Video: Crowning glory of Oman’s heritage
May 9, 2018 | 6:55 PM
by Salim Al Afifi

“Royal” is a word that perfectly describes the beauty and elegance of the Omani mussar. From the soft, handwoven wool to the elaborate embroidery, these traditional headpieces scream heritage. We can all agree that an Omani’s attire is never complete without a mussar. This unique-in-structure piece occupies a special place in the hearts of the locals. Similar to a crown, it’s celebrated and respected by those who wear it.

Turbans are the cultural norm across the Middle East, but the headgear in the Sultanate is distinctive in design and form from those of the Arabian Gulf.

The mussar is an embroidered wool turban worn to official events, ceremonies, and weddings, often coupled with a khanjar around the waist. The best ones are handmade using wool imported from the Indian state of Kashmir — usually Pashmina, Shatoosh or Turma. Pashmina is the most celebrated option and can cost up to OMR2,000. Alternatively, some folks head for the machine-made turbans from China that cost less than OMR20, but bear in mind that quality matters. Cheap mussars come apart after a few rounds of laundering.

As you’d guess, machine-made mussars go through an uninspiring and somewhat boring process. On the other hand, the handmade processing is fascinating. First, the wool is thoroughly cleaned and smoothed out, then the fabric is cut into the standard form of the Omani mussar, which is in squares. The design — exotic Islamic, Arabic and Omani motifs — is then printed on paper and carved on wooden plates. The inscriptions are then transferred to the fabric using a process involving lead, which is removed before packaging.

The mussar is recognised as part of the national heritage. It has remained a classic garment with a timeless sense of style, all the way from the northern part of the Sultanate to Salalah. Over the years, modern aesthetics added new touches to the headpiece, in the form of embroidery and inscriptions that are contemporary yet stay true to the Omani identity.

So how is it tied? The style varies from region to region in the Sultanate. In Sur, the mussar is wrapped in triple folds at the temple and exposes the ears. The tail is tied in such a way that it folds upwards at the back of the head or can be draped over the shoulders. This coastal city style is very elegant and a favourite with the fashionable. In Muscat, the turban covers the ears with a tail at the back of the head, but has the same position and folding style at the temple as the popular Sur style. Another exotic-looking mussar comes from the southern part of Oman, Dhofar. It’s famous for its vibrant colour and pattern-free design. The tying is almost similar to that of Sur, where the ears are kept exposed and part of the tail is draped across the neck or over the head.

Mussar from Dar Saaf in Oman

In recent years, the designs have drastically evolved, with more architecture-inspired, floral, Islamic motifs, and geometric patterns. And a bigger change has taken place in society itself, with men becoming more fashion conscious. Many take the time to match their mussar to their dishdasha, and choose a colour and design that work with their looks.

Back in the day, mussars were worn as a way to identify the region a man was from, but today they have become more of a fashion statement. To dive deeper into the current trends, I paid a visit to three of the best mussar boutiques in Muscat.

My first stop was Bait Al Dunia, whose founder, Mohammed Al Subhi, has done a number of Omani fashion shows locally and internationally. He works to bring the classic design to the forefront. Today, he’s one of the masters of mussar-tying in Muscat, in great demand to prepare grooms for their weddings.

“The mussar is a cultural item, we cannot change the original form of the mussar, but we can decorate it with embellishments and inscriptions that don’t tamper with the Omani identity,” said Mohammed, adding that crossing the line in the name of modernity was unacceptable as it misrepresented the culture.

Bait Al Dunia is known for its extensive collection of the finest mussars that come in a variety of designs and colours.

The second boutique was Dar Saaf, which is an absolute favourite of mine. The brand introduced the trend of matching embroidery on dishdasha with the mussar and kumma. Yousef Al Harthi, one of the founders, has managed to draw inspiration from the local scene and imprint it onto the mussar. Their most popular design (which has been trending for the past couple of years) is the palm tree embroidery that’s stitched on the entire ensemble, giving you an edgy, head-turning design that looks fashionable yet represents Omani culture.

“What is the trend for 2018?” I asked. “The matching mussar and dishdasha is in trend,” he answered, adding that “the upcoming project is to create a timeless mussar that’s going to be a classic”.

Ramz Al Anaqa (Symbol of Elegance) was my final stop, where I met Mazin Al Balushi and Jasim Al Balushi, who opened their store in Muttrah. Rather than just selling the cloth, they aim to create distinctive looks for their customers by choosing the perfect colour and teaching them new ways of styling the headdress for the appropriate occasion. Mazin has learned all the regional styles from around the country, and mastered the art of tying.

Some brands have experimented with the designs of the mussar by adding elements that aren’t part of the Omani identity. Such designs are not in line with the national code and may get in trouble for it. Pop culture logos, the colours of international sport clubs, and even a simple poetic write-up in calligraphy may land designers in legal trouble.

The mussar will always be a soft crown on the head of the Omani gentleman. Its shape and form will forever tell stories from the past, the present, and the future. — [email protected]

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