Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD) celebrated its 10th season this October, a milestone achievement for the Dubai fashion community. FFWD was launched by Dubai fashion maverick and FFWD CEO, Bong Guerrero, in 2013, and has steadily gained recognition in the fashion industry as the region’s most “international” fashion week.
In a continued show of support, Dubai Design District (d3) hosted FFWD10 in the newly developed Design Quarter in d3. Home to the region’s growing community of creative thinkers, d3 is part of the Dubai Government’s plan to create an innovation-led economy and to promote Dubai as a hub for creativity and innovation.
Incorporating fashion, retail, education and entertainment on a much larger scale than previous seasons, FFWD10 evolved to become a true celebration of regional and international fashion and cultural diversity. A total of 29 labels showed at FFWD10, both couture and ready-to-wear. This season also marked the first wave of shows from truly international designers, such as Korean designer Eudon Choi and Syrian designer Nabil Nayal.
The education component of FFWD10 involved an expanded series of Fashion Talks – the highlight of which was the live interview with Paris-based fashion critic Godfrey Deeny. Deeny, who was recently appointed as inaugural international editor-in-chief of Fashionnetwork.com, is listed by the Business of Fashion as one of the 500 most influential people in the industry. He amused audiences with his tales of life as a front-row critic and gave budding critics sage career advice and industry insight. Deeny’s message clearly struck a chord with the audience who gathered eagerly to speak with the critic post-interview.
I caught up with Deeny during FFWD10. He expressed his sincere praise for the Dubai Government and local fashion community for developing a solid platform for regional creatives to distinguish Dubai as a fashion capital. Deeny commented that Dubai would certainly be able to establish itself as one of the top 20 fashion cities in the world, but qualified this statement, adding that Dubai would never “be Paris”. Top picks from Deeny for FFWD10: Lara Khoury, Essa by Essa Walla, and Uniti by Babak Vosoughi.
The themes of sportswear and glamour noticeably dominated the FFWD10 catwalks: Labels to watch: athletic collections by designers Mashael AlRajhi and Nabil Nayal and stunningly sumptuous collections by design houses, Amato Couture and Essa and the recently established Atelier Zuhra.
Mashael AlRajhi | With the announcement that women drivers would be permitted in Saudi, right to movement has been on the agenda for women in the Gulf this year. In perhaps what could be seen as a reflection of current times, a historic achievement was made by Saudi designer Mashael AlRajhi in collaboration with Nike – the catwalk debut of Nike’s first sport hijab. Made in consultation with elite Islamic athletes, Nike developed the synthetic sport Hijab known as the “Nike Hijab Pro”. The hijab was showcased with Mashael’s latest collection, which merged elements of Saudi heritage and regional iconography with a gender neutral, modern outlook. Models wore Nike Downtowns throughout, which continued the athletic aesthetic.
Nabil Nayal | London-based Nabil Nayal, presented Elizabethan Sportswear IV – the fourth in a series by the Syrian-born designer.
Nayal was the world’s first designer to employ 3D printing technology in his work in 2010 and the winner of many prestigious awards including the Royal Society of Arts Award and the British Fashion Council MA Scholarship Award. His utter devotion to his craft has been applauded by fashion world luminaries such as Karl Lagerfeld, Nicholas Ghesquiere and Delphine Arnault.
Nayal’s particular interest in Elizabethan craftsmanship and technology is apparent in his latest collection. Recontextualising historic-techniques using the latest technologies, Nayal has demonstrated a fresh, sophisticated approach to sportswear.
In my post-show discussion with Nayal, he explained that his work is “rooted in 16th century and I am obsessed with Elizabeth I and the Elizabethan period in general. From my research, I have extracted a set of principles which inform my design work. For instance, the ruff, my use of black and white, sleeves, ornamentation. I take this set of principles and clash it with contemporary sportswear technologies to disrupt the process, which leads me to arrive at new creative outcomes”. And what an amazing creative outcome indeed – over-sized shirts with sleeves slashed and draping to the floor and familiar sportswear silhouettes made new with Elizabethan ruffs (starched frill worn around the neck in Elizabethan times).
