x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Here comes the bride, keeping it simple

An Abu Dhabi dress show reflects a steady shift towards western styles, with a new type of wedding fashion establishing itself.

The Lebanese TV presenter Claire Damaa shows her creations at the Bride Show.
The Lebanese TV presenter Claire Damaa shows her creations at the Bride Show.

ABU DHABI // Bridal dresses in the UAE aren't what they used to be. A weekend stroll through the Bride Show Abu Dhabi made it clear that a new type of wedding fashion is establishing itself. Some brides are bypassing yards of glitter in favour of simpler, more classically western designs and cuts, according to designers at the event at the National Exhibition Centre.

But the dresses still have Emirati colour and sparkle. And, according to an Iraqi designer, Hollywood is picking up on the Arab love of flair. As the UAE continues its massive transformation, young women are increasingly taking their cues from catwalks and malls instead of their mother's closets when they envision their dream dresses. Mireille Loughlin, the owner of the Dubai-based fashion house Arushi, has watched Emirati bridal fashion transform over the past 30 years.

"If this generation lives in stretch-cloth and jeans, you cannot expect them to wear what their mothers wore," she said. Emirati women will purchase between three and five dresses for their bridal festivities. The main dress worn at the most lavish party will typically be white, a custom adopted from the West at the time Ms Loughlin came to the UAE from France to design dresses for local clients three decades ago.

To create the patterns, she spent years attending weddings and speaking to local women about fashion. "No one now could experience what we experienced then," she said. "It was the best learning curve we could have had." The style of the dresses was dictated by the demands of the brides themselves. At first, a wedding dress would have been a simple garment with plain cloth to accommodate heavy gold necklaces and belts.

"The dresses were very intricate, full, full of work. They were very embroidered. At the time, we didn't know anything about embroidery," she said. Over time, she began incorporating western cuts to create a hybrid style. Her most popular dresses are purchased for pre-wedding henna parties. They incorporate bright oriental colours like green and red with intricate embroidery and long, dramatic sleeves. However, they are tailored around the waist and emphasise the bust cuts that are popular in Europe.

"Now, everyone is inspired by magazines and websites. Before, this was all done behind closed doors," she said. "Now we are inspired by the catwalks of Europe." Still, modern bridal dresses are not wholly western. They tend to be more colourful. They also sport more sparkle. "When we design, we still have to be conscious of culture," Ms Loughlin said. "Sometimes [brides] will go to the mall and buy Givenchy, Chanel, Dior and all that. Always, they find something missing."

Usually the missing element can be corrected with the application of additional Swarovski crystals, she explained. "That's why we spend a lot of time doing alterations of haute couture dresses." At the other end of the exhibition hall, Emirati and European women alike gathered around a more recent addition to the local bridal industry. Dressed in a floor-length white dress with intricate updo and chandelier earrings, the Iraqi designer Zeena Zaki showed potential brides' dresses in dusty rose and subtle turquoise, colours inspired by the fashions of the 1930s and 1940s.

"I just feel it is so feminine, so comfortable. Also, it's not so heavy," Ms Zaki said. "Crystal can be done and done well. [They are] beautiful, but only if you know where to put it." Her dresses mix classic western cuts with Arabic flair. It is a recipe that has helped her expand her operations to Dubai since opening her first UAE outlet in Sharjah in 2003. "Most of Hollywood are going now for light crystals. They are also wearing dresses from Arabic designers. When I started this eight years ago, I feel that the taste has changed a lot," she said.

Although the same bridal show where her designs are exhibited also has stalls that will rent elaborate, Dh150,000 (US$41,000) dresses with pounds of jewels sewn in, Ms Zaki said her job is to educate her customers as well as serve them. jgerson@thenational.ae