Model-of-the-moment Winnie Harlow will walk the runway during Arab Fashion Week at The Meydan Hotel in Dubai this week.
The 22-year-old Canadian, who has the depigmenting skin condition vitiligo, is one of many famous figures taking part in the event, which runs from tomorrow until Saturday.
“Cardi B, the American influencer and hip-hop artist, will be flying in,” says Jacob Abrian, chief executive of the Arab Fashion Council. “And hosting our gala dinner and fashion awards ceremony on Saturday will be Australian television and radio presenter Dean McCarthy, of the Golden Globes and Oscars fame.”
The fourth edition of the biannual ready-couture showcase will feature big names from the world of fashion, including the house of Marchesa, Antonio Marras and Jeremy Scott.
More than 20 other international and domestic brands will also present their latest collections to buyers and the press, including Michael Cinco and Aiisha Ramadan.
In addition to public shows, which require prior online registration, there will be industry workshops – held in conjunction with the American University in the Emirates – and pop-up boutiques, which are also open to the public.
Established three years ago by non-profit organisation the Arab Fashion Council, AFW has carved out a niche for itself as the go-to platform for custom-made garments with bespoke elements and ready-to-wear appeal.
“Arab Fashion Week defined the term ‘ready-couture’ back in 2014,” says Abrian. “But it had never been officially discussed, classified or regulated with any other fashion councils. Its importance is today understood.
“Looking back, the fashion industry started with haute couture then. With economic and social revolutions, the need for ready-to-wear and mass production emerged. Today, all the major fashion houses are creating exclusive and limited-edition pieces, but allowing clients to change fabrics and alter certain elements. Nobody knew how to define this until now – and that’s what we call ready-couture.”
To give designers showing their ready-couture collections at AFW the best possible showcase this season, the timing of the event was moved from its previous March slot.
“We used to always be on the shoulders of Paris fashion week, following Milan, London and New York.” says Abrian. “The timing wasn’t helping us grow.
“Buyers had been flying around for six weeks and they would finish their budget spends in Paris. The region’s fashion industry was suffering so we shifted the dates. The new timing has also paved the way for us to become the leading destination for pre-collections and resort.”
Helping the Arab Fashion Council to realise its ambitions of promoting Arab talent and helping global designers to flourish in the region, is a partnership with Sheikh Mohammed Maktoum Juma AlMaktoum Investment (MBM) that was formed last month.
“We love the idea of supporting new and young designers.” says Federico Cervellini, director of corporate affairs at the private office of Sheikh Mohammed bin Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum. “Let them come and study here in the UAE and fully understand the fashion business. We’re here to give them the facilities and tools to develop their ideas and designs. “So much of the fashion we know is ‘made in Italy’ or ‘made in France’. It would be great to have things ‘made in the UAE’ one day.
“The fashion sector could be better developed and there’s huge potential here, so that’s what we’re helping to do. We’re here to help the AFC grow bigger too and have an action plan in place to support them however we can.”
One designer making the most of growth opportunities in the UAE is Dubai-based Aiisha Ramadan, who established her couture label in 2007. On Friday, she will send a resort 2018 collection from her eponymous label down the runway at AFW.
“I’m really looking forward to growing with AFW,” she says. “I don’t view the platform as a place where I’m simply going to showcase my collections and that’s it. If I did, I would have just done a trunk show in a beautiful restaurant.
“That’s not what I’m after, especially having been in the market so long. If I’m not going to sell and have added value, I’m not going to showcase. I love Arab Fashion Week’s aesthetic and admire the heights the council wants to reach. When they say they’re going to do something, they do it.”
As for hints about her collection, Ramadan is giving little away about her latest aquatic-themed range of separates and accessories.
“Let’s just say you’ll see things you’ve never seen before from me.” she says. “There are, of course, dresses – my staples – but also some products for a completely new genre.
“I’ve started a beautiful collaboration with one of my favourite Egyptian accessory brands called Sami Amin. I was already a big client and realised the things Sami was creating were really great. So, as an expansion of my brand, we’ve worked together on some pieces and they’ve turned out to be unbelievably beautiful.”
• Arab Fashion Week begins tomorrow and ends on Saturday at The Meydan Hotel, Dubai. www.arabfashionweek.org