“The Middle East is striving to give women a sense of security and also to empower those who still don’t have a voice because of ancient stigmas or a lack of communication,” said Nour Zaghloul, co-founder of Female First Sessions, a platform created in 2018 to support and celebrate women’s talent in the Middle East. “We wanted to break barriers between industries and people by creating safe spaces for events and campaigns. Dubai was the ideal starting point and the intention to fill this gap. Now we are working on expanding to more places in order to spread the awareness regarding gender equality issues.”
Now in its sixth year and 11th edition, Fashion Forward Dubai, which closed Saturday, opened its doors for the first time to the general public. Designers, industry leaders, and influencers alike said that the urban desert capital has become more than just a hub for style and retail, but also a beacon of culture, modernity, and ethics for the entire Middle East during a time when neighbor nations like Saudi Arabia are diversifying their economy and taking modest strides towards gender equality.
“Dubai has positioned itself as a luxury capital from the very beginning and, of course, it is a prominent city for luxury brand investment as the consumer spending index in this region is very high. However, the concept of luxury is constantly changing and, in my opinion, luxury means being comfortable in your own shoes,” said Luiza Khabibullina, a former marketing and public relations representative from Georgia, who moved to Dubai in 2016 to establish her blog Stylecov. For Khabibullina, Dubai is also a place where a woman can be independent. “Dubai is one of the safest places in the world, which is very important for a lady living alone.”
Founded by Filipino entrepreneur Bong Guerrero in 2013, Fashion Forward Dubai has grown into the most prominent fashion platform for Dubai and the Middle East, providing development, exposure, and a progressive direction for the regional fashion industry.
Fashion Forward unveiled its “shop now” fashion platform that merges the retail advantage that Dubai enjoys with the commercial objectives of the region’s independent designers in order to satiate local appetite for luxury goods and fresh fashion. The latest edition showcased global brands with regional collections and highlighted collaborations between international brands and local fashion talent.
Amid social and political unrest in Lebanon, Jessica Khoueiri-Achkar of Jessica K closed her show waving the Lebanese flag, which was surrounded by a group of models. Created in 2010 with a modern woman in mind, her brand exudes independence and an effortless chic attitude, which was represented in this latest collection by some interesting day-to-night looks that ranged from tailored white suits to printed ankle-length dresses paired with Texan boots and a few metallic touches added by some French-inspired earrings.
Palestinian designer Reema Al Banna made her first appearance in Dubai with her brand Reemami. Characterized by beautiful – and sustainable – fabrics and prints, the collection showed a defined focus on accessories (the sculptural and fairy headbands) and details on the back. The ethnic twist expressed by the shapes was perfectly balanced by contemporary cuts and feminine prints. The interesting design and high quality of shoes completed every outfit. Hers was a contemporary and global approach reflecting a positive vibe and the curiosity of a woman who searches for a personal style beyond conventions and trends, expressed on the catwalk with a relaxed self-awareness.
Sustainability was also paramount at the four-day event. Farah Wali – a Dubai-born, Cairo-raised, Florence-based 24-year-old designer – is also the first and youngest Egyptian woman to win a fashion contest in the Middle East. In fact, after her graduation from Polimoda in 2017, she won the 2018 Fashion Star prize.
“After my various movements, Florence is a place that I call home today. It has been so important for my career path and choosing to start-up a Made in Italy brand is a logical development. Inspiration comes from my personal mix of cultures,” she commented, noting that sustainability is at the core of her brand, Maison Farah Wali, which showcased an array of ecological prints and handmade embroidered knitwear, all beautifully made in Tuscany.
Above all, Guerrero said, the event is a platform for strong messages such as these and how rigid mindsets are changing across the region.
“Arabic people have become more and more cosmopolitan and open-minded in terms lifestyle, as they are frequent travelers. Their approach to fashion is evolving. This is why Dubai is an ideal nest for designers to start up their brands.”