In addition to Fashion Forward Dubai and Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience, the recently launched Dubai Design District and the Arab Fashion Week, along with the first edition of the Style.com/Arabia's and the DDFC's Fashion Prize, were the Middle East's most important fashion events this year and they all lead to one single conclusion: Dubai, the cultural hub of the United Arab Emirates, is not only a tax-free haven for international entrepreneurs, it is also slowly but firmly establishing itself as a fashion force, with a notable influence both within and outside the region.
coat: Taller Marmo top, skirt and necklace: La Terre Est Folle
A Middle Eastern Renaissance?
While Dubai is still far from being able to compete with Fashion's Big Four in terms of establishment, it is nevertheless a city which is emblematic of the region's main force: purchasing power. And as such, Dubai has no competition: the city bears countless malls – think gargantuan lifestyle, high-end and luxury shopping malls such as the Mall of the Emirates or the Dubai Mall, among many others – without forgetting the ever-growing presence of e-commerce fashion and luxury structures in the Middle East (Net-a-Porter, Mytheresa, Farfetch, among others). But a cultural evolution is not led by money; it is first and foremost shaped by movers and shakers of all kinds – creatives and entrepreneurs who have helped Dubai to gain more and more respect and recognition from the international fashion industry in the past decade. Bong Guerrero, Founder and CEO of Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD) – the region's only notable fashion week – is one of those forward-thinking entrepreneurs that have put Dubai on the international fashion map ever since he established FFWD in 2013.
"We might not have the long-standing history of the big four fashion capitals – but what we do have is a unique and forward-thinking community of incredibly talented people who are cosmopolitan, well-travelled and ambitious. Bringing all of these people together in one city creates a real melting pot of cultures, ideas and inspiration. This is what sets us apart, and what makes us appealing to the global industry and most importantly for our designers, the global consumer," explained Bong Guerrero. And indeed, for the past 40 years Dubai has been capturing the world’s attention as an ever-changing metropolis where people get the feeling that nothing is impossible. This feeling, according to Guerrero, galvanizes the city and its residents and has been creating support, positivity and a sense of community – particularly within the design and fashion sector.
"Our region, and Dubai in particular, is constantly changing, and with these changes we have seen significant advances in the Middle Eastern fashion industry. The region has always attracted attention and intrigue from the rest of the world, but for the past 5 or so years there has been a marked shift in opinion whereby the Middle East is increasingly being seen as a viable and credible place for fashion and design," Guerrero added, explaining that the governmental inauguration of the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) as well as the Dubai Design District (d3) indicate that design, creativity and fashion are a valued sector of the economy and that significant investment and resources are being provided to ensure the industry grows. "FFWD has undoubtedly been influenced and has benefitted from this evolution. We have partnered with d3 from its inception, and share the vision to create a dynamic and sustainable fashion and design industry in the region, with Dubai as its hub. As the industry continues to evolve, we will do the same to ensure we are consistently providing the platform that is needed by the burgeoning pool of regional design talent," he said.
dress: Oraklia visor: Army of 1 clutch: Rula Galayini
Fashion Not Only For Fashion's Sake
In the same young entrepreneurial and galvanizing spirit, Fashion Forward Dubai has had a bunch of regulars over the past seasons – young, talented designers who have been working in the Maghreb and Middle East and who have been showcasing their collections in Dubai. FFWD's outstanding creatives for the Spring/Summer 2016 season included the Moroccan designer Said Mahrouf; the Dubai-based designer-duo behind House of Nomad; Taller Marmo, another designer-duo that is quite successful in the region; Bil Arbi's jewelry designed by Nadine Kanso; as well as everybody's darling, the Filipino designer Furne One of Amato, who ended FFWD with a blast.
