It's a cliché that Middle East fashion is all about the big labels - the Guccis, Louis Vuittons and Burberrys - and it's not without foundation. But things have changed somewhat over the past few years, thanks to some of the pioneering multibrand boutiques in the region, such as Symphony, Ginger & Lace, S*uce and Boutique 1. The new is becoming as important as the celebrated, and ever-increasing travel to fashion cities has created a hunger for a more diverse choice of fashion.
It's a gap in the market that Rania El Sadek and Serra Kirdar-Meliti decided to fill when they created Copia, a Dubai-based "communication and luxury lifestyle management" company. In plain English, they connect brands with buyers, helping designers to enter the Middle Eastern market, and this week marks their first outing to Paris to present their selection of lines to an international audience.
"You're really dealing with a world citizen, with no borders," says Kirdar-Meliti, a New York academic and philanthropist of Iraqi heritage. "It's no longer about where we sit."
"Dubai is a fantastic base, not only because we both live here but it really is that middle ground where you can reach both East and West," says El Sadek, who was born in Sweden and has Egyptian roots. "Our idea was to bring brands that are doing well in their own markets but have not yet entered the Middle East, or who have been here before but haven't been able to penetrate in the way they would like. But in the last year we've ended up with clients all over the world, whether retail or a resort or a private client. The services we provide have no borders."
That's certainly borne out by the visitors to the showroom, which is off the Rue Volta in the fashionable Marais district, and displays shoes, jewellery, kaftans, womenswear and sunglasses. It's not just Middle Eastern buyers (although they do most of their buying in Paris).
"We've got Liberty of London coming to see Lumete sunglasses, which have been huge for us. Matches of London, some Chinese buyers, Harvey Nichols Kuwait, which is opening soon, and Harvey Nichols Riyadh," says Alexandra Abbley, associate director of Copia, who is manning the Paris display. Copia also has a niche in representing its clients to luxury resorts such as the One&Only Palmilla, in Mexico, and Atlantis.
Looking at the varied but tightly edited selection of pieces in the showroom, you can see how these creations - from Colin Heaney's artist-designed kaftans and Australian beachwear to costume jewellery by the Lebanese brand GRIN - would work in a glamorous beach resort. Among the most covetable pieces are the shoes of Aquazzura, light-as-a-feather, Florence-made heels and flats designed by Edgardo Osorio. The coloured python slippers, suede stilettos and dramatic wedges are eye-catching enough to have picked up a celebrity following, and the Central Saint Martins-trained designer is inspired by art as much as fashion.
"You've got the Damien Hirst dots on the wedges, spots inspired by Lichtenstein, the Mondrian collection," says Abbley. "Anna Della Russo has these," she adds, pointing to a pair of heels with a spray of gold leather pineapple leaves.
The judicious selection has a lot to do with Al Sadek's and Kirdar-Melti's histories, the former having an editorial and PR background, the latter living the international life she is selling. "Understanding what the client wants is very different from hiring people to figure it out," says Kirdar-Melti. "Copia is not only about fashion - we will plan your art collection, rethink a resort's spa or put clients in touch with the brands that they need."
Kirdar-Melti has a concise way of describing the business's scope: "We call it connectorship."