By Chere Di Boscio
If you think Dubai fashion is a choice between sombre or outrageous bling, the first week of October this year would have proven you wrong. Very wrong.
While ‘Dubai Fashion Week’ as itself doesn’t really exist per se, many have been using the term to refer to the amalgamation of two events in the region: Fashion Week Middle East from October 1-5, and Fashion Forward, from October 4-6.
The former was a debut launch, focused on exchanging Western talent with locally based names. New York based designers Charlotte Ronson appeared on the first day to a crowd comprised mainly of industry insiders, and local labels Amato and Shrekahnth will soon be showing their wares in New York Fashion Week in exchange. Decades LA owner and celebrity stylist Cameron Silver was a guest of honour, and Fashion News Live presenter Rocco Gaglioti charmed us with his tales of shows past.
Held at the Dubai International Financial Centre, the event featured several ethical brands, such as Senegal/New York based Sophie Zinga, who showed her signature simple, softly structured cuts in a feminine palette of vibrant pinks, and Hong Kong’s Kay Li, whose eclectic line of high-end urban chic was made from eco-friendly fabrics for the first time.
Other designers of note were American men’s street wear brand Control Sector; couturier Hani el Behairy, New York’s Emily Saunders, and the cARTel, Dubai’s hippest store, presented a selection of cutting-edge designs.
The highlight of the show was undoubtedly eco-couture designer Sohad Acouri, whose ‘come fly with me’ themed show spanned not only delicate couture creations, but a selection of bridal gowns too, climaxing with the appearance of Miss Russia wearing an intricately beaded body stocking that provoked oohs and ahhs and even a few gasps from the crowd, despite the rather modest underpants local custom demanded she wear under the piece.
While Fashion Week Middle East was clearly a new event that suffered quite a few hiccups, Fashion Forward is a larger, glossier and far more established affair, now in its fourth season. Here, mainly highly regarded local designers show on the runway, while the Garden area showcased talent from around the world, including an Eluxe favourite, haute eco-jewellery by AnaKatarina.
One of the most pleasant surprises for me of the three day event was Emperor 1688. Often dubbed ‘the Armani of Dubai’, the brother-run label boasts elegant clothing with strong tailoring, constructed from the highest quality silk, cashmere and wool. Light, floaty cape-sleeved trench coats, tissue thin cashmere pullovers and beautifully draped trousers were amongst the very covetable collection.
Two heavy hitters in the region, Amato by Furne One and Michael Cinco both wowed audiences with their spectacularly choreographed runway shows. Cinco, whose designs have been worn by A-listers including Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga, closed the first evening with a show of painstakingly crafted couture dresses, ranging from skintight sequinned gowns for sirens, to voluminously skirted, multi-layered frocks no doubt destined for a wealthy woman’s wedding day.
Closing a smoothly organised close to the event was Amato. Showing to Dubai’s glitterati, including members of the royal family, and prominent designers Rami al Ali and Andrea Brocca, the dramatic collection was characterised by futuristic frills that went so high as to almost obscure model’s faces; sci-fi masks and headphones, highlighting why this designer is known for dramatic, almost theatrical creations.
A Fashion Education
In between these two major players, there was plenty to keep the tens of thousands of fashionistas in attendance busy: 19 runway presentations, including those from Tahir Sultan, Dima Ayad, Hasan Hejazi, Zareena, Asudari and Ceremony, and engaging talks from high profile, international speakers.
Three of these that particularly stood out for me were Sofia Guellaty in conversation with Yasmin Le Bon; The State of the Industry: Where Do We Go From Here? chaired by Haleh Nia and Fashion Forward Founder Bong Guerrero, and The Benefits of Collaborating in Fashion, by Damon Pittman. Each one was a rare opportunity to learn from top professionals and share ideas with peers.
What We Could Learn
The difference between Dubai Fashion Week and those in New York and Europe is huge, and the Northerners could learn much from this experience. For example, having all shows under one roof over three days makes life much, much easier for those in the industry—one of the most complained-about aspects of attending fashion week is rushing from place to place; very difficult indeed in cities like New York and Paris, where taxis are hard to find, or London, where cabs are expensive. Being organised by one group also meant that images were immediately sent to journalists after the shows—normally we have to rely on the press agent for each designer to mail them to us, which can be frustrating.
Secondly, although attending shows can be a magical experience, they often only last 15 minutes before journalists and buyers have to dash off to the next venue, and most shows can be seen online in real time anyway, leading many to wonder why they bother attending them at all. Fashion Forward Dubai, however, was well worth the time, not only because the production of the shows was so spectacular, but because in between shows there were myriad networking opportunities in the VIP lounges, bars and showcase areas, not to mention at the nightly after-parties held outside under the stars.
Thirdly, giving attendees a single pass for all shows in advance made attending simpler, and there were no queues of stressed attendees complaining their single tickets for individual shows never arrived by post; nor were there ‘clipboard Nazis’ checking names and assigning seats. This was a more democratic, first come, first served affair.
Finally, having a round of discussions and seminars about the fashion industry was not only interesting, it was educational too, allowing a rare opportunity for fashion professionals to expand their knowledge and networks. Notably, while Fashion Weeks in Europe are dominated by mainly men, both FFWD and FWME showed a strong female presence in terms of designers, speakers and organisers–ironic considering our stereotypes of the ‘oppressed’ Arab woman.
Indeed, Dubai really is breaking these stereotypes, and more. It may once have been a sandy backwater populated mainly by people in black abayas and white thobes, but today it’s a vibrant example of the future of fashion.
Main image: Jean Louis Sabaji – Runway – Fashion Forward Dubai October 2014: Getty Images