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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

A guide to the UAE’s fashion weeks

We offer a lowdown on the events and organisations catering to the country’s fledging sartorial sector

Halima Aden in Rasit Bagzibagli
Halima Aden in Rasit Bagzibagli

If you’re struggling to tell your Fashion Forward from your Arab Fashion Week, confuse Modest Fashion Week with Modest Fashion Summit, and are all out at sea over the Dubai Design & Fashion Council and the Islamic Fashion Design Council, join the club.

Despite the UAE’s diminutive size, it seems it is currently home to a multitude of fashion bodies and events. Of course, no one is complaining about the array of support for the burgeoning fashion industry – after all, it’s always better to have too much help than not enough – and it is gratifying to see this small but discerning market finally being taken seriously on the world stage. It’s just that it’s, well, a little confusing.

Although delighted that modest dressing has gathered enough pace to shift global thinking, one can’t but help question, with so many different fashion events all claiming to speak for the UAE, what is it that they all do? Do we actually need them all? And what separates them from one another? Why is there so much global interest in this little desert we call home? In a word, money.

The spending power of this region is enormous, and is set to grow. A report by Thompson Reuters, entitled State of the Global Islamic Economy 2016/17, valued the Islamic fashion market worldwide at US$243 billion (Dh892.4bn) per annum, (that’s 11 per cent of the entire global market spend), while the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry valued the UAE retail sector at Dh200bn in 2017.

With so much money on the table, not only do international fashion houses want a slice, but it is also prudent planning to encourage emerging regional talent. Through training via courses at The College of Fashion & Design or Esmod, there is no reason why the UAE cannot produce the next generation of talent to rival Lebanon’s Elie Saab, Rabih Kayrouz or Zuhair Murad. The figures show there is an appetite for spending, so it only follows there should be an option to spend on local talent.

Just as the current four big fashion centres of New York, London, Milan and Paris each has one dedicated body to oversee the promotion of local talent, it makes sense that the UAE does as well. Here is a quick guide of the who and what of our fashion movement.

Dubai Fashion Week

This first began in 2006 before disbanding in 2011 and then restarting in 2015, retitled as International Dubai Fashion Week. In addition to hosting runway shows for designers, the event also has its own awards programme for fields such as Best Fashion Tech Designer and Best Regional Designer. It’s scheduled this season for April 26 to 28 in Dubai, under the patronage of Sheikha Hend Al Qassemi, board member of the College of Fashion & Design. The website promises the event will be “one of the biggest on the world’s fashion-week circuit, along with New York, London, Milan and Paris”, and boasts 30 designers, reaching an audience of 25 million. The participating labels currently listed are Junne Couture, Emmanuel Haute Couture, Walid Atallah and Sheikha Hend Al Qassemi’s own label, House of Hend. It is open to the public via registration; www.idfweek.com.

Fashion Forward

Fashion Forward Dubai Courtesy FFWD
Fashion Forward Dubai Courtesy FFWD

A veteran event of 10 seasons, and brainchild of Bong Guerrero, Fashion Forward has grown steadily since its inception, even shifting venue from Madinat Jumeirah to Dubai Design District. It now offers regional- and international- runway shows, international guest speakers such as Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist), Mary Katrantzou and industry critic Godfrey Deeny, plus pop-up shops, film screenings and a Paris showroom. Although it’s usually held twice yearly, this year FFWD announced it will miss spring/summer, and return in October 2018 for autumn/winter. Entry is by invitation only; www.fashionforward.ae.

Arab Fashion Week

Arab Fashion Week.
Arab Fashion Week.

Launched by the Arab Fashion Council with a series of runway shows in Dubai in October 2016, this fashion week is more a conduit for international labels wanting to enter the market, rather than promoting grass-roots talent. Just as Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana provides a bridge to Italian know-how, so AFW fast-tracks overseas designers who desire an introduction to the region. Recently announcing a partnership with the British Fashion Council, it has plans to expand into Saudi Arabia, ahead of what looks like the Kingdom’s loosening of social restrictions. The inaugural Arab Fashion Week Riyadh, initially slated for March, has been postponed to April 10 due to “significant interest from international guests wishing to attend” – which could mean ­either too many want to appear, or the timing doesn’t suit. Confirmed ­labels include Roberto Cavalli, Jean Paul Gaultier and Yulia Yanina. Open to the public via registration; www.arabfashionweek.org.

Islamic Fashion Design Council

This body is dedicated, claims its website, to building the ­“remarkable modest fashion and design industry, including arts, tech, and architecture”. With offices in more than 10 countries, it aims to act as a researcher, consultant and supporter of the ­Islamic fashion industry and those seeking entry within. In addition to its own magazine, Cover, and YouTube channels called The Modest and Modest Man, it ­recently hosted the first Dubai Pret-A-Cover Buyers Lane show event; www.ifdcouncil.org.

Dubai Design & Fashion Council

Set up by the Government of Dubai in 2013, the DDFC aims to promote the city as a global design hub in the run-up to 2020. As well as raising the profile of the emirate for new and emerging talents, this council also offers advice and support on markets, sustainability and how to effectively build a brand.

Modest Fashion Week

This international event was started in May 2016 in Istanbul by Franka Soeria and Özlem Sahin as a way to bring modest design to a bigger audience. In April 2017 it expanded to London, and in December last year, it arrived in Dubai. The two-day event hosts hijab designers and models, and saw Halima Aden walk the runway in support; www.dubaimodestfashionweek.com.

This is not to be confused with the Modest Fashion Summit, the newest body in Dubai that’s launching just as we go to press. Watch this space for more.

The final word must be one of support, and pride in the fact that so many believe that the fledgling UAE industry has enough potential to be worth investing so much time in. Looking farther afield to the bigger, more established markets of New York, Paris, and even Tokyo and Copenhagen, success there seems to come from one body overseeing it all. If this writer were to have one complaint about the current state of multiple organisations and events battling it out for supremacy in the UAE, it would be that, perhaps, they would be better served if they combined their talents into a single entity.

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Read more:

Five offbeat looks at Tokyo Fashion Week

10 beautiful looks from India Fashion Week - in pictures

The five craziest things we saw at Milan Fashion Week

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