UAE designers showcased in pop-up by top London store

The Bond Street department store Fenwick is hosting a pop-up store showcasing the work of 10 Emirates-based designers. And it’s all for the advancement of women

Stepping out in IAMMAI, one of the brands taking part in the Fenwick pop up Courtesy Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council
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British retailer Fenwick has long been a proponent of new ideas. In the late 1800s, John James Fenwick became an early adopter of what was, at the time, a decidedly French concept: the department store. He travelled to Paris and was inspired by goings-on at Le Bon Marché, widely regarded as the world's first-ever department store. He promptly brought the business model back to England.

Fenwick's outward-looking spirit is being reiterated today, with the launch of a unique in-store pop-up in the brand's Bond Street store, presenting the work of 10 UAE-based creatives. The initiative is being spearheaded by the Sharjah-headquartered Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, which is part of the NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, and was launched specifically to raise awareness of designers and artisans in the UAE.

The organisation's mission is to develop an "internationally recognised presence and sustainable future for those practising both modern and traditional crafts"; there could hardly be a better platform than a 126-year-old department store in one of the swankiest pockets of London.

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"Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council aims to empower women by developing new market opportunities and sectors for crafts, and reviving the skills and cultural heritage of the UAE," Reem BinKaram, director of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, explains. "The council works to help its members create a fresh, contemporary narrative."

For the pop-up, fashion, jewellery and home accessories by 10 designers are on sale for a two-month period.Dedicated displays and product placements in the store's windows will also go a long way in promoting the UAE's creative know-how to Mayfair's well-heeled shoppers.

"London is one of the global fashion capitals and, as such, is an important market to build recognition and the credibility of UAE-based designers, enabling our talent to showcase their skills on an international stage, and reach a new audience," says BinKaram.

The pop-up is the latest in a long line of tie-ups that Irthi has entered into with British entities. One of the first was a collection of handbags created in partnership with leather goods specialist Asprey London, called One Stitch at a Time, which featured traditional Emirati talli embroidery.

Additionally, Irthi has an ongoing collaboration with the UK Crafts Council to deliver a series of workshops in Sharjah; and has teamed up with the London College of Fashion for its Azyame Fashion Entrepreneurs Programme, which offers Emirati fashion designers a one-year mentorship programme.

Distinictive gold designs by Alia bin Omair Jewellery Courtesy Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council
Distinictive gold designs by Alia bin Omair Jewellery Courtesy Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council

Items on offer as part of the pop-up include jewellery by Alia bin Omair, who has a predilection for 18K gold, presenting it almost unworked, as if has been taken back to its most basic form – an idea that is reinforced by the names of her pieces: Nuggets, Resin, and Flakes.

There is clothing by Align, a womenswear brand helmed by Emirati designers Sara Al Mahmoud and Asma Khoory, and by Palestinian designer Faissal El-Malak, who grew up between the GCC and Canada, and returned to Dubai in 2014. His autumn/winter 2017 collection, Morphology, plays with the idea of "non-gendered forms", offering menswear that is unashamedly colourful and dotted with embellishment, while women are adorned in overtly tailored pieces characterised by exaggerated lines and unexpected volume. The designer has incorporated handwoven fabrics from Yemen, and cotton and linen from Egypt, into the collection.

There is also jewellery by Emirati designer Amal Haliq, who creates earrings spotted with topaz, tourmalines and rose quartz, as well as chunky, colourful, vintage-looking rings and necklaces.

Also on show are more established names and fashion labels such as Madiyah Al Sharqi, Latifa Al Gurg's Twisted Roots and Zayan Ghandour of Zayan the Label and S*uce fame. Sheikha Hind bint Majed Al Qasimi, of Designed by Hind, will present her unique, UAE-inspired porcelain tableware creations.

Delicate matte porcelain tableware by Designed by Hind Courtesy Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council
Delicate matte porcelain tableware by Designed by Hind Courtesy Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council

The brands are united in the fact that they do not have stockists in the UK. "This requirement was made so that the council would be opening up a new market for them in the truest sense," says BinKaram.

To select the featured designers, Irthi initially looked to the Azyame Fashion Entrepreneurs Programme and chose five designers who displayed particular potential. For the remaining five slots, the organisation put out an open call. Successful applicants were then invited to showcase their products in an exhibition at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which allowed the Irthi team to review their work.

Finally, a delegation from Fenwick of Bond Street visited Sharjah in March, with a team of buyers. "The final decisions were based on merit and the designers' long-term potential – they needed to have the capacity to produce orders to the highest standard and have a strong commitment to grow their business internationally," says BinKaram.

"Fenwick is one of the most renowned luxury department stores in the UK, with an international outlook and commitment to supporting emerging talent," she adds. "We were impressed with the way that the store viewed this as not just a short-term partnership, but one that would see UAE labels become regularly displayed collections at the store."

Here's hoping.