SemSem, the luxury clothing brand for women and girls founded last spring by Abeer Al Otaiba, is hitting the refresh button.
The brand has tapped Albino Riganello as design director, beginning with the fall collection. He will work alongside Al Otaiba, the label’s creative director, who previously worked with a design team on the line.
Riganello brings a broad range of design experience to the brand. A native of Calabria, Italy, he previously held stints at Alessandro Dell’Acqua, Dolce & Gabbana, Zuhair Murad, St. John and Elie Tahari in a 20-year career that took him from Europe to New York and back again. He currently resides in Paris but visits New York frequently to work with Al Otaiba, who is based in McLean, Va., with her husband Yousef Al Otaiba, the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the U.S.
Most recently Riganello held a year-and-a-half tenure at Givenchy, where he was the head designer of the label’s pre-collections under Riccardo Tisci. After Riganello left the French company, his agency recommended that he connect with Al Otaiba, who was looking for a designer for SemSem.
“It was love at first Skype,” Riganello said, noting that he was on a much-needed vacation at the time. “[Abeer] has amazing taste. She’s a pro-shopper. She really knows her body…She doesn’t like tricky design. She likes clean shapes — but sexy — and a little sparkle here and there, a nod to her Egyptian heritage. It’s glamorous, but not red carpet glamour — a more modern glamour. And red is her favorite color.”
With all of that in mind, Riganello’s inaugural collection for SemSem homes in on chic sophisticated looks that are meant for after dark, though the lineup also contains some snazzy daywear, such as a tailored, embellished strapless jacket with matching high-waisted trousers. With modern dancer Pina Bausch as his muse, Riganello used diaphanous, flowing fabrics that allowed for movement, as in a silk chiffon maxidress with flouncy layers and a high slit. Off-the-shoulder and lace-up details woven throughout the lineup riffed on Bausch’s leotards and ballerina slippers.
“I like a European touch but I’m a New Yorker at heart,” Riganello said, motioning to a black leather motorcycle jacket with zipper-accented shoulders. “I always keep it on the edge a little bit.”
Though Al Otaiba conceived the line for mothers and daughters, the girls’ looks aren’t carbon copies of the women’s styles but borrow the same prints and concepts. Both collections are Made in Italy with luxe Italian fabrics, and a percentage of sales each season benefit organizations focused on gender equality, literacy, health and other issues affecting women and children around the world, such as Every Mother Counts.
Al Otaiba likened the addition of Riganello as a “rebirth” for the brand. “SemSem is a brand of strong lines, simplicity and adaptability, tying Eastern and Western cultures together, marrying classic with a slightly avant-garde edge,” she said. “[Albino] immediately understood my creative focus…He brings a remarkable technical understanding to our design process that will enable us to cultivate the collection more fully.”
The women’s collection sits at a designer price point, opening at $350 to upwards of $2,000 for gowns and outerwear, and is available at semsem.com.
The girls’ collection, sold at semsem.com as well as at Bergdorf Goodman, ranges from $85 to $800.