x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Emirati designer to show on Le Jean Bruel in Paris

We talk to Rafia Helal Bin Drai of the fashion house Mauzan, who will be showing her collection on a glass-topped cruising boat on the Seine.

Rafia Helal Bin Drai. Photos courtesy  J Model Management
Rafia Helal Bin Drai. Photos courtesy J Model Management

The UAE is no stranger to the superlative, from the highest building to the most expensive cupcake, so it's fitting that a Dubai fashion designer should be picked to take part in a catwalk show run by a company that specialises in holding fashion events in extraordinary locations.

Thus far, J Model Management has produced the first-ever fashion show at London's Tower Bridge and created the world's highest catwalk for an event in Kuala Lumpur at the Petronas' Twin Towers Skybridge. Next up for the company, which is run by the Vietnamese-born model Jessica Minh Anh, is a show in Paris on Le Jean Bruel, the largest bateau-mouche (a glass-topped cruising boat) on the Seine, and among the designers taking part is Rafia Helal Bin Drai, the Emirati behind the abaya house Mauzan.

"We have a huge database of fashion brands worldwide," says Anh, "and for each show we look at our choices to see which suit the show best.

"With Mauzan I really like the designs because you think that normally abayas are very similar, but each of the pieces is different and very interesting and there is a combination of colours, not just black."

Making connections with the UAE is a canny move on Anh's part, because she plans for her next big event to be held in Dubai - though she won't yet reveal the venue. But what drew Mauzan's designer to seek international coverage in this event, rather than using the traditional routes of trade shows or fashion weeks?

"We did our research and we know this company puts on very, very big, beautiful fashion shows, and they're very good and very organised," she says. "They work all around the world and they are very famous. I hope there will be buyers - they are the people who really judge fashion. And my ambassador from the UAE is coming too, because they support our company a lot. Inshallah it will put me in contact with the fashion people in New York, London and Milan."

Mauzan already has something of an international following, with its colourful take on traditional Emirati dress being ordered online by women from Switzerland, England and the US, as well as within the Gulf. Should Bin Drai find buyers at this event, she says, she would expect to adapt the styles somewhat to suit a new market, and her progressive outlook on women gives her a head start in marketing her pieces to other countries. "We hope to develop the collection depending on the country it is for and the customer," she says. "I want my business to target the strong, independent woman: she must be strong, she must be independent, she is a hard worker, and she's not a weak woman or a shy woman."

Anh's rundown of the guest list at the event should be reassuring.

"The shows are very exclusive, so it's not a commercial show, it's not like the fashion weeks," she says. "We have a very limited amount of guests. Only the fashion designers, the buyers, ambassadors of different countries, which is very important, which shows that our show is at a very serious level."

It may not be too alien an environment, though - while the location is more spectacular than the Dubai Fashion Week tents, there is still something of DFW about her description. "We combine the very high-end straight catwalk and the red-carpet style, so that's why we have the VIP entrance with photo shoot, the press conference and after-party," she says, adding that there are sponsors for the event, too. "It's different because in [Paris] Fashion Week you have to run from one show to another and you don't have time to chat and mingle."

To the established designers that show during the major fashion weeks, this might all seem like a bit of red-carpet fun - people playing at being fashionistas. After all, the collections are mainly spring/summer 2012 - a whole year behind those being shown throughout September at the traditional fashion weeks.

But Anh could have something here. While a lesser-known designer might easily disappear without trace among the thousands of names showing during Paris Fashion Week and its many associated trade shows, there's no doubt that an event like this could make, quite literally in this case, a splash, gathering precious press coverage that is otherwise almost impossible to achieve.

"Fashion is always changing, so if you don't change with it you become outdated," says Anh. "In terms of the venue there is no question that this is going to be amazing. The models will be walking in front of a glass window on the boat, so it looks like they are walking on water.

"The strategy is to organise shows at the most exquisite venues in the world, so the press and designers get really excited about it."

And pretty soon, it could be coming to an emirate near you.

Model Management will hold its next fashion show in Paris on Le Jean Bruel on Monday.