School's teenage fashionistas put on a show with great style

For the 11th grade girls at the Sheikh Zayed Private Academy, the school's annual fashion show is a chance to follow in the footsteps of their sisters, cousins and friends.

Sondos al Muhairi, 16, shows off the dress she designed for a charity fashion show at Sheikh Zayed Private Academy.
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ABU DHABI // For the 11th-grade girls at the Sheikh Zayed Private Academy, the school's annual fashion show is a chance to follow in the footsteps of sisters, cousins and friends who have strutted down the catwalk in stiletto heels before them. This year's show, the fifth, held on Wednesday afternoon to much fanfare in the school's auditorium, did not disappoint. A mash-up of pop songs blasted from the stereo, smoke billowed from a machine on the side of the stage, and flashing lights lit up the backdrop while students in the school's fashion design class put their work on display. Outsiders might be surprised by a class devoted to fashion design in a school that caters mostly to Emirati girls, almost all of whom wear the abaya outside of school. But the girls themselves are quick to set this misconception straight. "Under the black robe we really dress up," said Maha al Marar, 17. "I love elegant dresses," she said, fingering the metallic, rust-coloured mini-dress she made for the show. "Emirati style is a mix of everything." Fashion, she continued, plays as big of a part in the lives of young girls here as it does elsewhere. "I got my first pair of heels when I was 13," she said. Each year's fashion show is highly anticipated and has a theme: this year's was "dolls". "Think pink," said Mariam al Ali, 16, with a big smile. All year, the girls have been preparing for the show - making mood boards to develop their ideas, sketching, designing the stage, finding sponsors, and supervising tailors to make the clothes. Next month, they will donate the proceeds from the show to the Special Care Centre, which helps children with disabilities. As has been the case in years past, a lot of thought went into the theme. "Rock and Las Vegas were the other ideas," said Salama al Omairi, 16. "But we said a doll can be anything - it can be a rocker doll, a vintage doll. The doll theme is really applicable for 2009-2010." The theme inspired a wide range of work. Ms Ali's creation - an understated pink and white ruffled sun dress - is one of the most wearable dresses in the show. "My style is sort of girly and sort of pink," she said, adding that her main influence was the American designer Betsey Johnson. "I was inspired by a puppet," said Maha al Suwaidi, 16. Ms al Suwaidi made a canary yellow ruffled dress with a doll on the shoulder strap. May al Shamsi, 16, used balloons to make the skirt of her dress. "To me weird is beautiful," said Ms al Omairi. Looking down at her own creation, Ms al Shamsi said: "Fashion is like magic, you can really do anything with it."