Arab Luxury World '17: Is there more to Middle Eastern fashion than just modest wear?

Arab Luxury World '17: Is there more to Middle Eastern fashion than just modest wear?

Changing perceptions

Text: Faizal Dahlawia

A group of designers and media experts discuss the challenges facing the Middle Eastern fashion fraternity in exporting its own identity to the Western world...

The 2017 Arab Luxury World culminated in a lively debate by a group of regional fashion tastemakers who explored the idea of cross-pollination between Middle Eastern and Western fashion. The panel, moderated by Buro 24/7 Middle East's Editor-in-Chief, Shannon Wylie, addressed the issue of the image that has been attached to Middle Eastern fashion designers. "There are two different kinds of images of the Arab designers in the Middle East," said celebrated Lebanese designer Hussein Bazaza. "You have the traditional abaya designers and then you have couture and ready-to-wear." However, says Beirut-based fashion designer Rami Kadi: "The image that is projected right now is singular. But that is not what is really happening in the regional fashion circles. For the designers who are not doing abayas, we do not have recognition in the West."

Carolina Herrera

Speaking on the dangers of Middle Eastern designers being boxed in as just creators of modest fashion, Hatem Alakeel, the creative force behind Toby by Hatem, said: "Fashion is fashion. I don't know why we have to categorise our fashion. In the end, fashion is one and people need to realise that the more you categorise, the more you sidetrack the brand. This can put us at a disadvantage."

While a brand's heritage and story is always part of the appeal, Middle Eastern labels sadly do not have that luxury if they aspire to be quickly accepted by the international market. Mimi Fraser, Managing Director of the globally stocked brand Baraboux, commented: "I think that it's a double-edged sword because the fact that we do sell globally means we speak very little about where we are from and the fact that we are a Middle Eastern brand. We focus on the product and don't really speak about heritage. Unfortunately we are unable to share that story in a significant way. It's a compromise that we chose to make so that we could sell our products internationally."

Tamara Abukhadra, Founder of Home Grown Market, believes that the solution for the lack of international recognition lies in the regional fashion infrastructure. "The talent in Saudi fashion designers is truly amazing but there just isn't enough support for proper execution. These designers sell really well locally but do not have the required capacity simply because there aren't enough tailors around and they have to manufacture abroad."

The sentiment was echoed by Kadi who added: "We are not able to go to the West because we don't have anything that is super strong here. There is nothing that is made in the Gulf that is being projected like Project Runway. If there was a fashion school here that offers international designers an opportunity to learn Gulf fashion elements, we can then have more recognition and be more credibility as designers."

Another highlight from Arab Luxury World was the Buro 24/7 Middle East panel session with MB&F Founder Maximilian Busser.