Qatari manufacturer of cloak gifted to Messi enjoys boom after World Cup

DOHA, Qatar — Watching Sunday’s World Cup final, Ahmed al-Salem was more emotional than most soccer fans when a Qatar fan placed the black and gold mantle on the shoulders of Argentina’s conquering captain Lionel Messi.

The dress Messi wore to lift the soccer trophy was a $2,200 “bishtus,” a traditional gown worn by men at weddings, graduations and official events — and it was made by the Salem family.

The gesture sparked an international debate on social media about whether it was appropriate.

Salem watched Argentina hit the market in a near-family store in Doha’s Souq Waqif, having earlier delivered two of the world’s most delicate handmaidens to World Cup officials, one to accommodate Messi’s diminutiveness and the other to accommodate captain Hugo Lloris Francis.

“We didn’t know who they were and I was stunned,” he told AFP at the time with the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-thani, dressed in a Messi robe.

Salem recognized his tag team and was now celebrating his World Cup victory.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi, wearing an Arabic turban, lifts the trophy after the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Sunday, Dec. 18. 2022. (AP/Martin Meissner)

The Al-Salem store, a longtime bishte supplier to the Qatari king, usually sells eight to 10 clothes a day.

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On Monday, after the deadline, sales jumped to 150, including three top-of-the-range bisht models held by Messi, Salem said.

“At one stage they were just waiting outside the store,” he said.

“Almost all of them were Argentinians,” he added, as he watched eight supporters of the new world champions sing their “Muchachos” (mates) anthem and take pictures of themselves while wearing a flimsy bisque and carrying a copy of the World Cup.

Bisht boom

A stream of fans came into the shop, as Salem spoke to AFP, and everyone applauded the gesture of admiration.

“We were all happy when we saw that it was a gift from one king to another king,” said Mauricio Garsias, who tried to buy the cloak, but the price was too high.

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Some commentators, especially in Europe, criticized Messi’s shirt for being covered up for the trophy presentation.

But it caught the attention of Arabic social media users.

Salem and other Arab commentators explained that Messi’s “honor” mentality and gesture were understood.

“When a sheikh arranges a person in bisto, it means to honor and value him,” Salem said.

Argentina captain and forward Lionel Messi gestures to his teammates while standing on stage with FIFA President Gianni Infantino (L) and Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani after Argentina won the Qatar 2022 World Cup, during the final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail north of Doha on December 18, 2022 (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

It was “a very important moment” for Qatar as it seeks a public boost for the World Cup, said Carole Gomez, a professor of the sociology of sports at the University of Lausanne, in Switzerland.

“These pictures are widely disseminated, preserved and revised,” he said.

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Salem said that when the World Cup officials came to their store, “they wanted to make the fabric very light and transparent.”

“I was surprised that we are in the winter, it seems that the goal was to show the Argentina uniform and not to cover it,” he said.

While bisht is worn in many Gulf countries, Al-Salem is the largest producer of about five Qataris, which employs about 60 tailors.

Each bisque takes a week to complete and takes seven weeks to complete, with different workers adding different twisted gold lines to the forehead and arms.

For Messi’s bishte, gold thread was made from Germany and Najafi cotton fabric was imported from Japan.

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