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The Middle East Fashion Industry

DAS collection

DAS Collection runway show

Let’s start with some figures. Today, the Middle East is one of the international fashion industry’s most vibrant markets, boosting global sales by 30% last year, according to consulting firm Bain & Company. Personal luxury goods spending in the region has reached USD$8 billion and despite the global economic crisis, the world’s top 250 retailers experienced a 41.7% sales increase in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a 2012 report by Deloitte. And, in what should come as a surprise to no one, approximately one-third of the global Haute Couture clientele stems from the Middle East.

Shall we say more? If we wanted to make a case on how the global fashion industry is now driven by emerging markets—including, notably, the Middle East, those figures could be enough.

Indeed, we are powerful players.

Or are we? These figures show that we are powerful… shoppers. And unfortunately, our passive shopping will not build a full-fledged fashion industry. The Russians, who have a similar market to ours, initially gained momentum as a strong shopping market with global influence coming later. How? By becoming an exporter of fashion with designers like Vika Gavinskaya and Ulyana Sergeenko, as well as popular faces of fashion like Miroslava Duma and Natalia Vodianova, who have served as spokespersons for their country’s fashion industry. The same goes for other emerging markets; Brazil, for example, is now a breeding ground for designers such as Patricia Viera and Pedro Lourenço, and faces of fashion like Paola Maria de Bourbon Orleans e Bragança.


Miroslava Duma posing in front of a crowd of photographers at Paris Fashion Week. Photography Moez Achour

The idea is not simply to gain prominence outside of our borders; after all, looking West is perhaps the reason why we have failed thus far at developing a strong regional fashion culture in the first place. Rather, it is about leveraging influence. In a world where we are among the biggest spenders, it would logically follow that we also contribute more holistically to the evolving story of fashion.

How can we do this? We must nurture our famous faces and identify new ones. While Sheikha Mozah and Deena Abdulaziz are among the most prominent ambassadors of fashion, other elegant ladies should also be put on the forefront of the fashion scene. Elite Model Management is launching a search in the UAE and Qatar for a new face from the region and we hope this face can represent our market in major advertising campaigns and across Middle Eastern media.

This week, we shone a spotlight on Middle Eastern designers. Names like Razan Al Azzouni, Reem Al Kanhal, Madiyah Al Sharqi, Toujouri, Noon By Noor, and Reem Juan are beginning to resonate in the minds of fashion-forward buyers and international socialites. Following the footsteps of Dima Rashid—a jewelry designer who has already graced several covers of Vogue—are Rami Al Ali and Hatem Al Akeel, designers gaining more traction, a loyal clientele, exclusive collaborations, and international press coverage.

reem al kanhal

Reem Alkanhal Spring 2013

However, as a nascent market, promising designers must also mature and structure their vision in order to develop a strong clientele. One method of organizing this is through a structured fashion week.

Thus far, various attempts at the organization of an international-caliber fashion week left commentators disappointed. Generally speaking, no top models walked, few leading designers from the GCC region contributed, and only a handful of international media came to cover the events. Muscat Fashion Week, however, showcased a selection of designers who are building strong brand identities with the likes of Endemage (Dubai), Dibaj (Oman), Zohr Rais (Morocco), Toujouri (Qatar), and Ahmed Talfit (Tunisia), which brought a positive review from fashion critic Hilary Alexander. Muscat also benefits from government support, backing which is crucial to promote indigenous talent.


Omani brand Dibaj showing at Muscat Fashion Week

Still, many regional designers struggle with finding their niche. Today, the attraction for buyers and international press largely remains “the Middle East as a region” rather than the talent of locally-based designers with their own, individual identities.

We are mere weeks away from Fashion Forward Middle East, a private incentive driven by the UAE events company, Brag. The ambition is to structure the buying process and provide a clear calendar for the collections (Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer), as most regional designers do not yet produce according to this international scheduling standard. In addition to runway shows, presentations will be held by the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s (CFDA) CEO, Steven Kolb, who will provide a commentary on how to nurture a fashion trade body for the Middle East, as well as Rabih Kayrouz, the Lebanese designer whose career can be cited as an example for others to follow.

We believe in the potential of local designers—but we also believe that our industry needs more time and more education to realize its fashion ambitions. Whereas the local art industry is now thriving, the fashion industry has yet to gain the broad support of governments and the allied effort of schools, media, and retailers to promote what the region has to offer.

Our region’s potential is immense, and we must continue to step up our game—not for others, but for ourselves.

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