Saddle up in style

Dubai entrepreneur Jelena bin Drai certainly knows her horses.

“I attend almost every polo match here because my husband plays regularly with his brothers,” says the Serbian-born founder and creative director of her eponymous label, Jelena bin Drai.

“The most important style tip I could give ladies is to be respectfully dressed. I don’t like to see them wearing really short dresses. It’s just not culturally appropriate. It’s not the correct dress code for the races either, especially the Dubai World Cup. Ladies should be dressed as ladies, after all, they aren’t going to a nightclub,” she says.

Bin Drai’s brand runs the gamut from prêt-a-porter separates to show-stopping couture, and her latest collection will debut at Fashion Forward in Dubai next week. Clothing aside, bin Drai’s race-wear advice also extends to a secret weapon for protecting fancy footwear.

“For ladies, one of the biggest problems is that so many of these events take place on grass.” she says. “So, what I do is take a pair of plastic heel discs with me to stop me sinking. I have at least ten pairs and keep them stored in all my handbags. Without them, ladies will also feel it in their calf muscles the next day.”

Walking expertly in heels is something bin Drai knows a lot about, having started out as a professional model – a career that earned her the title of Miss Yugoslavia in 1998. She moved to the UAE in 2001 and continues to build upon her business interests, which include her burgeoning fashion brand.

Here are four winning looks for race day courtesty of Bin Drai and her designer wardrobe.


“This emerald kaftan-kimono is made from silk, chiffon and lace. The aim here was to design something traditional but also keep it quite modern with its touches. It’s comfortable, versatile and suitable for many occasions – very similar to the collections we bring out for Ramadan and Eid, for example. For Arab ladies attending the Dubai World Cup, who prefer to wear conservative pieces like abayas and kaftans, I think this would work. The horse races are for everybody, wearing every style – except maybe those ladies revealing too much and wearing designs that are much too short.”

2. RED HOT FAVOURITE (see photo)

“This is a red and black number from my ready-to-wear autumn/winter 2016/17 collection. I’ll be showing it at Fashion Forward on 31 March – so this is something of a sneak preview. Features that I like are the see-through net aspects of the top, yet it is not too revealing and remains very elegant and modest. Both the top and bottom are laser-cut and red is trending right now, you’ll see it everywhere. My hat is one I bought from a high-street store years ago and I think it really works. I am a big fan of combining high-end pieces with not-so-expensive pieces. For example, here I’ve also accessorised with a Christian Dior bag, some Chopard earrings and a pair of Christian Louboutin pumps I own.”

3. TRENDSETTER (see photo)

“Here I wanted to show people that you really can mix high street with couture and you don’t have to wear a dress to the races. This top is from my most recent 2016 couture collection and it was shown on the runway with trousers. For the races, I mixed things up by pairing it with smart leggings. Some people are against leggings, others are pro. Personally, I don’t think we need be so strict and conformist about things. Fashion borders are constantly moving and everyone should have the freedom to express themselves as they wish. There’s no one particular direction we have to follow, as perhaps it was in the 1940s, 1950s or even 1960s. Today’s look isn’t such a recognisable or definable one. Today’s look takes influences from every era, 1920s to 1970s – it’s all back as you can see on international catwalks. As long as you feel great and your clothes are appropriate for the occasion, then go ahead and combine styles. I accessorised this look with a Dolce & Gabbana bag, a Cartier watch and, again, Louboutin shoes.”

4. CLEAR WINNER (see photo)

“In my opinion, this is a very typical look for horse races. Many would expect a skirt, but I decided to settle for loose trousers – they are just as refined and elegant. At first sight, the outfit gives the illusion of looking like a long skirt anyhow. These trousers have been one our best-selling items, so I thought I’d integrate them into a Dubai World Cup outfit. The accessories I chose aren’t necessarily traditional either, and I didn’t want a fascinator or conventional hat with this look – instead I went for a Trilby with frayed brim. So, while the white of the outfit is typical, the styling isn’t – it’s an interesting look. I kept things simple with the rest of the accessories, with a clutch from Chopard, a fine bracelet and stud earrings.”