When it launched in April 2013, Fashion Forward Dubai aimed to become the definitive fashion platform for the region. It brings together big-name designers, emerging talent, industry experts, media and influencers for an extended weekend of runway shows, panel discussions and after-parties.
The first six seasons were held at Madinat Jumeirah, after which the event moved to Dubai Design District. Season five, for instance, was held at brunch spot Frioul, complete with Ibizan DJ Pippi and water served in bottles designed by Kenzo for Evian.
April 2015 also marked the opening of The Garden, a retail space for accessories and apparel designers. At the next season, in October 2015, The Showcase was launched – a pop-up shop for Middle Eastern jewellery and accessories brands to display their wares.
In 2016, FFWD shifted proceedings to D3, where it has remained since. That August, FFWD teamed up with Dubai Design Fashion Council on a programme called Epic, to support emerging local labels through mentoring, workshops and sponsorship, plus an opportunity to display their work at a pop-up in Galleries Lafayette. One of the designers, Orchid Ganji, went on to showcase her Orkalia collection during Paris Fashion Week.
In fact, a host of Middle Eastern designers can credit FFWD as having catapulted them into the spotlight – think Madiyah Al Sharqi, Hessa Al Falasi, Rula Galayini, Arwa Al Banawi and Lama Jouni (who presented her autumn / winter 2017 collection at London Fashion Week). Veteran UAE designers Michael Cinco, Amato’s Furne One and Hussein Bazaza, meanwhile, are regular supporters of the event.
FFWD also hosts talks and panel discussions, inviting bigwigs from the industry to share their expertise. Some speakers who have visited in the past include: designer Mary Katrantzou, critic Godfrey Deeny, Daniel Coutinho, chief executive of Nowness at LVMH, and Scott Schuman aka The Sartorialist.
In March 2017, following the international popularity of the See Now, Buy Now shopping format, FFWD included a talk on that format's success and even gave visitors the option to buy pieces from the label Emperor immediately.
Cut to its latest iteration taking place next week, which is centred on a similar theme. What this means is that the clothes, shoes and accessories that will be displayed at the upcoming shows will be available for purchase instantly. Visitors will have access to a retail pop-up, while online shoppers from all over the world can make their purchases digitally at the same time.
"The conduit to immediate and actual consumer sales has been the missing link across global fashion platforms," says Bong Guerrero, chief executive and co-founder of FFWD. "All our show offerings are now entirely shoppable from a fashion buyer's mobile phone."
The event has not been without controversy. Until its sixth season, one major criticism was that the same, rather small pool of regional designers were always picked to showcase their collections (that changed over the next few editions, though).
Then, last year, the event absented itself from the calendar altogether. The official reason cited by organisers was “to ensure that future editions are sustainable and address the needs of a rapidly evolving industry”, although regular attendees suggest the high-profile shine of its early years was starting to dull.
Whatever the reason for its hiatus, FFWD is back for its 11th season, which will run from Wednesday, October 30, to Saturday, November 2, at the Design Quarter in D3. This year we'll see runway collections from Arwa Al Banawi, Amato, Behnoode, Hass Idriss, Michael Cinco, Mrs Keepa, Roni Helou and Tanya Skaff among others.