Middle Eastern fashion designers are making their stamp on the catwalk in style.
Established names and rising stars do it in style
He might be flush with success following his London show and increasing exposure within the fashion world, but Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi is in fact just one of several ascendant stars from the blossoming coterie of Middle Eastern fashion designers. Among others, the most recognisable and established name is Elie Saab. The Lebanese designer clocked international column inches when Halle Berry wore a burgundy number of his to the Oscar ceremony in 2002 and his designs has since been worn by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Catherine Zeta-Jones. He told The National last month, however, that he considers his first major fashion moment to have been the presentation in 1996 of his first European collection in Rome.
Where Saab leads, plenty of his fellow countrymen and women follow. Georges Chakra presented his multicoloured spring/summer 2010 collection in New York last week, the second from his ready-to-wear line, although he had been showing haute couture in Paris since 2001. His most famous celebrity dress? The red satin gown, with flower-detailed Swarovski sleeves, that Helen Mirren wore to the Academy Awards ceremony last year. "His clothes are just up my street: grand, powerful, theatrical, imaginative and wild," said the actress at the time.
Also among those who showed in New York last week was the Lebanese-American designer Reem Acra. Known mostly for bridalwear (she designed Mattel a Barbie doll wedding dress), she is especially feted for her detailed embroidery work. Last year, she launched her ready-to-wear collection, strong on glamorous eveningwear, which has since been worn on the red carpet by the likes of Eva Longoria-Parker and Kate Beckinsale.
Yet another leading light is Zuhair Murad, who has helped forge Lebanon's name as a fashion powerhouse, having dressed Shakira, Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus, and also through his collaboration with the high-street brand Mango. Robert Abi Nader will be a name familiar to some, too. He's often referred to as the King of Middle Eastern couture, but presented his first ready-to-wear line in Paris earlier this year.
And yet, dominating though Team Lebanon is, it just about lets several other designers from the region have a look-in. Last week's New York catwalk was lit up by the Israel-born American-based designer Yigal Azrouël, who presented a stridently urban show with precisely cut lines that he referred to as a study in geometry. Sarah Jessica Parker is a regular at his New York boutique. Pieces by his Israeli compatriot Alber Elbaz, the creative director of Lanvin, will be showing in the final stretch of fashion weeks in Paris at the start of next month.
Closer to home is Body Amr, the label from Omani designer Amir Ali, who presented in London yesterday. He held his first show at Dubai fashion week in April, and previously worked with Christian Louboutin. His collection launched in Harrods in 2005 and his crystal-studded vintage T-shirts were swiftly picked up by Madonna and Justin Timberlake. His Harry for King version was even worn by Prince Harry himself. He has since described his ultra-luxe womenswear as Pretty Woman meets Blade Runner.
Egypt cannot be overlooked, either, with work by Marie Bishara being shown shortly in Paris. A huge name in her home country, with her label founded in the 1960s, Bishara first showed a collection outside Egypt last autumn in Paris and was the first of her country's designers to show in the city. A further Egyptian talent to look out for is the jeweller Azza Fahmy, who has on ongoing collaboration with Julien Macdonald with pieces for his collections (which showed in London on Sunday). She counts Queen Rania and Naomi Campbell among her clients.
* Sophia Money-Coutts