Ayesha Depala, one of the darlings of Dubai’s couture scene, is preparing to move in a new direction.
“I’m looking into shoes and handbags,” says the 35-year-old designer. “It’s in the very early stages, but I would say within the next six months would be realistic.”
Having successfully launched her eponymous label in 2002 and earned an international reputation for show-stopping bespoke creations, bridal gowns and a pret-a-porter line, the mother of two is diversifying further. Her new range promises to bear the hallmarks of her understated, elegant style and she’s determined it will be anything but a fashion flash in the pan.
“I am not one of those people who buys ‘fashionable’ bags, which last for one season and are useless after that,” she says. “It’s not the ethos of my brand and it’s not how I dress, either. After spending a certain amount of money on a product, I want it to have a longer life. So I would like to keep my bags very classic. We’ll start with the softer colours and I’m sure you’ll see a nude handbag at some point.”
A liberal use of blush and skin tones is one of Depala’s signature stamps and the versatile shades which she calls her “black” make seasonal appearances in her collections. Indeed, it is this penchant for neutral palettes and feminine, Grecian draping that has seen regional royalty and international A-listers such as Sonam Kapoor, Naomi Watts and Yasmin Le Bon clamour to wear her creations.
Depala’s ethereal, softly structured designs in cream, mink and dusky fawn were featured on the catwalk at last month’s Muscat Fashion Week, in which she participated for the first time.
Five months in the making, 20 floor-sweeping and cocktail couture gowns of lace and tulle with hand appliquéd crystals and beads sashayed down the catwalk. The collection, which passed before the eyes of journalists, buyers and VIPs gathered in Oman’s Riyam Park, was met with rave reviews.
“The show went really well,” says Depala. “The event itself was very well organised with highly professional people and the turnout was great. So all in all, I was very happy. I’m glad I did it.”
Depala found herself in good company in Muscat, with contemporaries from Afghanistan, Bahrain and Lebanon showcasing their wares. The Indian-born designer, who studied interior design in New Delhi and fashion at Central Saint Martins in London, admits she was initially wary about showing at a prominent industry event outside the UAE, her home for more than a decade.
“As we haven’t yet participated in Dubai Fashion Week, I was obviously a bit sceptical to go all the way to Muscat and take part there,” she says. “But they were very generous with the invitation and they were very keen to have us on board. So we said, why not, we’ll go ahead and try.”
Aside from bringing Depala’s label to the attention of an ever-expanding audience in the Middle East, Muscat Fashion Week also had a positive commercial effect.
“There was a trade event the day after the actual fashion show where we got to showcase the brand and meet clients,” she recalls. “We had loads of inquiries and we finalised a few orders, so it was very lucrative in terms of business.”
Depala doesn’t rule out the possibility of showing on her home turf in the years ahead. She says it’s merely a matter of juggling an increasingly hectic fashion schedule.
“I would love to jump on board when the time is right, definitely,” she says. “I was always happy to consider it. But initially, when Dubai Fashion Week approached us, we were doing two seasons running at India Fashion Week. So to have to do a third or fourth show probably would have been too much on my plate. But I would love do it, I’ve been here for 11 years now, so I kind of feel like I am from Dubai.”
With her heart in Dubai, Depala is by no means turning her back on India; she designed the costumes for Aisha (2010), Rajshree Ojha’s Bollywood adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, and makes frequent trips to her boutique in New Delhi. Such projects, she says, keep her in touch with her roots.
Raised in a family immersed deep in the fashion industry, it was somewhat inevitable Depala would find herself thriving in the same creative field.
“Growing up, there were always fabrics all over our house – in cupboards, hidden in drawers, everywhere,” she says. “My parents are in the textile business – my mother is a textile designer and my dad is a textile engineer, so I think very early on in my teens, that’s when I knew I wanted to be involved in something creative. I became very interested in designing and putting things together.”
With stores now well established in India and the UAE, Depala is focused on making her brand more available to women across the GCC. This month, she’s set to meet buyers to discuss expanding her footprint in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon.
As for dedicated followers of fashion in Dubai, they may well be first to lay their hands on Depala’s impending range of new accessories at her flagship boutique in Jumeirah’s The Village Mall. Reassuringly, Depala is striving to deliver craftsmanship and style without the eye-watering price tag.
“We don’t want to retail the handbags at Dh20,000-30,000. I want them to be very accessible. So I think we’re looking at roughly Dh1,800-2,000 to start with and we’re doing a small line of evening clutch bags in beaded lace which will go for around Dh5,000-6,000,” she says.
“At the end of the day, I just want people to look at them, love them and buy them.”
•?Visit Ayesha Depala’s boutique at The Village Mall, Jumeirah, Dubai or call 04 344 5378
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