Conservative couture

When Los Angeles-based sisters Nadia Rayan and Nora Rayan Ghaneian were planning to attend a relative’s wedding in Egypt back in the summer of 2006, they came to the realization that their access to and selection of existing evening wear in the U.S. and Egyptian stores was mundane at best. In Cairo, they opted for a local tailor to help create their custom dresses — and, albeit a common and accessible option — were overwhelmed by the positive feedback to their silk column gowns that were simple, yet sophisticated.

Although they had always shared a deep-rooted love for high fashion, the sisters would not be able to channel their frustration with the lack of conservative yet couture-inspired gowns into an actual business until a few years later.

Back home in the US, Nadia and Nora continued to receive enthusiastic requests and inquiries from their family and friends, as well as others in the community who each wanted their own one-of-a-kind piece for the next special occasion. “Our styles started gaining a lot of attention because they filled a void, and we were inspired to bring our works of art to the market,” says Nadia. “We realized we wanted to leverage our passion for design.” Inspired by the “intricacy of Naeem Khan, the feminine detail of Elie Saab and the sleekness of Balenciaga,” the sisters teamed up to create RAYAN, a line specially catered to aficionados of long-sleeve evening wear and full-length silhouettes.

During the summer of 2012, Nadia and Nora officially started working on the first collection and launched it online the following winter. RAYAN debuted in this spring’s annual Fashion Fighting Famine charity runway show, known as “the primary source for Muslim fashion design in the United States.” The collection featured a sampling of styles including peplum, cinching, draping — punctuated with accents of bright colors and a tendency for the feminine A-line cut. The collection featuring eight gowns – each named after little girls in the Rayan family — sold out immediately following the show.

Beyond the fashion, the sisters say their craft embodies the spirit of “dignified beauty and charming grace.” Drawing upon both regal trends and retro styles, RAYAN as a brand also emphasizes female empowerment and confidence. The contemporary line offers flattering fits and fabrics, while fusing demure silhouettes with playful and modern designs. Based on the success of the first collection, the sisters kicked production into high gear for their upcoming second collection, debuting this month. RAYAN is launching 10-12 new pieces, each with their own flair for lux.

While the first collection can be classified as on-trend, the second collection offers a more glamorous vibe, Nadia and Nora say. The fresh designs take cues from local and international trends alike, infusing more rich textures and bold patterns — while still including the splashes of color from the first collection. “We’re seeing lots of metallic, chiffon, sequins this time around,” adds Nora. “We continue to look to everything from the mystery of vintage Hollywood to the graceful styles of women like Queen Rania [of Jordan] or [Duchess of Cambridge] Kate Middleton.”

The sisters say they are most proud of their work thus far because they are able to exude quality without sacrificing comfort. However, their pieces — a blend of “classic and modern” — still allow room for individual influences. Nadia mentions that they designed the collection specifically with this customization in mind.

“We leave it up to the person to accessorize the dress so it feels totally different every time you put it on,” she adds. “For me personally, that’s with unique belts.”

“Exactly, or with contrasting jewelry,” Nora chimes in. “You can dress it up or down, depending on the occasion.”

Since the sisters both adore accessorizing, they have also made an effort to reflect some of their own personal styles in the mix. While Nora has a penchant for bling and trendier looks, Nadia prefers a dose of retro. “I always like changing up my look so it’s hard to define my style,” adds Nadia, “but being comfortable is key! Our styles together give the perfect balance to RAYAN.”

And although the sisters don’t have any formal fashion training under their belts — Nora is an IT professional by trade, while Nadia has a Master’s in education — they both highlight their intrigue with the fashion world from a young age. “We’re always sketching, always hands-on and involved in all details from design to production,” Nora says. “Any challenging experience for us is an opportunity to learn and grow, and we look forward to taking every experience in stride and hopefully continuing to expand our collections.”

As RAYAN flourishes, Nadia and Nora are also leveraging it as a platform to endorse their favorite charities. Currently they are supporting I am Jerusalem, an organization based in Southern California that seeks to “lead people to discovery, internal and external peace with the other faiths who share so much of the same stories and history.”
“Our faith and our love for fashion are the driving forces behind the desire to ensure that others have access to the same quality of life that we have been blessed with,” Nadia says.

RAYAN is available for purchase online at with, dresses ranging from $350 to $450 (LE 2,412 to LE 3,100). As for retail possibilities, the sisters say there are plans in the works for pop-up stores in targeted US markets such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York.

Nadia and Nora say their creative vision for the brand is an evolving process and they enjoy being able to juggle all the details of the business on a daily basis. They say their inspiration has also been fueled by their current clientele sharing their styles via social media. “Instead of fussing over a shawl or getting frustrated at dress options [while shopping], women can just slip into a RAYAN dress and enjoy whatever event,” Nadia says. “Our customers have told us they feel like a queen when they have one of our dresses on […] and others say they’re always asked where to find the same dress. And as we continue to receive this feedback, we feel truly grateful and determined to keep doing what we love.”

This piece originally appeared in “Egypt Today.”

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