Mumbai has designs on the UAE
As fashion week drew to a close in Mumbai, with ruffles, feathers and wings transforming the catwalk into a fairytale scene, business was brisk behind the smoke screens.
And among those making the biggest deals were buyers from the UAE and throughout the Middle East, participants said, with the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) summer and resort collections the main attraction.
"They are pretty clued in to what the market wants," Marc Robinson, one of the directors of LFW and a founder of Dubai Fashion Week, said of Middle Eastern buyers.
Of 185 buyers who were present this year, 12 per cent were from the Middle East.
Mr Robinson said the UAE was a niche market that did not conform to markets worldwide.
"There is no autumn or winter. So there is more interest in the spring, summer collection," he said.
He added that buyers usually looked for resort lines, which were easier to market because of their lightness and the unfussy feel of the designs. At the other extreme, buyers sought heavily embellished luxury garments for the wedding market.
"There is such an eclectic mix of designers," he said. "They have a great database in terms of the customer. It's pretty interesting because there is just a handful of designers who live there, but I don't see them showing in the markets in India because they are already bought up by buyers over there in the Middle East before they can even show a collection. They cater to a niche market. There is this database they call up and they know exactly what the market needs, in terms of demand and supply."
In the UAE, fashion seemed to be moving out of the traditional and into the contemporary, buyers said. Alongside established designers were emerging names, accessory designers and a group called "Gennext" who debuted their first collections this week.
Khalid Mekkawi, the owner of Ginger and Lace in Dubai, who was at this year's LFW, was looking for something not readily available at home. He focused on the newer talents and their handiwork using traditional Indian textiles to create contemporary western wear.
He said he came back with garments from designers including Anna Liza Ganguly and Anita Walia, Parvesh Jai, Pallavi Mohan and Amit Gupta. He stocked only one established designer, Anita Dongre.
For Mr Robinson, there was little difference between the emerging and the Gennext category, who showed their collections for the first time. But he said fashion week was set up to give new talent a venue.
"They bring a breath of fresh air," Mr Robinson said. "They've got to be very, very new. They have to show for the first time but they are not burdened and aren't afraid to take risks. They are more experimental and are ready to deliver stuff that is pretty cutting edge. They are trying to find themselves and trying to find new markets at the same time." While LFW is in its second decade, Dubai Fashion Week has been around only since 2007. Mr Robinson, who followed up his successful modelling career to run an event management company, said that once he started directing fashion shows, it brought him to Dubai a lot, where he noticed "a lot of trade taking place".
"This is the hub of fashion for retail brands. But the Indian market was similar to the Dubai market because they were not streamlined. So I thought, 'Why not do one here and get it to work here so we can understand the business of fashion here?' It was ideal for the Dubai fashion scene."
LFW and Dubai Fashion Week follow the same format as fashion weeks around the world, from New York to Paris, with shows starting in the afternoon.
"People were not used to it" in Dubai, Mr Robinson said. "It was a mindset and it was difficult at first to get them to come to see it. It needed time for people to get it.
"A lot of these buyers from Dubai and the Middle East regularly fly to Sao Paolo, Mumbai, Delhi, Milan, but they were far and few between. But soon they too started coming out.
"Now we are working to create a Gennext section with Dubai, to showcase emerging designers from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. They have been reluctant to come out. It is our next challenge."