From Lebanon to Oman: Arab Fashion Designers Are Capturing the Imagination of the World

By Wells, Rhona | The Middle East, April 2011 | Go to article overview

From Lebanon to Oman: Arab Fashion Designers Are Capturing the Imagination of the World


Wells, Rhona, The Middle East


MIDDLE EASTERN FASHION DESIGN HAS LONG BEEN associated with Lebanese designers, such as Elie Saab, who came to world attention in 2002 when one of his dresses was worn by Halle Berry when she became the first African-American actress ever to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards.

His acclaimed status is such that Harrods, in December 2010, ran a special exhibition showcasing his most memorable gowns--worn on the red carpet by stars including Gwyneth Paltrow, Dame Helen Mirren, Beyonce, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Kristen Stewart--and including the iconic Halle Berry dress. His dresses have appeared at the Oscars, the Cannes Film Festival, the BAFTAs and international film premieres. Lebanese designers have become firm favourites at the Paris Haute Couture fashion week, where dresses can cost anything up to $40,000; experts in the fashion trade estimate that there are no more than 300 clients who buy these clothes, many of whom live in the Middle East and travel to Paris for the prestigious event.

Over the last few years, reflecting the trend of Arab interest and purchasing power, Dubai fashion week has become a landmark event not only in the Middle East but in the global world of fashion; it attracts designers from all over the world; the catwalk has been graced with creations from famous designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Lebanon's Nili Zahar and many local Emirati designers such as All Al Suwaidi and Areal Murad, to name but a few. The region is going from strength to strength in terms of cutting-edge fashion.

Muscat Fashion Week

In recognition of the talented Middle Eastern designers, the inaugural Muscat Fashion Week from 22-24 February put Oman on the world fashion map for the first time this year. The event incorporated leading Arab designers with new up-and-coming talent. Held in the open air under the velvet Arabian skies, the colours and styles tantalised the attentive female audience. Jewels sparkled in the evening light, the air redolent with frankincense. The show incorporated daywear, from traditional abbayas reworked to appeal to a new generation of young women, to evening gowns and wedding extravaganzas. The wedding dresses took much of their inspiration from ornate flamenco-style dresses, with ruffles and frills galore, following in the footsteps of the 'Wedding Follies Show' held annually in Beirut.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Omani women designers have been admired locally, but this fashion week will undoubtedly give them a boost on the international scene; it was in 1993 that Kifah Dadiq Abduwani changed the face of fashion in Oman, staging the first ever fashion show at the Al Bustan Palace, with lavish styles incorporating a rainbow of colour with added embroidery detail to traditional abbayas, a real ground-breaking departure at the time. (See TME, July 1993).

The black abbaya, or cloak, worn in the Middle East has become almost symbolic of Arab womanhood for many in the West. Though undoubtedly discreet, the black abbaya has at the same time a universal sameness which robs the wearer of any real form of self-expression. But all this is changing: with more and more elaborate details, and cuffs increasing in size, with matching embroidery and jewels. And Muscat Fashion Week was just the place to admire all the new styles coming in.

The participating countries included Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, with specific focus on recognised designers and new talents in this industry. The Omani team of upmarket fashion was represented by designer Hanaa Al Wahaibi, Nadra Al Ajmi, Anisa Al Zadjali and Nawal Al Hooti. …

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