Among them, there are also a few who stand out of the regular fashion crowd with their social and sometimes political statements, proving that fashion should not only be designed for fashion's sake, but that it can and should have a broader impact. Jordan-based and Central Saint Martins-trained womenswear designer Nafsika Skourti is one of those. The Style.com/Arabia and the DDFC Fashion Prize finalist showcased her first runway show at FFWD this season and presented a politically flavored ready-to-wear collection, her first one after her graduate collection – an ode to Nawal el Saadawi, an Egyptian feminist writer and activist.
"I've recently discovered her story and it inspired me a lot. She was born in 1931, she was circumcised when she was 6. She was top of her class, she became a physician, she then wrote a book about women and sex, and received death threats ever since. She is still fighting and she is 83 years old," explained Skourti backstage after her show at FFWD. "A lot of her speeches where she questions censorship, freedom and the social system made me want to discuss these subjects. My collection is called ‘Temporary Security’ because I was thinking about political instability and thus the lack of freedom and security – one minute you can be safe and the next one you're fighting for your life, you flee and put your children on boats, hoping for a better life. What is security? It doesn’t exist," concludes the young Jordanian designer.
tuxedo: Said Mahrouf jumpsuit: Taller Marmo
Sand, Skyscrapers and Bling-Bling... Not
Now, it cannot be said that Dubai is a hub for creatives with social and political consciousness – in fact, Nafsika Skourti and a few other fellow designers who prone a cultural dialogue throughout their collections, such as Moroccan designer Amine Bendriouich (another Fashion Prize finalist), are exceptional cases that stand out from the regional standards. But on the other hand, in terms of fashion, there is much more to Dubai than just the infamous bling thing. And yet no one can deny that Dubai and the Middle East in general have some of the most over-the-top beauty-savvy fashion aficionados. While a certain degree of négligé and mix-matching are considered to be a must in most European and American fashion capitals – yes, you can wear your adidas tracksuit with a Birkin bag and keep your hair unwashed for days, no biggie – Dubai's fashion and beauty-conscious men and women are dedicated to mastering the Art of Flawless. Impeccable hairdo? Check. Perfect makeup or grooming? Check. Not a single (fake) eyelash is out of place – and fashion requires just the same attention as beauty in Dubai. Wagging tongues would have it that the Middle East is only about the show-and-shine – expensive jewelry and sparkling, billowing dresses that are heavily embroidered with each and every available sequin – and while there is a certain truth to it, like most clichés, there is also a toxicity to this prejudice. A toxicity that has most people keeping a fixed idea of the Middle East in mind, an idea that clings to preconceptions and does not reflect the reality of Dubai's creative landscape. In fact, detractors will be surprised to realize that most of FFWD's designers are far from being a self-sustaining cliché and are actually providing a worth-seeing creative narrative through their collections.
Hussein Bazaza, the winner of the first edition of the Style.com/Arabia and DDFC Fashion Prize, epitomizes this last statement. As a winner of this year's Fashion Prize, he will create and sell a capsule collection on Farfetch.com, benefit from a year of mentorship from industry experts, and receive over US $250,000 in press coverage and advertising value. The prize was established by Conde Nast's first fashion website in the Middle East in collaboration with the Dubai Design and Fashion Council and Farfetch, and as such it is the first fashion prize of its kind in the Middle East to offer a regional counterpart to the ANDAM and the LVMH Prize. "My nomination for this prize is a fantastic reward for us as a start-up brand. It is encouraging to know the DDFC is watching my work progress and it’s been really motivating to know they are supporting me," stated Hussein Bazaza in a statement released by the DDFC. The young designer studied fashion in Beirut and Paris and worked for Maison Rabih Kayrouz and Elie Saab prior to starting his own womenswear label. Hussein Bazaza has been presenting his collection at Fashion Forward Dubai ever since the Starch Foundation – a non-profit organization that helps launch Lebanese emerging designers, founded by Rabih Kayrouz, Tala Hajjar and in collaboration with Solidere – took him under their wing in 2012, by supporting the creation of his first ready-to-wear collection. His last Spring/Summer 2016 collection, showcased during Fashion Forward Dubai, made an impression with romantic yet sharp women's ready-to-wear gowns that were inspired by Persian art and culture and came with a certain dramatic edge. "I think what DDFC is doing is something we should be proud of as regional designers. DDFC cares about the raw talent in this region and they have an international vision," added Bazaza. "My hope is to become an international brand and to be able to have a production house, which has the ability to meet the expectations of the international market, buyers and clients," he said.
