The third annual edition of the DDFC/ Vogue Fashion Prize reached its peak last month when Palestinian Faissal El- Malak bounded onstage to accept the prize for 2017 women’s ready-to-wear designer from editor-in chief Manuel Arnaut. “All I can say is, keep reaching for your dreams,” enthused El-Malak afterwards, jubilant from his win, which he dedicated to his team and his mother. “She has always been my strongest supporter.” More than 150 industry guests, including partner and judge Dubai Design Fashion Council CEO, Jazia Al Dhanhani, and international judges Reem Acra, Edgardo Osorio of Aquazzura, and Karina Dobrotvorskaya of Condé Nast International convened at the Five Palm Jumeirah for the gala dinner. The evening was a celebration of the winners that included Joanna Laura Constantine for accessories and Nadine Ghosn for high jewelry – both with Lebanese roots.
All three winning designers will receive a financial production grant, retail pick-up from Harvey Nichols Dubai and Bloomingdale’s Kuwait, mentorship from members of the Selection Committee, and an advertising campaign promoting their Spring 2018 retail launch, collectively representing more than US $250 000 in value. Of the prize, Acra referred to it as “empowering.” Osorio concurred, “It is an opportunity for young designers to shine on an international stage, while giving them mentorship to develop their businesses.”
In-between musical interludes courtesy of Layla Kardan and DJ Meg, Vogue Arabia publisher and CEO, Shashi Menon, spoke of the industry’s collective efforts, highlighting the Dubai Design and Fashion Council “whose endeavors are helping to structure the regional fashion industry” to create a fashion ecosystem that elevates regional designers globally. Fashion Prize 2016 winning brands Reemami (ready-to- wear, UAE), Okhtein (accessories, Egypt), and Ralph Masri (honorary fine jewelry winner, Lebanon) have all experienced growth in 2016, with Masri in particular seeing his label in Harvey Nichols Dubai and with increased expansion in the US, and his jewels worn regularly by Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan. Menon also underlined the Dubai Design District for driving unparalleled momentum throughout the local design community, the Al Tayer Group for supporting emerging talents, and Fashion Forward, whose platform showcases many of the region’s most promising designers, including inaugural Fashion Prize winner Hussein Bazaza.
The Ready-to-Wear Finalists
Twisted Roots, Latifa al Gurg
United Arab Emirates
A world traveler, Emirati-Danish Latifa AlGurg creates clothes for the practical wanderer. Each collection is inspired by a destination, with custom fabrics created in- house at her factory in Al Quoz. Architecture remains a guiding motivation behind her designs, while a belief in form following function results in clothes to take on the road for women in search of style and comfort.
While timeless beauties like Kate Moss and Whitney Houston are icons to Lebanese designer Lama Jouni, her day and night separates speak to trend-savvy women who count on tailored pieces. Jouni, a Parsons Paris graduate, saw her training extend to stints with Balmain and Rad Hourani. Her preference for a neutral color palette only serves to highlight her attention to purpose and shape.
ESMOD Beirut graduate Noura Najem has always searched for a way to “help the world” through fashion. So she launched the Kenzah Foundation in 2014, an NGO that serves to empower women through teaching them artisanal crafts that Najem then weaves into her designs. A member of the talent incubator Starch, the “designer with a conscience” expresses her Arab heritage with geometric shapes in neutral shades.
FMM Dubai, Fatma Al Mulla
United Arab Emirates
Experimentation and standing out in a crowd thrill Emirati Fatma Al Mulla, who creates ready-to-wear pieces and overlays that juxtapose a rainbow palette of colors and patterns. Starting with a pen and paper, she says, “Painting takes me to square one. From there, I extract elements of my drawings and certain patterns and expand on them.”
The Accessories Finalists
Alia Bin Omair
United Arab Emirates
The Emirati jewelry designer blends art and fashion to create experimental, statement gold jewelry pieces that stem from the idea of the “golden nugget.” She also sources different materials like niello and frankincense and other objects from the UAE with the aim to encourage dialogue about her homeland.
Hooked | HKD, Farah Nasri
Conventional ways of wearing jewelry are challenged by Dubai- based Farah Nasri, who looks to 3D printing to shift space and forms. Delicate lines emerge that sculpt in and around the body in unusual and avant-garde ways. Along with architectural and experimental art references, Nasri shares that her line is “deeply rooted in tribal and Bedouin jewelry.”
Liudmila, Najeeba Hayat
Made in Italy, Najeeba Hayat’s shoes are crafted to reflect a whimsical side of women – a fantastical aesthetic inspired by cartoons and Victorian paintings. Meanwhile, a mid- sized heel encourages women’s mobility. Hayat, who shares that her creativity comes from a naive space, is constantly on the go. “My work is conducted on the plane or from a hotel room in Kuwait, Milan, London, or Paris,” she says.
LaLaQueen, Sally Sarrieddine
Following fashion design courses at Central Saint Martins in London, Sally Sarieddine set out to create a bag brand where designs express ethical practices. A keen meditator, Sarieddine’s bestselling Dr Bag represents the marriage of healing and fashion. She uses leathers that are locally sourced and dyed, and which are chosen for the special patina achieved with age.
The High Jewelry Finalists
Gafla Jewellery, Hamad Bin Shaiban, Abdulla Belfajla, Bushra Bint Darwish
United Arab Emirates
The Emirati designers and certified gemologists behind Gafla Jewellery explore the role their heritage plays in contemporary high jewelry. Miniature golden perfume bottle pendants shaped like burning oud smoke dangle from necklaces, while clean lines twist to recall the journeys of nomads. Gafla translates to “caravan” and inspires the brand’s culture of Arab travelers of the past.
