Symbolic and stunning, Malala’s dress and royal jewels stole the spotlight at the Oscars

Symbolic and stunning, Malala’s dress and royal jewels stole the spotlight at the Oscars

She paired the custom Ralph Lauren piece with earrings previously owned by an Afghan queen.
14 Mar, 2023

When Malala makes a move, it attracts a lot of attention. So when the Nobel Laureate chose a custom-made sequinned silver Ralph Lauren dress for the Oscars, all eyes were on her. The form-fitting, hooded outfit seemed like it was made for Malala — which it actually was — and carried more thought than one would imagine.

“It was all a dream. I wanted my dress to represent the message of our film Stranger at the Gate and embody hope,” she captioned a post on Instagram on Monday, thanking the “brilliant team” that helped bring her vision to life. Ralph Lauren shared that he created the custom gown “in celebration of Malala Yousafzai’s nomination for her film”.

“Handcrafted by artisans, Malala’s silver sequin gown transforms an elegant silhouette into a glimmering work of art,” the designer’s Instagram mentioned, revealing that the making of the dress was a feat of over 100 hours of craftsmanship. “The gown features thousands of platinum sequins embroidered into the gown’s delicate tulle. The full-length silhouette and accompanying train recall a sarong-like drape, gracefully flowing from the side waist and down to the front of the skirt.”

Malala said the dress carries a message of hope and perhaps that was what fuelled Lauren’s creative juices as he connected it to both the colours of twilight and star-shine. “To add a touch of brilliance and shine, a mix of crystals are hand-embroidered in a dégradé effect, so that the gown’s colour fades like twilight into an alluring ombre of starry silver,” read the caption.

According to fashion blogger Aamir Ali Shah who consulted fellow Instagram expert Safia (bestdressedafghan), the dress was not the only part of her look that carried symbolism. The earrings that the activist had paired her dress with were American antique jewellery business Fred Leighton’s pieces and once belonged to Afghan royalty. They were previously owned by Queen Soraya Tarzi, wife of King Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan, who was a “staunch advocate of women’s rights”.

Shah described her as “progressive for her time” saying she spearheaded a turbulent feminist revolution. “Alongside her role as Queen of Afghanistan, she was also Minister of Education in a period when women couldn’t vote in most parts of Europe. She worked to obtain women’s rights to vote, run for office and to participate in nation-building,” he wrote. “Queen Soraya also founded the first girl’s school in 1921 and also the first women’s hospital in 1926, and arranged for women to access higher education abroad.”

He thinks that her jewels ended up at Fred Leighton like the possessions of other exiled royals that were “sold off”.

“Soraya was the first Afghan lady and queen who began to promote women, educate them and try to give them their rights,” said women’s rights activist and MP Shinkai Karokhail, Afghanistan’s former ambassador to Canada, according to Arab News in a 2020 profile.

The queen “began a great revolution and managed to implement it through the king. She appeared in public and travelled extensively to inform women about their rights and that they needed to acquire education.” Tarzi was also featured in TIME’s 100 Women of the Year, the magazine’s list of the most influential women of the past century.

Shah also shared a photo of Afghan princess Abedah Bibi, daughter of Khan and Tarzi, wearing the earrings she inherited from her mother and a dress that is very similar to the one Malala wore at the Academy Awards. The “glittering fabric, strong shoulder line and drape around the waist” do seem to suggest that Malala’s dress may have taken inspiration from a strong female historical figure.

What did you think of Malala’s dress?