'We are looking to do business, and it seems like we can do serious business here.'
Fashion Expo all about the buyers
Abu Dhabi's first Fashion Expo Arabia goes head to head with Dubai Fashion Week in a clash of the Titans this week. The newcomer is up against a now established event that is, in spite of its acknowledged drawbacks, a popular part of the city's fashion calendar. But Fashion Expo Arabia has a few tricks up its sleeve too, and while many designers are showing at both, they are aware of the differences between the two events.
The New Delhi-based designer Ekta Singh, one of DFW's most popular acts, decided at the last minute to join the Abu Dhabi event too, on the basis, she says, of its clear trade emphasis and smooth organisation. "I think this is going to be a great trade show, which is what we designers are looking for," she said. "We're not only looking at selling one garment in boutique quantities, we are looking at doing serious business, and it seems like we can do serious business here. Both places have got buyers from all over the UAE, but in Dubai we're looking more at boutique buyers, and here I'm looking more at store buyers and international buyers from the UK and Europe."
The buyers are indeed the key, and Mecom, the company behind Fashion Expo Arabia, has spent the past eight months putting together a database of buyers to aim at - something that had not, it seems, been attempted before in this region. The success of the show will be rated not according to how glamorous the pictures are or how wild the parties, but how much business is done. That is what will determine whether anyone comes back next season.
The event itself may have been well organised but, true to fashion's reputation for chaos, most of the designers had still to begin setting up their booths when I visited less than 24 hours before the start. Among the stands that were laid out, though, there were already some obvious highlights. Sarah Arnett, a British designer whose silky frocks are already wildly popular in London, should find a ready market in the Middle East (she's currently stocked in Bugatti, Dubai) with her racks of colourful prints, while the punkish, 1950s-inspired eveningwear of Sartori Sartori, a range by the Dubai designer Deborah Anne Simcox, makes an arresting display.
There are plenty of vibrant jelabiyas and kaftans too, which may find eager European customers, for whom these garments still have a somewhat exotic edge. The Dubai boutiques Soirée and Studio 8, known for their championing of Indian and Pakistani designers, also have stands, with the aim of widening the distribution of their brands and acting in effect as agents. The less obviously glamorous half of the show is the Shoe & Leather Fair, but the racks of brightly coloured heels and bags from Italy and piles of interesting hides might in fact make this section the surprise hit of the event. After all, there are few regions of the world more receptive than the Middle East to the glamorising power of the accessory.
While the main hall was still full of men on ladders and rolls of carpet, behind the scenes a flurry of activity was taking place as the designers with catwalk events lined up joined the catwalk choreographer Derek Jones and the MAC senior make-up artist Vimi Joshi to plan the shows frantically, fit the dresses to models and discuss the looks. Naturally, everything was running late, but Rizwan Beyg, fresh from his first Milan show in September, Sohad Acouri and Ekta Singh all appeared remarkably calm as their racks of gowns, still under covers, awaited their turn. For Jones and Singh, this must have been a feat of self-control, as both are involved in Dubai Fashion Week as well, requiring an inordinate amount of travel between Dubai and Abu Dhabi this week. (Though so far, said Singh, the traffic had not been a problem.)
By comparison with DFW, Fashion Expo Arabia has a short schedule of shows: just 15, including the Emerging Emirati Designers presentation supported by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. Rizwan Beyg, though, expounded to me his theory that only a certain type of fashion is "ramp-worthy". You need, he said, a certain drama in the clothes, a "wow" factor for each and every item, otherwise you simply have one boring look after another. Beyg's own all-white collection certainly meets his criteria and should be one of the highlights of the week.
We will be reviewing the show for the rest of the week, with a round-up in Sunday's Arts & Life.