x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Fashion Expo off to a bright start

Mixed reactions meet the opening of Dubai's Fashion Expo and few uniquely Middle Eastern quirks appear, as well.

The opening day of Fashion Expo Arabia saw mixed early reactions from its participants. While those designers showing on the catwalks enjoyed packed audiences and an enthusiastic reception, there were worries and complaints among a few of the companies who were hoping for a more active trading day. Most surprising to those who had never explored this area before was the appearance of non-trade visitors hoping to buy individual items as if in a giant market. Perhaps a little cultural orientation might be in order for a few of the exhibitors: this is, after all, a new market and a young one.

Yet it must be said that trade-show exhibitors always complain about the lack of visitors and there is no doubt that the footfall here was higher than at similar previous events, especially for a first day. The organisers said at least 700 buyers had passed through by mid-afternoon and they were expecting many more over the next two days. The catwalk shows kicked off a little late, after technical issues caused the WGSN trend forecast seminar to overrun. When they got going it was a case of the good, the bad and the ugly, with some fabulous pieces and some awful ones.

The first show saw the students of Preston University Ajman and Sheikh Zayed Private Academy revealing their entries for the first half of the Emirati Emerging Designers competition, which will conclude on Wednesday. While the construction quality was varied, there were several pieces that showed real skill and a great eye for design, and the styles ranged all the way from classic floating jelabiyahs to body-con dresses and even corsets. Certainly there are plenty of creative minds coming up through the ranks of the UAE's educational establishments.

Next up, the tiny, feisty Franco-Comoron designer Sakina M'Sa presented a collection full of the complex drapery and silks that run through the spring/summer 2010 looks internationally. A pared-back palette of off-whites and black was perked up with bright yellow and a particularly nice almost-cobalt blue, but while most of the pieces were very wearable, those that adhered too closely to the season's fads - built-up shoulders, low-rise jodhpur-meets-harem trousers - somehow failed to hit the mark.

Still, pieces such as the short blue raglan-sleeved jacket, belted over trousers, and a fluid bright yellow mini with origami folding at the neckline, were extremely pretty and likely to jump off the rails of any boutiques that picked them out. In a more classically Arabian mode, the Emirati sisters Reem and Hind Beljafla sent out an outstanding set of abayas for their label DAS Collection. Their trademark bright linings and soft draping were present and correct, but the sophistication of cut has come a long way over the past year.

There was a late-1930s edge to many of the pieces, with strong shoulders and tulle collars, as well as some turban-style headscarves knotted to one side. Put it this way: if Ginger Rogers or Bette Davis had worn abayas, they would have been from this collection. The Syrian designer Rami al Ali, who has long been a Dubai favourite and is now showing regularly in Rome too, succeeded in both revealing to visitors what UAE fashion is all about and to local designers what craft is all about. By no means is his look cutting-edge, but creating gown after ravishing gown, with the often overlooked intention of making women beautiful, is what makes him successful.

As for the craft part, some designers could do a lot worse than take a close look at the construction of those dresses. Impeccably cut, sewn and draped, these pieces prove that it takes more to be in fashion than simply the ability to scrunch up some random bits of fabric and tack them together in a vague approximation of a garment. Fashion is creative, sure, but it's also about dressing human beings, something that is understood by all successful designers, from Alexander McQueen downwards.

Another creator who understands the importance of construction and quality, though in a very different way, is Manish Malhotra, the man invariably billed as Bollywood's favourite designer. True to form, his collection, which closed the day, was a rainbow-coloured, embellished parade of saris, salwar kameez and long, full skirts, highlighted with gold embroidery and lamé, and predominantly in rich, sea-like blues, greens and vivid red.

Some of those trousers were close to harem pants, but Malhotra's famous fusion of traditional and modern worked best in the tried-and-tested proportions of his churidar kameez styles. ? In tomorrow's report, collections by Sarah Arnett, Kyri, Rabia Z, Rizwan Beyg and Sohad Acouri. * Gemma Champ