Despite unseasonably wet and windy weather, nothing dampened the spirits of the 400 VIP guests who gathered to see Michael Cinco’s first-ever show in Paris on Sunday.
The Dubai-based designer received a standing ovation as he sent 30 of his latest couture pieces and, notably, his first prêt-à-porter range, down the ramp at L’Orangerie Ephémère in Le Jardin des Tuileries.
“The whole experience is a dream come true,” says Cinco. “I cried a little before and after the show – the entire process has been such an emotional journey for me. I’m so very thankful for such a humbling opportunity.”
Cinco’s new line of more affordable pieces was rolled out in partnership with Couturissimo, a fashion website that allows shoppers to buy couture-inspired collections at ready-to-wear prices. The global launch, which coincided with the start of Paris Haute Couture Week, was an invitation-only event that also featured catwalk collections from Parisian brand On Aura Tout Vu and Indonesian trailblazer Sebastian Gunawan.
“The Asian Couture Federation approached me and said they were planning to create a platform that was more accessible for the mass market,” says Cinco. “I thought it was a great idea because I really believe fashion has to evolve. We need to do something to change where the couture industry currently is – and it’s a model that some ‘fashion insiders’ say isn’t working as well as it could be anymore.
“The reality is that the majority of women cannot afford to pay the huge amount required for a couture dress. Which means that we need to develop a market that allows all women to buy pieces that are very prêt-à-porter, but have a couture look and feel.”
Clients who commission Cinco designs – which can cost hundreds of thousands of dirhams – include celebrities such as Kylie Minogue, Mila Kunis, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, as well royals throughout the Middle East.
Cinco’s bespoke gowns are instantly recognisable for their ultra-feminine silhouettes, luxurious fabrics and hand-finished crystal embellishments. And although the DNA of his prêt-à-porter line remains intrinsically the same, there are some marked differences.
“The key objective with this collection was to make it ‘a lot less work’ than couture,” says Cinco. “It had to be ‘a huge amount less’. The ready-to-wear pieces will still, of course, always be inspired by my couture, but as the goal was to make it more affordable, that meant less beadwork and intricate detailing. These pieces also needed to be made more quickly than the couture pieces shown here in Paris, which took forever to create. The ones involving feathers took a minimum of six months, for example.”
As one of the UAE’s most revered couturiers, Cinco’s prêt-à-porter venture has the potential to galvanise a new generation of couture fans across the region and beyond. There’s also a chance that Cinco’s peers will follow his lead and create their own diffusion lines for Couturissimo; organisers say more collaborations will be announced in September.
Sitting front row at a marble bistro table at the Paris show was Cinco’s contemporary and long-time friend, Dubai-based designer Ezra Santos.
“I thought the show was really great – it was absolutely fantastic,” says the Filipino couturier.
“It was one way of truly showing what Asian designers can do and it’s amazing that we are infiltrating the Paris market. Will I be next? Well, maybe, let’s see [laughs].”
Ezra says that it is “very friendly competition and keeping work separate to personal time” that allows him, Cinco and Dubai’s other celebrated Filipino couturier, Furne One, to remain such close friends in a highly competitive market – sentiments that a teary Cinco echoed backstage immediately after the show.
“I’m so grateful and happy that most of my friends are here,” says Cinco. “To also see so many people here who flew in from Manila just to support me means a huge amount.”
Cinco’s love for fashion was first ignited as a child growing up on Samar Island in the Philippines where he developed a passion for classic Hollywood movies. “I pictured those fabulous heroines and imagined dressing them up in my creations. I chased after those visions ever since,” he says.
In 1997 he moved to Dubai and founded his eponymous label in 2003, quickly earning himself a reputation for ethereal, aspirational couture.
“Moving to the Middle East was a big leap for me – the region is a haven of haute couture,” he recalls. “In my first job in Dubai, I reinvented the image of a slightly staid fashion house. Today, it’s great to know that the elite fashionistas of the UAE recognise my passion for fashion.”
Cinco’s foray with Couturissimo – providing luxe for a little less – is the latest in a long list of ambitions realised for the designer – not least because of where his European debut took place.
“When I was first asked to be involved with this project I said yes, but we have to launch in Paris. Because it was 15 years ago when I was walking through Le Jardin des Tuileries when I first thought to myself, ‘one day I’m going to have a show here’. I completely fell in love with the place – I have fulfilled a very big dream.”
• Paris Haute Couture Week ends on Saturday, July 9