This season, London Fashion Week will go ahead without the Qasimi show. The label has built up a loyal following and become a fixture in the English capital for the past five seasons. Last week, I caught up with the 29-year-old designer behind the label, Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, minutes before he hopped aboard a Eurostar train en route to the French fabric and fashion forecasting fair, Première Vision.
You may remember seeing images of the Qasimi spring/summer 2010 collection last September, which featured dazzling gold separates with giant shoulders and colourful gowns inspired by the Gulf's jalabiyas. So why the decision to take a break from showing womenswear after five seemingly successful seasons in a city he has called home since the age of nine? "Following the first show (in autumn/winter 2008), we had so much press and a hugely positive feedback, which was all amazing," Al Qasimi says.
"Then, when we dressed Lady Gaga, and Cheryl Cole when she was judging The X-Factor, the brand really took off." This was due partly to the support of Nicola Formichetti, the creative director of the style magazine Dazed and Confused and Lady Gaga's stylist, who became one of the first influential fashionistos to pick up on the brand following the autumn/winter 2009 show. This featured a line-up of supermodels including Lily Cole, Yasmin Le Bon, Liberty Ross, Jade Parfitt, Jacquetta Wheeler and Carmen Dell'Orefice wearing dramatic black Victorian-style crinolines and corsetry.
"In London I didn't get too much support from the BFC [the British Fashion Council, the official body behind London Fashion Week] and had to show off-schedule, which meant some important store buyers and fashion press were unable to attend because it clashed with on-schedule events." In the meantime, Al Qasimi had begun working on a debut menswear line. "Ultimately, it became a case of choose one or the other," he says.
"The womenswear market is so saturated and the competition so fierce, I decided to wait until we had the stockists I really wanted and get the product perfected and out there." The decision was ultimately made for him by Didier Grumbach, the highly influential president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt à Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode (aka the Chambre Syndicale), who just happens to be one of the most important people in the fashion world.
When Grumbach invites you to show menswear, on the official schedule in Paris, you don't refuse. "Although it was all a bit last-minute, Monsieur Grumbach said there was room for me to do an installation in Paris and I jumped at the chance. Menswear comes so naturally to me. I know what men want to wear. There isn't a men's fashion week in London. The French fashion council in Paris were really supportive and got behind me pushing sales and a season later offered me a catwalk show. Menswear suddenly seemed the more obvious route.
"What I have ended up doing is a much tighter, stronger collection than my womenswear range ever was. It is also far more commercial, which is something I wanted to focus on rather than trying too hard with creativity. At the end of the day, like every other designer, I want to make money and establish a strong business." Al Qasimi hopes to show menswear in Paris again next season. "I'm continuing with my line of unisex accessories, including woven leather bags, which have proved a big hit. I always listen to department-store and boutique buyers and this seems to be what they want right now. It's been an interesting couple of years and I've learnt so much from everything I've been through. I hope to pursue a couple of options selling to UK major stores and US boutiques and other international markets."
Still, he hasn't forsaken womenswear entirely. "I do miss doing womenswear. It was sad having to let go of some of my atelier team, but it was ultimately a really small, luxury brand. My dream isn't just to create clothes for celebrities or pop stars. I'd be just as happy spotting one of my designs worn by someone on the street. I am about to start working on a new womenswear project which will be for a capsule collection for a store in Europe as an exclusive. This is really to please my fans. I can't disclose any more information at the moment!"
Al Qasimi's latest collection for autumn/winter 2010/2011 which was shown on the catwalk in Paris in January, features more commercial tailored grey suits, chunky knitwear, woven leather tops and pearl-embellished tops. His headquarters remain in London. "It's important to develop my brand and also feel in control. I'm really enjoying doing menswear. I'm even toying with the idea of haute couture for men. Nobody is doing that yet!"