In August 2015, Claire Distenfeld, owner of Fivestory, welcomed the likes of Indre Rockefeller (Moda Operandi), Leandra Medine (Man Repeller), and WWD to celebrate the store’s exclusive launch of Madiyah Al Sharqi’s womenswear line, bringing influence from the middle eastern fashion industry to the US.
Al Sharqi is one of several fashion designers hailing from the Middle East who has recently received plenty of attention both stateside and internationally. When speaking on the Middle Eastern consumer, Distenfeld told WWD, “What I love about [them] is that they…love to dress up. The customer loves to love, [and for them] the bigger the better!” What Distenfeld neglected to say is that the Middle Eastern luxury clients not only go “big,” they are incredibly affluent and according to Kipp Report, have the highest per capita spending on luxury goods and apparel in the world.
Fashion Consumerism Is Booming
Forbes reports that “despite being slightly smaller than the state of Maine, the United Arab Emirates has a GDP of $389.9 billion,” and with the surge of Middle Eastern consumerism noted earlier, it’s no surprise to learn that a fashion design industry is blossoming in the UAE city of Dubai.
Fashion Forward–the Middle Eastern equivalent to fashion week–has become the definitive platform for the region’s design talent since April 2012. Over a span of four days, Brag transforms an arena for both catwalk shows and presentations by couture, ready-to-wear and accessory designers. While many designers have yet to receive international fame, Bong Guerrero, the founder and CEO of Fashion Forward, noticed their potential long before anyone else.
Guerrero, who moved to Dubai in 1990 and was a designer himself, says,“The [Middle East] is well known globally for our love of style and strong retail presence but what we needed was to present our own pool of design talent to show that the region is generating its own labels, not just housing international brands in its malls.”
Fashion forward: the industry trailblazer in the middle east
After five seasons, and the launch of the Dubai Design Fashion Council Fashion Prize (which will be awarded to a lucky emerging designer this November), it is evident that the fashion industry in the Middle East is here to stay.
The Italian and Argentine designer duo behind Taller Marmo was just awarded the prestigious International Woolmark Prize and when asked why they chose the UAE as the place to launch their brand, Yago Goicoerchea quipped, “The ‘Why Dubai’ question has always been difficult [to answer] for us because [moving here] was truly a random decision, but in the end, was strategic.”
Riccardo Audisio adds, “We realized that Europe was oversaturated with fashion brands…the European financial crisis was a factor in our decision as well. If you go back through the history of fashion, the path of [expatriate] designers in major cities repeats over and over. Dubai is new, we wanted our brand to juxtapose this newness.”
The fact that country is home to some of the wealthiest people in the world doesn’t hurt, as potential clientele and investors are abundant for the middle eastern fashion industry.
Saira Mehar, Fashion Forward’s head of PR and business director, says, “Dubai has the aspiration, vision and infrastructure to become an international fashion hub. We can’t ignore the fact that [Fashion Forward] designers have started making a name for themselves not only on red carpets but are now in stores like Harvey Nichols, Saks Fifth Avenue, Selfridges, and on e-commerce sites like Moda Operandi, and Net-A-Porter.”
Guerrero, who is anticipating and currently preparing for the sixth season of Fashion Forward alongside Mehar, is excited about the future of his company.
He says, “With Dubai as its hub, the region is really pushing forward as a creative and sustainable force in global fashion” and he has “no doubt that Dubai will soon have a firm place on the international fashion calendar.”
Mehar concludes, “There is truly enough talent, resources, spending power and retail opportunities here to make Dubai a serious player within the global fashion scene, so with that being said, watch this space.”
You heard the woman: for more information on Fashion Forward and UAE designers in the middle east, check out fashionforward.ae