The hat race is on for Dubai World Cup

Nazgul and Gulnaz Nejmi have been designing since they were children. Now their creations are setting trends among race-goers at the Dubai World Cup.

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DUBAI // There are more than six weeks to go until the Dubai World Cup, but for fashionistas the race has already begun. In a frantic effort to dress some of the thousands of women who will attend the race on March 27, two sisters have converted their apartment into a hat factory.

In a living room strewn with pearls, diamantes, lace and elastic, laptops are at the ready to take orders and display work portfolios to clients. The Nejmi twins, 29, are in the thick of their busy season and they hope that 2010 will be a banner year for their offbeat creations. Gulnaz and Nazgul made their first sale when they were only six. They painted and decorated pebbles they had collected, then sold them to neighbours in Deira for Dh3.

The twins were bursting with creativity and as teenagers shifted their talents from pebbles to people. At their family home, they would hold makeover parties and photographic sessions at every opportunity. Twenty-three years later, the sisters still have not lost their desire to follow their passion. They studied at the Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus, travelled the world and then worked separately for a group of international fashion companies including Gucci, Armani and Mac.

Now, the sisters, of Turkish and Pakistani descent, are back in business together and instead of makeovers they are running a millinery from the family home. Though they use some of the same materials as other milliners, their collection has a modern twist and has grabbed attention at the racing event for the past two years. In 2009, Nazgul wore a hat decorated with a replica of the Burj Khalifa, and Gulnaz wore a giant pink lace hat, decorated with multicoloured butterflies.

"It was two years ago, we first went to the races after hearing about the horse competition," said Nazgul, who cites Lady Gaga, Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel as her inspirations. "We were looking for hats to wear and all the shops had the same boring, classic ones. We wanted something more creative and crazy. When we got there, everyone was taking our photograph." Often made with lace, pearls, Swarovski crystals and beads, the hats cost from Dh500 (US$136) to Dh2,000.

"We made our own stuff and it got a lot of attention.We have found a gap for something creative," Nazgul said. Last year, the designers sold 25 hats for the race and this year they hope to quadruple sales. They will also take part in a competition at the track to choose the best designer. "We had put our stuff on Facebook and through that and word of mouth we even got some orders from Australia," Nazgul said.

"We also aim on reaching the Abu Dhabi market. A lot of the fashion stuff there is old fashioned, compared to Dubai," said Gulnaz. The sisters are also planning to launch a makeover business. Gulnaz spends her free time doing makeovers for brides, birthday girls and party-goers. "We are trying to do everything, that's a challenge, but we work like ying and yang," Gulnaz said. "At weddings and occasions, women do not like to have their photos taken at the event," Nazgul said. "So we thought it would be a good idea to take their pictures before, so they have a nice memory of when we made them up."