The designer’s specific inspiration for this season is the Rainbow Painting of Elizabeth I. Nayal explained that, “a piece of the dress depicted in this painting has recently been discovered. If you look closely you can see tiny eyes and ears, which were embroidered on her gown. This was to symbolize her power and to let those who conspired to overthrow her know not to mess with her as she had spies everywhere watching and listening for those who plotted against her”. Nayal has captured this mystery and intrigue this season through collating spying eyes and ears throughout this season’s collage-printed pieces. Nayal made an interesting observation that “in our modern world, where nearly everyone has a smartphone, everyone has the power to be the eyes and ears. So it is interesting that there is a modern relevance there”.
This season’s collection is particularly special as it features intricate and period accurate Elizabethan buttons and lace. Attention to detail clearly being of great importance to the passionate designer, Nayal worked closely with a crafts-lady who specializes in making these accurate reproductions of Elizabethan lace and buttons. Elizabethan technique was also present in the construction of the smocked garments, which were hand-punched (an Elizabethan technique) showcasing to the world renaissance construction methods.
Essa | Dubai designer and “King of Kaftans”, Essa Walla, made a catwalk comeback this year with his latest collection, SPOILT, marking the designer’s return to the industry after a 3-year hiatus.
Much anticipated and well received by loyal clientele and critics alike, the show was a sensation. Displaying a racier more sophisticated aesthetic, the collection featured brave shapes, embellishment, shimmer and shine..and a departure from the saturated color palette often present in Essa’s previous work.
Essa explained, in our post-show dissection, that his inspiration for the collection was “a fierce, decadent, over the top, Lolita-esque woman”. Dubai, the home of glamour and opulence, has no doubt provided the designer with many a muse. Critic, Deeny, praised the collection for its boldness and “rock-star princess” appeal. Deeny also praised Essa for his “ego and bravery”, an attitude that certainly seems to have manifested in SPOILT – possibly the designer’s strongest work to date.
Essa plans to launch a new ready-to-wear collection in coming months, and to continue to create the dynamic, spectacular pieces for which he is known, for his private clientele. There is also rumor that the designer will launch an exclusive accessories line next year in collaboration with a celebrated art jeweler.
Amato Couture | Closing FFWD10 in trademark dramatic style, Amato Couture left audiences breathless this season – literally. The show plunged the audience into the depths of the sea – specifically, the abyssal zone that remains in darkness – in a spectacle of light and sound. The audience emerged from the abyssopelagic into the light to be greeted by glittering models, encrusted in pearls and shimmer, floating through an aquatic wonderland, each encased in a gown or dress awash with intricate beadwork, feathers and ruffles.
Amato, the brain-child of much-awarded designer Furne One, means ‘beloved’ in Italian. And beloved it is, by the adoring fans and critics who have witnessed Amato’s continued success since 2002. Famed for staging seasonal avant-garde, outlandish and dramatic shows, Amato continued to amaze the audience at FFWD10; but was the clothing as impressive as the theatre? Yes. Exquisite. Beautiful gowns, streamlined, intricate dresses and artistically constructed coats were showcased each with the signature Amato twist.
In my interview with the enigmatic Amato designer, Furne explained the concept behind this season’s collection of chaotic opulence and romance – the many faces of the woman and her emotional and spiritual journey through darkness and light. Every year the Amato collection is a tribute to the silent strength of women – this year, the focus of the tribute is the women that have fought adversity to triumph against it and rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes. The triumph of this season was most certainly the final ensemble, worn by stunning Amato model-muse, Ayan. Ending the show dramatically, Ayan unfurled in a magnificent shimmering raven colored construction – a work of art that took several months to create.
Atelier Zuhra | Atelier Zuhra captured hearts with their impressive floral themed collection. The atelier magnified the beauty of the models who paraded an endless array of divine gowns and dresses featuring the most delicate of embroidery, tulle, sequins, tassels and crystals. Established only in 2015 by businesswoman Mousa Al Awfi with creative direction by Ryan Pacioles, the Dubai atelier’s timeless creations are a favorite of the Dubai fashion elite.
FFWD10 was certainly a success – a real coup for both FFWD and Dubai. Occupying an entire district this year, FFWD has developed into a dynamic, energetic 3-day fashion extravaganza which is drawing international interest to Dubai as an inspiring, dynamic, fashion and design destination.
Perhaps the question is not whether Dubai can ever be Paris…but whether Paris can ever be Dubai?
Fat Kid For Fashion
Fashion writer based in Dubai with a love of couture & cakes.