An exotic gem hailing from Morocco with a smooth, olive complexion and a heavy coat of black eye liner sat opposite me.
"Expression in the eyes is super important; it's really important to my culture to have the liner in my eyes," the young gem said. "It makes them brighter!"
The name of this Moroccan gem: Asmaa Benkirane - closeted shoe lover and Moroccan couture mogul. Her mission: To rid Miami of its trend-obsessed mindset and coax us out of our box - preferably dressed in a caftan.
For those uneducated in the matter of standard Moroccan attire, a caftan is a traditional, long dress worn in Morocco, and sometimes in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. It's primarily worn for special events such as an engagement party, a wedding, or anywhere you might spot - and attempt to stalk - Prince Hamdan from Dubai and those gorgeous, pouty lips of his.
Words like "stunning," "quality," and "luxury" come to mind when depicting the reputation of a caftan. Just ask the Caftan Queen herself and owner of the up-and-coming Surfside boutique, Le Beau Maroc, due to launch its first pop-up shop at Semilla Eatery & Bar in Miami Beach Saturday, March 8th.
"They are sexy yet sophisticated at the same time," Benkirane said of her unique, bespoke designs. She wore one then, a gorgeous, cotton djellaba - a casual spin on a caftan emulating your stereotypical beach dress of the cover-up variety.
But silk/cotton blends weren't always her focus.
"What I planned to do was to become an event planner," she said. After receiving her Bachelors in Hospitality from Kendall College in Chicago, the 28-year-old planned a trip to Miami, where her bold-colored personality fit right in. She made the move permanent and soon took a position at the St. Regis Spa in Bal Harbour. There, her she shared Morocco with Miami in the form of argan oil.
Argan Oil is a nutrient-enriched plant oil extracted from the argan tree - foliage exclusive to Moroccan terrain - and is 100% au natural. It helps clear pesky scars, unsightly stretch marks, and of course, aging.
Once the wheels of innovation started churning, the idea of a caftan-craze followed.
"I think Miami is a really good niche because there is a lot of Latin influence and they'll be much more open to wear something different," she said. "I want to start a revolution."
To start a revolution, you must be the first of your kind. Ergo, the import of exquisite silk chiffons, satin duchesses, and delicate laces from top fashion houses like Gucci, Christian Lacroix, and Versace. Once these precious fabrics make skin to silk contact, the forging of brilliance to sketchpad takes shape by two of Morocco's leading designers- Renata by Suad Chraïbi and ATELIER S by Siham Tazi. This pair knows how to put the regal in regalia, having designed for royal families all over Europe and the Middle East, and now contributing to the realization of Benkirane's dream to bring her country's tradition to contemporary life.
High-caliber fabrics and a prodigious design team aren't the only keys to success. For Benkirane, family plays a big role.
"My mom is Spanish and my father is Moroccan. So I had the chance to grow up in both cultures," she said, and their influence doesn't stop there. Whenever Benkirane is unable to make the business trip to Morocco, mommy dearest handles the affairs.
"We talk every day three times a day," she said. "Thank God for Viber."
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Of course, the greatest milestone of her career is Le Beau Maroc. The 850-square-foot store is meant to evoke a very nostalgic place, a different era. All senses will be triggered the instant you pass through the door - smell, sight, taste, touch, and sound. Customers will be greeted with an authentic Moroccan cup of tea. The décor is exported from Morocco to keep the authenticity in check and highlight Benkirane's collection of jewel-tone caftans and multi-stone jewelry.
"What I try to transmit to the people of Miami is to try something different from the typical gala dress," she said. "You can be sexy in a different way. Bring something original."
Catch Benkirane's line of caftans at Le Beau Maroc pop-up store Saturday, March 8th at Semilla Eatery & Bar in Miami Beach, 1330 Alton Road, Miami Beach.