Emirati ready-to-wear and couture designers are soaring — in numbers, creativity and popularity. Rebecca McLaughlin-Duane talks to 10 of the most promising talents about their work, the evolution of the abaya, and their growing expatriate clientele.
Sheikha Madiyah Al Sharqi
Madiyah Al Sharqi is the daughter of the Ruler of Fujairah and an award-winning designer whose creations have been worn by celebrities including Nicole Richie and Kris Jenner. Her latest collection is reminiscent of the 1970s, featuring the iconic silhouettes of the era in shades of mint, peach and ivory.
What has been the biggest challenge your brand has faced since it launched?
The only challenge I see in the industry is the production phase. We don’t have enough companies, nor do we have enough diversity in the fabrics, so we are forced to travel to Europe to import the material we need and produce pieces abroad.
Do you think the UAE is on track to becoming a regional fashion hub?
I am positively surprised with all the happenings in Dubai. The region has plenty of diverse up-and-coming emerging talent. As designers, we're starting to benefit gradually from the support systems surrounding us, such as different fashion houses, schools and workshops, etc. The media also plays a huge role in promoting the designers' pieces and helps put them on a pedestal for the world to see. With pop-up activations such as d3 (Dubai Design District), and fashion platforms for emerging designers such as Fashion Forward, I see Dubai working more and more to provide for its talent. And it's just getting started. As for where I would like to be in the coming years, I'd like to share my work with the rest of the world and show the talent that lies here in the Middle East.
• Visit www.madiyahalsharqi.com
Mona Al Mutawa, Mak Dubai
For budding designers, the UAE market can be tough one to crack, as Mona Al Mutawa discovered. While women from the region love her designs, they don’t necessarily want to share news of where they found their new abayas and jalabiyas with their social-network friends.
“Ladies replacing pieces regularly is, of course, positive for me as I’ll always have demand,” says Al Mutawa. “Then again, the challenge is finding new customers. Clients want to be seen wearing different designers at events, so they won’t share the names of the brands they are wearing. That’s very challenging for us. However, because they are constantly looking for new designers, it kind of balances out.”
Since graduating more than four years ago, Al Mutawa has not ceased in her endeavours to make her brand — established in 2009 — a well-rounded one.
“After my bachelor’s degree, I did design courses until last year,” she says. “In 2010 I had my own store, which is now called MAK Dubai.
“I started off just doing abayas but expanded to jalabiyas and kaftans because I saw a demand. I also wanted to explore more with colour and there were limited pieces in the market for modern but modest apparel.”
• Mak Dubai, Shop 28, Al Wasl District, Deira, Dubai. Call 04 399 0031
Maysson Al Otaiba, Maysson
Maysson Al Otaiba’s earliest memories involved her carrying around a sketch book and pen. A childhood trip to the United Kingdom also served to cement her ambitions to one day work in its fashion capital and establish a label.
“During a family trip to London I became enamoured with the city, the vibrancy and range of styles,” she says. “I became determined to attend the London College of Fashion and after interning at Italian luxury house Buccellati and Diane von Furstenberg, I wanted to create a small fashion label that explored my upbringing: where East meets West.”
Al Otaiba’s current womenswear collection has gold coin-like disc embellishments — inspired by traditional Emirati headpieces and necklaces.
“I had the elegant Emirati woman in mind when I designed this trans-seasonal wardrobe,” she says. “It’s classic melded with modern. When I’m back in the UAE, I often work with private clients to create simple and classic gowns that embrace a bit of that old-school aesthetic.”
• Global shipping from www.maysson.com with childrenswear available in Abu Dhabi. For outlets and order enquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Arwa Bait El Mal, Juri Fashion
Times and tastes are changing fast, says Arwa Bait El Mal. In just a few years her label, Juri Fashion, has undergone a transformation, as have cuts, colours and clients.
“In previous years, the abaya was typically black and quite simple,” she says. “It’s changed dramatically, with many colours and shades coming in — as well as lace.
“Abayas with no colour are becoming more popular, too — all beige, all white, for example. That’s really great news for my label as I can appeal to a broader range of people.”
El Mal caters for clients wanting high-impact velvet capes and head-turning abayas embellished with semi-precious stones. But her clients aren’t exclusive to the region.
“These days, my customers are increasingly non-Muslim, non- hijab clients,” she says. “They might buy my outfits for local parties or just to wear with jeans for a casual look. They love the long-jacket look and the jalabiyas.
“In Dubai, abayas are worn by everyone now, and my customers for them come from countries including Kazakhstan, Iraq, India, Algeria and, of course, the UAE.”
• For more information, visit www.jurifashion.com
Ayten Al Khayat, Raw by Ayten
A brand that stands apart for its individuality is Raw, spearheaded by Emirati designer Ayten Al Khayat. Natural fibres are the DNA of the brand with collections made up of raw linens, silks and cashmere. The look and feel is one of paired-down elegance with Al Khayat designing pieces that fit in with her own busy lifestyle. Abayas are minimalist, overlaid with capes of emerald green, ice blue and pastel pink. Tunics are splashed with abstract monochrome prints, while jalabiyas wrap and drape like luxuriously oversized coats.
