The UAE is home to a crop of Filipino designers who are famed for dressing A-listers in bold, embellished gowns on red carpets around the globe.
Names such as Michael Cinco, Furne One and Ezra Santos have international reputations for their dazzling dresses of fairy-tale proportions, decked in beading and crystals, and fit for any princess.
Here, The National reveals the history behind this flourishing group of UAE trendsetters who are taking the fashion world by storm.
Born in Samar Province, Philippines, Michael Cinco has been in the UAE since 1997, launching his eponymous label in 2003.
Inspired by the golden age of cinema and its glamorous stars, Cinco has built a reputation for creating romantic evening gowns and bridal wear, full skirted and covered in intricate embroidery. In 2012, this expanded to men’s couture.
Today, his list of admirers is a who’s who of celebrity royalty with Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Sofia Vergara and Rihanna all regulars; Jason Derulo, Nick Jonas and James McAvoy have also worn his pieces.
In 2016, Cinco made history when he became the first Filipino designer invited to Paris Haute Couture Week; in 2017 he was behind one of the most memorable Cannes Film Festival red carpet moments as he dressed Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a powder blue, Cinderella gown.
The brand is now expanding into ready-to-wear clothing, which was unveiled at Arab Fashion Week this year.
Furne One, Amato Couture
Designer Furne One (born Fernando Barios) was only meant to be passing through Dubai en route to the Philippines, when a fortuitous meeting with a textile buyer, Rashid Ali, changed everything.
With a shared vision, the pair launched the couture label Amato in 2002; the name translates to "beloved" in Italian.
With One at the creative helm, Amato quickly gained a name for richly gothic, one-of-a-kind gowns. Pieces are artfully deconstructed, with corsetry deliberately left on show, then covered with lavish handwork.
The pieces have attracted high-profile attention. When crystal maker Swarovski launched its own limited-edition book, Unbridaled, Amato was invited to create a look for it.
Designs have been worn by Tara Banks, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez. Amato has also dressed Germany’s Next Top Model host Heidi Klum, as well as the contestants, since 2010.
In 2012, the label opened a boutique in Los Angeles, and in 2014, it made its debut at New York Fashion Week.
Amato Luxe, a ready-to-wear boutique in Dubai Design District, opened in 2017; it is now venturing into the metaverse with entirely digital gowns.
Ezra Santos, Ezra Couture
Ezra Santos arrived in Dubai in 1993. Originally from Manilla, Santos studied at Central Saint Martins in London, and learnt his craft designing for Dubai brand House of Arushi for a decade.
He went on to open his own label Ezra Couture in 2004 and staged his first show in 2010.
His 2019 Fashion Forward event, titled Looking Though the Eyes of Love, was so elaborately hand-beaded, it took six months to create the 30 looks.
Focusing on feminine bridal gowns and evening wear, Santos has dressed the likes of Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Nicole Scherzinger and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
In 2014, he created Colbie Caillat's gown for the 2014 Grammy Awards and pieces for Rihanna and Shakira to sport in their Can’t Remember to Forget You music video.
From Davao City, Garimon Roferos won Paris's coveted Concours Internationale Des Jeunes Createurs de Mode D'Incitation prize in 2004, before relocating to Dubai in 2010 to work under the direction of Michael Cinco.
In 2016, he set up his own fashion house, specialising in extravagant wedding gowns, with white-on-white beading and embroidery.
Additionally, he makes evening and party dresses, often in patterns and always full skirted and feminine. He also has a range of couture abayas.
Roferos has dressed Gwen Stefani in an elaborately beaded mini-dress.
Harvey Cenit, Al Aroosa Aniqah
As creative director at Al Aroosa Aniqah in Dubai, Harvey Cenit has been creating sumptuous wedding gowns in the UAE since 2012.
Mixing his own pared-back style with the elaborate taste of the region's brides, Cenit is able to shift seamlessly between the two, drawing out the best of both. Think a fitted emerald green dress with a giant bow at the neck, which also acts as a partial sleeve, and a fragile-looking embroidered white dress that comes with a punkish mini-crinoline skirt.
Ignacio Loyola, Atelier Ignacio
After studying at Istituto Marangoni in Milan and winning Dubai's Runway Art in 2009, Ignacio Loyola founded his own house, Atelier Ignacio now situated in Dubai Design District.
Highly experimental, Loyola has created collections made from rubber bands and paper, and today has a showroom filled with daywear embellished with crystals.
During the pandemic, Loyola pivoted to making face masks and now offers a range, including one design covered with rainbow gem stones.