dress: Army of 1 pants: Fatema Fardan necklace: La Terre Est Folle
Next Stop: The World
"I just want to build a really strong brand, with a lot of heart and integrity," answered Nafsika Skourti, when asked about her future projects. "We are trying to be in the upper contemporary segment, not in the premium luxury one. A cocktail dress will retail for about 850 euros," she added. And this mantra seems to work: after her first stint in Paris, during the women's Spring/Summer 2016 sales campaigns, Nafsika Skourti came back to Jordan with 8 new stockists from Tokyo, Taiwan, Paris and London. Now that Fashion Forward Dubai has been scouting and cultivating the region's talents for the past years, isn't it about time for FFWD to promote its talents on a global level? "One of the biggest challenges for regional designers is being selected by buyers and having commercial presence within retail outlets," explained Bong Guerrero. "FFWD recognizes that it’s not as simple as inviting buyers to come and see a runway show – we need to support our designers to focus their attention equally on their businesses. They need to ensure they have the production capacity and consistency in their collections to make them a viable choice for buyers," continued Guerrero, adding that Fashion Forward has been collaborating with Galeries Lafayette on creating special pop-up stores with several designers of the region, in addition to the introduction of a dedicated day for buyers and media during FFWD to encourage one-to-one appointments and closer inspection of the showcased collections.
"With each season the ambition is growing and growing – we have established the platform and been able to support some of the best couture, ready-to-wear and accessories designers in this region," continued Guerrero. "We have also welcomed some of the most respected industry professionals to come and share their insight and advice through the d3 Fashion Talks, with our strategic partners Dubai Design District (d3). As we look to the future, we want to build upon what FFWD has achieved so far. We are seeing our designers, and the regional industry as a whole, growing and maturing, and with that FFWD will grow as well. As the needs of our designers and the industry change, we will adapt to meet and exceed them," he added.
When asked about the international development of her brand and clientele, Nadine Kanso, Founder and Creative Director of the jewelry brand Bil Arbi, observes that it is already underway – a development that is paradoxically and interestingly strengthened by the "Arabness" of her designs. "People think that most of my clients must be Arabs because they relate to the Arabic calligraphy of my designs, but they tend to forget that Dubai is an international city – we have a lot of foreigners who come to Dubai, who live in Dubai, and who look at the beauty of Arabic calligraphy and relate to it because it is something that they probably want to take back home and remember this region by. Once you are a designer, you are just a designer, regardless of your origins, you design with love and passion."
top, skirt and necklace: La Terre Est Folle
Text by Elisabeta Tudor - @elisabetatudor
Photo by Guillaume Roujas - @guillaumeroujas
Style by Louis Philippe de Gagoue - @louisphilippedegagoue
Make-Up by Lina Kaddoumi - @makeupby.lina
Model Federica Caiazza at Wilhelmina Models Dubai - @mimmichicca
1. dress: Army of 1, pants: Fatema Fardan, necklace: La Terre Est Folle
2. coat: Taller Marmo top, skirt and necklace: La Terre Est Folle
3. top, skirt and necklace: La Terre Est Folle
4. tuxedo: Said Mahrouf jumpsuit: Taller Marmo
5 & 6. poncho: Nafsika Skourti
7 & 8. bomber: Bedouin, skirt: Said Mahrouf, jewelry: SeeMe
9 & 10. dress: Oraklia, visor: Army of 1, clutch: Rula Galayini