Rawaan Alkhatib Plays Scarf Show & Tell
A half dozen crazy-good creations.
“I started making scarves because I really like the idea of taking a flat surface that becomes more complex as your drape it. When you’re wearing a scarf, you never see the whole design—you have to conceive a fractured pattern, which is a lot like writing a poem,” explains Rawaan Alkhatib, who—what do you know?—has an MFA in poetry. Below, the very talented lady puts some of her design processes to words. —alisha prakash
“I doodle a lot at poetry readings—it helps me concentrate on what I’m hearing. Occasionally, I draw things that make their way into prints, like these guys, who became the Candyfighters.”
“The Dinoflowers print started out as two separate sets of drawings in my sketchbook—pen-and-ink dinosaurs and floral watercolors. I’d been thinking about how dumb it is that children’s stuff gets so gendered—dinosaurs and flowers are equally awesome—so I combined them digitally to make what I thought might be good wallpaper for a child’s bedroom. Then I decided that I wanted to wear it.”
“The Aliki scarf came straight from a painting I did of some flamingo feathers. It’s the most untouched of all the scarves—no digital messing around at all, just scanned.”
“Festina Lente was one of the first scarves I made. It was for my mum, who’s obsessed with turtles—our house in Dubai is filled with tiny turtle figurines. One day, my mum called to tell me that my dad had gone to the beach, and came across a dying sea turtle, whose shell was encrusted with something gross and hard. He brought it home, and they bought it an inflatable kiddie pool and brought buckets of seawater to fill up the pool every day. They fed him lettuce. They also picked all the parasites off the turtle’s shell, and named him Survivor. He died but lived six weeks longer than he would have on his own, so there’s that. It seemed worth commemorating somehow.”
“The flower print on the Floral Blizzard scarf is from a painted scrap that’s a couple of years old, but it was only a couple of months ago that I understood how to use it for this scarf. My personal crest should come with the motto ‘when in doubt, add polka dots.’”
“The cheetah was originally part of a series of paintings I started shortly before leaving Dubai for Iowa. I was going to poetry school, which freaked me out, and instead of spending the months leading up to it reading and writing, I spent them staying up until the wee hours of the morning obsessively painting tiny gouache animals. Also, this scarf for Of a Kind is on cotton, not silk—a departure from the norm. It’s much bigger than the scarves I usually make. It’s so cozy, all those cheetahs wrapped around you, protecting you. I wear mine pretty much every day.”
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Rawaan Alkhatib’s Famous Cucumber-Caramel Ice Cream
This scarf designer goes back to her pastry-chef roots.
Turns out, Rawaan Alkhatib’s scarf line is one of many creative projects she’s cooked up. Back when, she planned to open a bakery with a friend in Dubai. “At the time, I had been baking and selling cookies and cakes out of my home kitchen, staying up till 3 A.M. filling orders, so it didn’t seem like a crazy idea,” she says. Here, a shockingly refreshing ice cream that may have found its way on the menu—alongside kooky goodness like Pop Rock truffles—if Rawaan had gone the confectionary route. —alisha prakash
4-5 cucumbers (depending on size)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¾ cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 good pinch kosher or flaky sea salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch (or rice starch)
1 cup cold heavy cream
Peel cucumbers and roughly chop. Process, blend, or grate to get about 1 ½ cups of cucumber-y goodness. Stir in lemon juice and set aside.
To make the caramel, spread the sugar in an even layer in a cold, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Turn on the heat, and allow the edges of the sugar to liquefy before gently dragging it in to the center of the pan to help the rest of the sugar along. Stir away. Observe it, because caramel likes nothing more than to burn. When it’s pale amber, pour in the milk. The caramel will harden into a raft. Stir it around to dissolve about half, and then fish out the block gently (it will be very hot!) and set it aside on a chopping board for a second. Stir the salt into the pot.
Combine the cornstarch and heavy cream in a bowl and stir to dissolve. Strain into the caramel mixture. Heat gently, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, boils, and bubbles up—this will take roughly two minutes.
Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl, and cool in an ice bath. Mix the cucumber puree into cooled base. Chill thoroughly in the fridge, for at least an hour, then whisk to remove lumps. Pour into an ice cream maker and follow the instructions.
While you wait for your ice cream to freeze, chop the caramel block into small (a little bigger than a grain of rice) or medium (a little larger than a pea) shards. Once the ice cream is ready, plop it into a freezer-friendly container and mix in the caramel choppings. Freeze for 20 minutes before serving.
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A genius poet, master pastry chef, and scarf-designing superstar—yah, we’re talking about one person. Born in Dubai, Rawaan Alkhatib spent her early days surrounded by peacocks and gazelles. “This definitely contributed to my animal obsession, which you can find in my writing and design,” she says. In 2002, she headed to Brown University, eventually landing in an MFA program in Iowa. “It’s the only place where you can be at a bar and a stranger says, ‘So are you a poet or what?’—and you can say yes and own it,” she recalls.
In 2011, Rawaan found herself in New York with a fancy degree and, while poking around for jobs, started making scarves. In 2012, this side project went official (oh, and she landed a 9-to-5 at a luxury flash-sale site, too).
Scarves appeal to her for two reasons: She wears them a lot and comes from a culture of headscarves. “Silk is so magical—it keeps you warm when you’re cold and cool when you’re warm. It has a history of being used in luxury items, but it’s functional,” explains the designer, who hopes to add bags, clothing, and stationery to the mix down the road. “I have no real artistic training—merely boundless enthusiasm,” she says. “But this feels the most right of all the harebrained schemes I’ve had.” —alisha prakash