid as I feel belonging to multiple communities myself. I’ve been since the age of 6 and I’m still a sporty person. My characters are muscular women who need to move freely and feel comfortable in whatever they wear. I also belong to the techno rave scene as I see raves as a common place for physical trance. I’m a gamer and so the Aristhane universe is directly sci-fi connected with a strong interactivity. The common denominator between all these communities and the environment is the strong women that inhabit them.
They are strong women of determined characters. Bold and with an Achilleus-like emotional versatility that I love! I’m fascinated by volcanic characters and brave spirits. The Aristhane woman is all of this at the same time, she’s feminine and masculine, sexual, uncanny, and unapologetic. She’s powerful, mystic, intuitive, intense and sees beyond the limit of reality. She’s a fighter and a dreamer at heart.
You’re a big advocate for sustainability. As a young designer who’s building a brand, what steps do you take to make your creative project sustainable and less damaging to the environment? Why do you think it?
It is a matter of duty! If not emerging designers, then who? As a young brand that doesn’t have yet to hold draconian deadlines and market expectations, we are still free to define our rhythm as well as the materials and agendas we want to push forward. In a fast-paced social media-oriented era where some young labels decide to sacrifice ethics for sensationalism, with Aristhane we chose to set our priority elsewhere. The label aims to develop a new contemporary mythology that will last. Sustainability and humanism are essential to build something durable and relevant to our time. Eco-conscious materials, challenging languages and the current frame of references, woman, non-binary and neurodivergent representation as well as cultural and body diversities are the heart of every narrative we create. The nature of the label itself implies this silver lining as through the prism of fiction and at the frontiers of fashion and many other disciplines from sport to biology, we are perfectly positioned to become a platform championing new innovative materials and more respectful practices.
Extending the topic of resources, what are the materials of your choice? How do you source them?
Leather, silks and technical fabrics. I don’t necessarily believe in contrast and opposite [but] more in continuity and versatility. I like to put in tension materials that bring support or fluidity to each other. It’s the case when I add leather to a silk skirt or a silk velvet skirt. Technical fabrics are also important materials for our pieces, as they have an athletic, sporty history and anchor our designs in everyday life.
Our signature jellies are fully biodegradable and made with a bioplastic formula that I developed during my graduation year at Central Saint Martins. We have the generous support of a few sponsors, including Tencel Luxe and Bolt Thread Mylo Unleather. Thanks to the consulting advice from KATA Consulting and Esce Tex, our Tencel Luxe silks and jerseys are made from vegan fibres or recycled fibres. We also use recycled fibres for our technical fabrics. When it comes to leather, we only use animal leather which is a byproduct of the meat industry or mycelium and vegan leather from Bolt Thread. If we do use animal leather, it is treated in a tannery that follows strict regulations with a water-circular recycling system. We also repurpose leftover leather from luxury brands. Leather is a material which suffers an unfair bad press. When a lot of the current production is led to the detriment of health and animal welfare, an encouraging number of young tanneries are committed to renewing the industry for a material which, if consciously produced, has the power to be one of the more sustainable ones per its longevity, organic properties and as already a repurposed and recycled material from another heavy polluting industry. Finally, we make sure that all our off-cuts and studio overstock are either repurposed or saved to be turned into paper with the help of the FiberLab Studio. They have already made our first batches of garment swing tags using this process!
As I know, at the moment you’re preparing for your pieces to be sold at different retailers. Tell us a bit about your preparation. What are your goals based on the market and niche you want to take over?
There is so much to be done! We’ve been reached by some marketplaces and retailers and we need to follow up with the full production plan. It’s a lot of work but hopefully, I was aware of it and started early to set up. Our community is vast and spans across multiple scenes. I’m an active member of the climbing community and martial arts practitioner, being a climbing instructor myself and Aikido adept. Right now, we’re working on some special pieces that are more oriented towards outerwear and activewear, still with our signature funkiness and sci-fi approach. But that’s not all! I also have one foot in the techno rave scene, where I used to design sets and performance outfits. The DNA of the label is a sweet spot between performance wear with more edgy and researched silhouettes, print and details. They are garments you are comfortable moving in, breathing and robust. They are made for adventure and addresses people who want an outdoor technical garment while enjoying the avant-garde constructions, composite textures and asymmetries directly [borrowed] from 90s’ punk French archive fashion I grew up with. Our community is full of strong women proud of their cultures, especially their MENA heritage and mixed legacy. Aristhane’s heroine is from London, Paris, New York, Dubai, and Hong Kong, she feels comfortable all around the world indoors or outdoors and dreams of herself as the main character of a sci-fi saga or video game. Altogether, they’re fighters, quick thinkers, and fast walkers who are always on the run for their next climb or dojo session before heading out for a night of endless dancing to the trance. I’m excited to continue to create pieces that are not only functional but also reflect the vibrant and diverse communities that we’re a part of. Overall, the brand appeals to bold, ambitious women looking for clothes that are both practical for their dynamic lifestyles and reflect their multifaceted identities. The focus is on inclusive, spirited designs for strong feminine communities united by their passions. In summary, the niche we target is active, culturally proud women seeking distinctive, functional fashion that fuels their adventures and champions their communities.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
Building the Aristhane universe is what I want to do for probably the next 50 years if I have the chance. It’s a long commitment but it’s what I’ve been doing all my life already, it lives within me and I’ve decided to make it grow. We have some exciting developments in the works! Our current focus is still on bringing to life our first world Günrun, with a unique martial art practice. While the Western regions of Günrun emphasise the spiritual dimension, the Eastern regions have transformed it into a sport for entertainment. We are working hard on choreographing the techniques and developing the main weapon, the Nekltah. For those who are passionate about blades or martial arts, we invite you to reach out and join us on this journey. Shortly, you can expect us to sell the new pieces we worked on since September, the launch of a brand new sport, more collaborations, more 3D assets, and a new beauty series on its way.
Levent wears jacket and trousers MEMZEN.
Zara wears jacket, skirt and trousers MAÏSS.
Levents wears top FLOMÏA, skirt MAÏSS.
Jojo wears top KEMIEH, trousers VENDIYA, headscarf NIELMA, necklace X.SALIS studio
Zara wears corset MEMZEN, skirt and tights JELLY.
Ola wears top RIZÏA.
Jojo wears top KEMIEH, trousers VENDIYA, headscarf NIELMA, necklace X.SALIS studio.