With malls and stores closed and UAE residents confined to their homes to stop the spread of Covid-19, the present uncertainty could spell bad news for small brands. So now, more than ever, is the time to focus on supporting home-grown talent. Not only will it help secure their future, but these are great labels well-deserving your attention.
Here are our 10 favourite regional designers for you to champion in 2020.
Madiyah Al Sharqi (UAE)
Launched in Fujairah in 2012 as a dressy evening brand, this label has now expanded into more relaxed daywear that still retains the almost tubular cut it is best known for. Favouring lines that skim rather than cling, it has mastered combining high femininity with an almost boxy silhouette, often in high-sheen fabrics for a luxe feel. Known for a recurring palette of pastels, it can veer into icy greens and warm autumnal reds, but pretty ice cream shades are never far away. One in particular, a lemon-yellow tiered off-the-shoulder dress, is a must-have for summer.
When not cropping up on Beyonce’s Instagram page, L’Afshar is earning a devoted following for its boxy clutches and bags. Prim, cute and extremely wearable, each piece's inspiration actually starts with the shapes and textures seen in nature that designer Lillian Afshar then translates into tiny bags moulded in blush pink acrylic, or sharply linear mirrored rectangular clutches. Although only founded in 2014, it is already sold on big online platforms like Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi.
Kristina Fidelskaya (UAE)
Regularly showing at Paris Fashion Week, this house is all about luxe tailoring, for that expensive New York feel. Although only launched in 2014, the brand already has a well-earned reputation for attention to detail and a focus on material and cut, yet still maintaining a relaxed, almost sanguine attitude. The clean lines and unfussy elegance allows the brand to explore volume and textures, such floor-length fringing or oversized, buttery soft coats.
Arwa Al Banawi (Saudi Arabia)
Saudi-born Al Banawi likes to keep a reminder of her roots in her womenswear collection, which is best described as suiting meets streetwear. Sharply tailored jackets appear next to jersey column dresses, with sassy body-con dresses thrown into the mix for fun. Unafraid of bold colour, either as a full look or as a contrasting element, this label is upbeat and youthful, while pieces emblazoned with slogans such as “From the Kingdom” or “The Saudi Dream” speak of a broader, feminist theme.
Hussein Bazaza (Lebanon)
Bazaza didn’t so much arrive as explode into fashion in 2012, with his first collection of beautifully cut womenswear. Directional and daring, it earned the designer numerous awards over the next few years, not to mention countless devoted fans. Bazaza’s greatest asset is tailoring, meaning that a fitted mid-calf dress becomes a complex layering of pleated suiting over a lace shift, just as a simple column dress is transformed into a fluid gown, with sleeves chopped to the exact length to create visual tension. Now embracing ever more street influences (and its own online store), this is definitely a label to keep an eye on.
BLSSD (UAE and Lebanon)
What started in 2015 as a way to raise funds for a cancer survivor group set up the year before (called Blessed) has now morphed into a cutting-edge streetwear label. Using calligraphy in bold, contemporary ways and oversized, roomy cuts, the clothes are purposely cut to hang away from the body, often creating strong shapes in the process. For spring / summer 2020, the designer behind it, Lama Riachi – herself a cancer survivor – took the label to Paris Fashion Week, to bring her unique vision to a wider audience.
Taller Marmo (UAE)
Based in the UAE, this daring young label was set up by Italian Riccardo Audisio and Argentinian Yago Goicoechea in 2013, and won the regional round of the International Woolmark Prize just two years later. With a desire to mix “European elegance with Middle Eastern charm”, the brand comprises modern tailoring upscaled with fringing and feathers and daring colour combinations, aimed at any woman who is looking for irreverent touches to fold into her working wardrobe.
Hindamme (Saudi Arabia)
Though only on its fourth season, this small name offers largely unisex pieces, but is building more men’s and women's pieces with each collection. Deeply influenced by the arts and culture, Saudi designer Mohammed Khoja gave us bomber jackets embroidered with the date that women were allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, (June 24, 2018, in case you had forgotten) and for the label's latest outing he has taken inspiration from the kingdom's Nabatean ruins of Al Ula. Offering deceptively simple pieces such as recently added dresses or patterned T-shirts with glossy fringing, dense velvets and beautifully embroidered details, these are for the wearer, not the viewer.
Marina Qureshi (UAE)
With a knack for weaving urbane updates through a loose-fitting silhouette, Qureshi is adept at mixing playfulness and refinement. A graduate of Central St Martins fashion school in the UK, Qureshi also worked for Alexander McQueen before opening her own label in the Emirates in 2012. The label offers pieces that are fluid enough to wear for day, and dressy enough to work for night; think jumpsuits made with creamy satin and sequinned harem-cut trousers, and delicious pastel shades swirled over sequin-trimmed dresses.
I Am Mai (UAE)
A conceptual brand founded in 2014 by Emirati Mai Albudoor with the aim of “juxtaposing art and minimalism” into modest fashion, six years on it has become the go-to for unique, almost sculptural pieces. Pushing traditional clothing cuts to a rather beautiful extreme, this name seems to fold cloth around the body, but always in an airy manner. Exaggerated dress shapes balloon out from the body, yet sit lightly enough to be everyday wear, just as more fitted pieces are then layered with tabards, to give a tailored-yet-covered feel. Clever, clean and intriguing, this dynamic label is worth keeping an eye on.