A recent collaboration saw Al Khayat team up with high-end French ready-to-wear label Demure, which served to widen the appeal of the brand abroad. The spring-summer 2016 collection Demure showcased, called Desert Light, was awash with cool, calming tones of midnight blue, silver-white and sandy gold.
Latifa Al Gurg, Twisted Roots
Latifa Al Gurg’s label is a nod to her Emirati-Danish origins. Having spotted a gap in the market, the designer developed a range of practical travelwear aimed at a regional and international clientele. Her latest line of silk and knit separates, The Green Tea collection, is an ode to China.
“There are Ming blues, herbal greens, rustic browns, creamy whites and a deep turquoise.” she says. “I was particularly inspired by the lotus flower and this has carried through in some tops and even a custom print.”
Al Gurg is proud to be part of an emerging group of designers who are forging a career for themselves in a competitive market.
"Emirati designers have a unique voice that addresses their unique wants and needs," she says. "This has led to the emergence of more unique brands that need support in the market that, in turn, has led to new initiatives that provide this support, such as the Dubai Design and Fashion Council, which is refreshing and exciting."
• Visit Twisted Roots at Warehouse 20, Umm Suqeim Road, Al Quoz 3 Industrial District, Dubai. Call 04 321 6165 or visit www.twistedroots.ae
Yasmin Al Mulla, YNM
Less is most definitely more for Emirati designer Yasmin Al Mulla when it comes to designing clothes.
“We’re an online store that specialises in contemporary ready-to-wear garments that are created under the banner of simple, timeless elegance,” she says. “It’s about designing outfits that can be worn 20 years from now. Classic cuts and modern detailing with rich, luxurious fabrics.”
Al Mulla’s spring summer collection is called Foliage, and the colour palette of greens — from peppermint to smoky sage, accented with powder pinks — reflects the name.
Al Mulla says it is not enough to start a fashion label on a whim, however gifted you might be — laying the proper groundwork is all-important.
“Designing is not just about talent, it’s about education and you must have a good basis,” she says. “I, for example, studied international relations and then went on to get fashion certificates from London College of Fashion.
“I haven’t stopped reading and learning since.”
• Accessories available at s*uce boutiques. For private appointments and orders, visit @YasminAlMulla on Twitter
Huda Al Nuaimi, Huda Al Nuaimi
Emirati designer Huda Al Nuaimi has taken the fashion scene by storm in recent years.
“When I started, I was very experimental,” she says. “I pushed boundaries, explored different cuts, brought in shoulder pads and shortened hemlines.
“We, as women in the region, have developed and the way we dress represents us. So, the abaya naturally represents the women we are today.”
Al Nuaimi’s brand has an eclectic international feel, with a spring/summer collection that includes olive pencil skirts, crisp white culottes and cranberry drop-shoulder kimonos.
“Comparing the abayas of six years ago to now, we’ve become much more contemporary,” she says. “There used to be crystals everywhere and the shapes were A-line. I changed my silhouettes and now we’re going for more of a streamlined overall look. The jacket, the dress, the shayla — it’s one complete look that works in Dubai or anywhere in the world, and still look fashionable.”
Like many modern home-grown designers, Al Nuaimi’s brand has soaring cross-cultural appeal.
“I cater to two markets now,” she says, “because many pieces look like modern, versatile overcoats, for example. Europeans love them.”
• Visit www.hudaalnuaimi.ae
Amira Salim, Am1ra
Esmod graduate Amira Salim has her sights set on the big time.
“It would be great to take the abaya far and wide and see it worn in Hollywood one day,” she says. “My cuts are sharp and I mix a lot of fabrics, such as leathers with chiffon. I really love art so my designs have a lot of detail, whether it’s artwork or embroidery.”
Salim’s social-media reach is impressive for a burgeoning designer — her Instagram page has 11,000 followers. The young Emirati appears to be designing for the masses, successfully spanning the style spectrum of conservativewear and sports-luxe.
“I completed courses on designing abayas and Islamic wear,” she says. “I decided to make it more relevant and modern — considering everyone is wearing abayas here in the UAE.”
The considerations and guidelines when sketching modestwear, says Salim, are much simpler than people might presume.
“There needs to be respect for the culture,” she says. “And the most important thing is to be fully covered and to not have the abaya too tight to the body. The sleeves must also be long and loose — just like the overall silhouette.”
• For more information and to view the Am1ra range, check out a1.am1ra on Instagram
Badour Khoory, Designer Empire
A shared passion for a certain aesthetic motivated Badour Khoory and co-partner Lamia Khan to establish their fashion label Designer Empire.
“We were taking classes in visual communications and were also very into art,” says Khoory. “We loved designing — and shopping, too — so one day we decided to start a fashion line.”
The brand is making a name for itself with striking abayas, jalabiyas and kaftans that pay homage to their favourite masters.
“Personally, I love Degas, Picasso and Dalí,” says Khoory. “We make sure to integrate art into our dresses and we also try to involve European elements into the Arabic designs. There’s so little of that around today. From the materials, embellishments, pearls, even the types of threads, etc.”
After testing the market at a regional trade show, the duo have now opened their first boutique in the UAE.
“The first time we showed our pieces at an exhibition we practically sold out,” says Khoory “That’s really how we came to be where we are now.”
• Visit Designer Empire in Dubai's Village Mall, 4a Street, Jumeirah 1. For appointments and orders call 050 996 5065 or email email@example.com