Nuun Jewels, HRH Nourah Al Faisal
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Glistening diamonds and opals ablaze with color are shaped into contemporary or nature-inspired designs like fireflies and orchids, under the eye of designer and founder HRH Al Faisal. Working between Riyadh and Paris, she is influenced by art deco styles and traditional Saudi designs that she evolves to make her own.
High Jewelry Winner
“The one thing I have loved my whole life, since I was a kid, is jewelry,” says Nadine Ghosn. The petite designer surprised the Fashion Prize judges with her whopping fine jewelry ideas to take home the top prize. Picture a stackable ring shaped like a burger – complete with diamonds and ruby ketchup – a necklace designed as diamond-encrusted Apple headphones, and pendants modeled after sushi, including emerald edamame and nigiri pendants. Ghosn spent eight of her “most formative years” living in Japan and aims for her designs’ meticulous details to re ect the same culture of precision she observed in the Far East.
Food and technology are the foundations of her designs. “One client purchased the burger for his wife as a push present,” she remarked, adding that her clients are intrigued by out-of-the-box ideas (notably, her burger is sold in a fast food-shaped casing). Her high jewelry’s take on ordinary objects related to time and technology – like a “low battery” necklace with a flashing red ruby – stamp a moment in time and become instant classics of an era in constant evolution.
“It’s a competitive market and I had to hustle to get my work noticed,” she recalls. “Everyone told me I wouldn’t go anywhere. Fortunately, they were wrong.” Her guerilla tactics paid off and her first retailer was Colette, followed by Bergdorf Goodman, while she recently had a trunk show on Moda Operandi. Her celebrity clients include Karl Lagerfeld, Beyoncé, and Pink. A graduate of Stanford University and later New York’s Gemological Institute of America, Ghosn turned to jewelry after completing a two-year managerial program at Hermès. She pounced on the opportunity to learn the trade at a Beirut atelier. Today, Ghosn is not only proudly taking ownership for having listened to her gut but also for coming into her own, assuming both her passion and identity, explaining, “As a girl, I used to get bullied for my thick eyebrows. Now, they are my brand’s logo.” Commenting on the win at the Dubai Gala dinner, Fashion Prize judge François Schweitzer, general manager of business development retail at the Chalhoub Group, says, “It’s simple, her designs are fun. You just can’t beat that.”
Joanna Laura Constantine
Peruse through Joanna Laura Constantine’s fashion jewelry and the extraordinary range proves that the vivacious designer is a think tank of creative ideas. From golden tendrils accented with pearls, to tribal-inspired geometric earrings, and edgy knuckle rings, her eclectic collections o er pieces for women of all ages and tastes. Plated in gold and rhodium, and encrusted with Swarovski crystals, semi-precious stones, and pearls, the common thread of her designs is the exceptional quality and attention to detail. “I want to create emotions with my jewelry, and I always first handcraft each piece myself,” she shares.
After graduating from fashion design at Parsons School of Design, Constantine interned at Donna Karan and Lanvin. She turned her passion for accessories into an eponymous label in 2010, and returned to Beirut to set up her brand and atelier. Women are at the heart of each collection. Whether drawing on their delicate femininity or immeasurable strength, Constantine maintains that her collections are current and for the contemporary woman by keeping an eye on fashion trends and high jewelry showcases, while her own personal taste leans towards vintage pieces. Her mood boards are collages of black and white photos of mysterious women and colorful objects that catch her eye. Today, her burgeoning list of stockists includes Moda Operandi, LE66, and Harvey Nichols from the UK, to Hong Kong and Riyadh, to name a few.
Following her win, Constantine walked guests through her collection showcased at the gala, motioning how various pieces could instantly create standout looks and elevate a woman’s day-to- night style. “What I am most looking forward to from this prize is the mentorship opportunities it will offer me,” she says. Dressed in a trendy T-shirt and candy-colored striped pleated skirt, she adds, “I want to make my region proud, help preserve the jewelry-making industry in Beirut and, ultimately, send my jewelry out into the world.”
Faissal El-Malak is something of a troubleshooting wizard. When he learned that he could no longer source his fabrics in Yemen due to the war, rather than close up shop, he remained steadfast to his story – contemporary design with an artisanal Middle Eastern identity – and turned to Tunisia for handmade silks. In today’s world of fast fashion, clothes whose fabrics are still woven by hand, and particularly those sourced in the Arab world, strike a chord in the heart of conscious consumers and buyers the world over.
Launching his namesake brand in 2011, El-Malak introduced Yemeni Wzaar skirts, Moroccan and Tunisian silks, and Egyptian cotton jacquards into the ready-to-wear wardrobes of intellectual elegantes. Color palettes always appeared li ed from the earth and its horizons: crimson shades recall rich soils and dusty pinks – desert sunsets. His silhouettes – whether loose kaftans, tailored jackets, or coats – ensure the on-trend, elongated 90s shapes of his winning Fashion Prize Spring 2018 collection speak to a woman of artistic sensibilities. As portrayed by Dana Hourani in his next-season campaign by lmmaker Amirah Tajdin, his muse is most satisfied in her intimate space accompanied by her thoughts and books. It’s not far from the designer’s own universe. El-Malak reveals that “one of my favorite activities is to spend time in museums and workshops.”
While identity is vital to El-Malak, he does not connect himself to one alone. The 28-year-old Palestinian designer was raised and educated between Montreal and Doha and studied fashion design in Paris for six years at the Atelier Chardon Savard. The Dubai-based brand has received considerable support from DDFC’s mentorship program, with Fashion Prize judge and DDFC board member Reem Acra noting his considerable creative growth in a short timespan. In April 2017, he was invited to showcase his work at the Ataya Exhibition in Abu Dhabi and at a popup at Fenwick of Bond Street, London, this summer – both organized by the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi.