A week of competing fashion shows is over, prompting a collective sigh of relief.
A competition no one can win
As Fashion Expo Arabia drew to a very late close on Wednesday night and Dubai Fashion Week followed on Thursday, there was, it has to be said, a collective sigh of relief from all concerned. These events are huge undertakings for the organisers and the participants alike, with the weight of expectation bearing down on them, and never more so than this season, in which two new fashion trade shows threw down a gauntlet to the established DFW.
The Abu Dhabi-based Fashion Expo Arabia had been bullish from the start about its line-up of both fashion stars and serious buyers. While attendance and sales figures were not available at the time of writing, certainly the catwalk line-up was excellent throughout. The highlight of the final day was the conclusion of the Adach-supported Emerging Emirati Fashion Designers competition, with a catwalk show that saw four graduates of Sheikh Zayed Private Academy and the designers of the Sharjah-based brand Kanzi pit their collections against the girls who had shown on day one of the exhibition.
While Kanzi had been the favourite to win, on the basis of its market-ready state, the prize of Dh10,000 was in fact awarded by Abdulla al Ameri, the director of arts and culture at Adach, to Majedah Hussain Darwish, of Preston University Ajman, for her colourful, floating jelabiyas and kaftans. Her tutor, Saqib Sohail, said that she was a thoroughly deserving winner, trying to combine motherhood and a teaching job with her passion for style.
When Gaspard Yurkievich's show failed to materialise, the designer making do with a stand, the Indian designer Ekta Singh, who had also shown at Dubai Fashion Week, presented her collection to the Fashion Expo Arabia crowd, with a loosely interpreted peacock theme playing out in vibrant colours and rich embroidery. It was, though, a Grecian-style white dress with a heavily embroidered black-and-white bodice panel that really stood out, confirming monochrome as one of the trends of the season, both internationally and regionally.
The Italian brand Costa e Costura took the pared-back palette even further, with a pure white collection that featured neat shapes pulled up by raw-edged ruffles, giant bows and stiff ruching. Fabrics were humble cottons and linens, with the occasional leather panel, and the overall effect had that puritan tone that is so important for spring/summer 2010 - a "macro-trend" that the fashion "intelligencce service" WGSN called "Evolve", a sort of organic, eco-aware look inspired by nature.
Possibly the most surprising collection of the event was Hatem Alakeel's Toby show. His regular riffs on the khandoura go from strength to strength, and were this time accompanied by children's versions and, in one case, a pair of gleaming copper-foiled men's shoes by his friend Christian Louboutin. But his womenswear that really startled. After a lacklustre first womenswear collection last season, Alakeel seems to have suddenly found his calling and sent a series of retro, simple and highly sophisticated dresses down the catwalk, in delicate shades of apricot, pistachio, rose and white.
His application of the principles of khandoura tailoring to women's dresses, together with an appreciation for feminine strength and confidence and a liking for the asymmetrical, may not be to the traditionally more elaborate taste of the Middle East, but conspired to make this one of the most promising collections by the regional designers represented here. Hassan Sheheryar Yasin also surprised his followers, closing the event with his spring/summer 2010 collection that contains - whisper it - casual daywear. For the man whose mission it has been to combine couture-style construction with traditional Pakistani embroidery and embellishment, the presentation of sweet leather jackets, for both men and women, and sportswear-inspired pieces, is an interesting move. Still, HSY's real glory is in the intricate sequinning, beading and embroidery for which he is so famous, as well as his fine sense of colour and his flattering cuts, and these remain crucial to his aesthetic.
What emerged from this fashionable flurry of events, then, was a sense that while there is no lack of appetite or market for the clothing trade to work in the UAE, there has to be some serious coordination. The words "fashion council" were being bandied about, and the organisers of Fashion Expo Arabia claim to have approached both Dubai Fashion Week and Who's Next & Premiere Classe before the events took place, in an attempt to create some kind of working relationship, apparently to no avail.
Last week's clash was to no one's benefit and it is to be hoped that some kind of cooperation can be achieved befor next season's shows. If these organisations work together, the UAE may yet become the centre for Middle Eastern fashion. However, there is some way to go, as those involved would acknowledge.