Dubai’s hopes of establishing itself as a creative and commercial hub came one step closer with the founding of the Dubai Design & Fashion Council last summer. By royal decree, some of the industry’s sharpest minds have been brought together to set the city on a course to domestic success and international competitiveness. Nez Gebreel, the new chief executive of DDFC, founded London’s Noon Art Gallery in London and Dubai and has worked with the likes of Amnesty International, David and Victoria Beckham and Roland Mouret. Here she shares the ambitions of the entity and explains why managing expectations is the biggest challenge ahead.
What’s on the council’s to-do list this year?
Some key initiatives like the Dubai School of Design. I have 15 board members, the best in the business, and I’ve split them into subcommittees around key initiatives. For example, Ali Jaber, Group TV Director of MBC is the leader of the school, which we’re looking to open in 2016. We’re also looking to develop an incubator, a facility encompassing all the mentorships, internships and whatever else the community needs for us to support them. This will be run by Iyad Malas, chief executive of MAF Holding.
Will the incubator also include start-up funds for emerging designers, access to angel investors etc?
We’re reaching out to the design community and asking them what they need. As well as funding, a lot of it is around education. Many designers have an amazing product, they’ve been running their business for years and they want to go to the next level aren’t sure how. When you ask for their business plan, they often don’t have one. So it can be as basic as that need.
The list of board members doesn’t include any of the UAE’s successful and best-established designers. Is there no intention to tap their expertise?
There is, absolutely. I’ve had so many people say they’ll support us in the next steps and in taking the creative industry to the next level. We’re engaging with all the community.
You’ve expressed an intention to resurrect Dubai Fashion Week. When might that happen and will it dovetail with events like Fashion Forward?
Well yes, one of the sub-committees is around Dubai Fashion Week. But what does that actually mean? What is it that Dubai needs? Is it an event just for people based in Dubai or the region? Or should it also take care of markets that are important like China, South Asia, Russia and Africa? So, I’m working in a subcommittee on that matter with Patrick Chalhoub, chief executive of Chalhoub Group, and we’re devising a strategy that we’ll put to a vote in our next board meeting. I’m talking to the likes of FFWD and Vogue Dubai Fashion Experience about how everything could fit together. A fashion week is all about pushing the design talent so we need to be confident that they’re all ready to go. There are many that are but there are also many who need our guidance. I also think Dubai Fashion Week - or whatever we decide to call it – will also have a separate trade section, something consumer-led too and lots of activations.
When do you foresee Dubai being able to legitimately call itself a ‘fashion and design capital’?
I believe in the next five years. There’s a tremendous amount of energy for what we’re doing and the right people have come on board to build the framework. And it’s not just about the consolidation of bigger brands coming into Dubai, our goal is really develop and nurture, to have a brand from here that goes internationally too.
What’s the biggest speed bump in the road?
People’s expectations! Wanting things to happen yesterday. We have to do things in the right way at the right time and when you communicate that properly to people, they tend to understand it.
You began your career in human rights, what prompted the change of direction?
When I was working for Amnesty International, I met talent manager and TV producer Simon Fuller. I learned from him how creative industries could succeed commercially. I learned how to work on complicated, multilevel platform projects, dealing with all different types of people. I love talent and always feel energised when I’m around it. I also love sharing what I’ve learned and feel very honoured to be working in this role for Dubai now.
You’re credited with being part of the team that helped launch Victoria Beckham’s fashion empire. Having known it in its nascent form and looking at it today, are you surprised by its rapid success?
I always believed in Victoria. We built around her belief and her vision and she always had a keen eye for the consumer. She knew exactly what a woman wanted, how a garment should feel and look. She really has a passion for it and that drove her to understand and learn about the industry before she did her first line.
Self-description: Straightforward, honest and driven
Never without: Vintage engagement ring and a silver-gold wedding band blended by an Algerian designer
Treasured item: Grandmother’s handkerchief
Dream design era: Art deco, clean lines but decadent
Designer watchlist: Nadine Kanso, Nathalie Trad