Russian fashion designer Katya Kovtunovich is a star on the rise, whose designs are attracting attention from the region's movers and shakers and beyond.
“There are so many ladies that I really admire and represent the UAE, including Reem Al Hashemi [a UAE Minister of State] and Mona Al Marri [director general of the Government of Dubai Media Office],” she says.
“I felt incredibly proud when Ohood Khalfan Al Roumi, the UAE’s Minister of State for Happiness, approached me last year wanting a piece to wear for her meetings abroad. This is my dream come true – my vision.”
Dubai-based Kovtunovich’s trademark designs are instantly recognisable for their sadu – the traditional Bedouin fabric commonly associated with majlis furnishings – trims and detailing. She discovered the geometric weave while exploring the textile shops in Satwa and it has been at the heart of her self-titled label since its launch in 2012.
Born on the Russian island of Sakhalin, Kovtunovich worked as a fashion journalist for titles including Vogue before founding her company.
Alongside her main line of sadu tunics and dresses, she designs beachwear, evening wear and seasonal capsule collections.
“The opportunities I’ve had here are unlike anywhere else in the world,” she says. “No other place supports start-ups in this way – that’s why I’ll be forever grateful to the UAE and act as an ambassador. I’ve been shown nothing but incredible respect, kindness and support at every step, which has been so empowering.”
The profile of Kovtunovich’s label has risen internationally in the past couple of years. Her pieces are not only on sale in select regional boutiques, but they can also now be found in the global playgrounds of the rich and famous, from Ibiza and the Caribbean island of St Barts to Monaco. Her creations have been worn by a diverse list of high-profile clients, including Princess Charlene of Monaco, Lady Gaga and MBC TV presenter Joelle Mardinian. Most recently, Lindsay Lohan donned her latest range of baby-doll beach attire while holidaying in the South of France.
“I was meeting with one of my good clients there, who wanted to buy some dresses for herself, and one for Lindsay,” says Kovtunovich. “From what I saw in the photos, Lindsay wore nearly all of the dresses during her trip, which was great. It’s wonderful when any woman enjoys wearing my clothes – and with celebrities it’s important, because you know they have unlimited pieces to choose from.”
Another keen supporter of Kovtunovich’s brand is Veronica Berti, the wife of singer Andrea Bocelli. Berti and her daughter, Virginia, have been seen wearing the designer’s dresses since receiving them in April, when Bocelli performed in Abu Dhabi. Kovtunovich even went on a dune safari with the Italian family during their visit.
“They asked me to show them the desert,” she says. “So I introduced them to some of my Emirati friends in Abu Dhabi. We all ended up spending four hours in our desert camp, just talking, eating dates and drinking coffee.
“Andrea and his team kept messaging me afterwards saying they had one of the best evenings of their lives.
“Andrea loved the silence of the desert, and on the way back he asked to stop the cars and switch off the engines. We were all there in complete silence and darkness – it was beautiful.”
As a passionate proponent of using traditional fabrics to clothe confident women at home and abroad, Kovtunovich was invited to Milan last year to be part of Dubai’s Expo 2020 pavilion. It was acknowledgement of her cultural-commercial endeavours – and a far cry from the early days when her bold designs raised regional eyebrows.
“At the beginning, people were very cautious and their first reaction was to laugh,” she says. “My Instagram also had comments in Arabic from people saying: ‘Now I know what to do with our tent at the end of the season’.
“It made me laugh too – but I knew that what I was introducing was something very different and it would take time to be appreciated.
“Today, my favourite hashtag is #SadouGoesGlobal and I want my designs with sadu to become something of a Dubai and UAE trademark – a souvenir that visitors can take back to their countries and wear with pride.
“Sadu is my personal passion – it’s my soul – it’s something I really believe in.”