Fashion Forward Dubai: modesty with a twist

It was all about elegant modesty at the Fashion Forward Dubai, where shows by local designers provided insight into local modes, mores and moods. Albeit leavened with a mix of international creators at FFWD, which celebrated its 10th anniversary with some style and oomph and a late-night party that climaxed in the wee hours of Sunday morning.


Essa at Fashion Forward Dubai

 
From Lebanese designer Lara Khoury to Korea’s Eudon Choi to Uniti by Babak Vosoughi, a Los Angeles-based designer of Iranian origin who showed a rather brilliant menswear collection of Gothic street wear, there was plenty of ideas on offer.
 
Also impressing was the locally acclaimed Essa Walla. Despite boasting an MBA, Essa honed his skills with local craftsmen in Old Dubai’s souq, who taught him pattern making. Essa has a great sense of volume and rouches his rock star robes with abandon. Not everything worked, but when it did his voluminous cocktail dresses had great panache. No wonder Lady Gaga is a fan, and client.
 
Though the standout show was probably Uniti, from LA’s Babak Vosoughi. The influences of Rick Owens and Riccardo Tisci were apparent throughout, from worn leather tulip-neck bomber jackets, battered suede asymmetrical dusters, matelassé worker blazers and layered shorts with leggings. But Babak gave it all his own twist, making for a powerful fashion statement of biker dude artist style.
 
Lara Khoury referenced the Golden Age of Beirut. Though the results - large granddad shirts, plaid dhotis and sleeveless tent dresses - suggested a gang a cool gals hanging out together in a large urban loft. Her fluid style, and insouciant mood, however, made this a highly wearable and flattering collection.
 
However, far too many of the collections played around in a facile manner with existing Western references: like Royaled by RH, which mingled in hints of Moschino and tiny doses of Gucci in a pretty, though slight, selection of min blazers, beach shorts and lounge suits. Or, Sadeem, who presented candy colored separates: lapel-free jackets, perforated cotton picnic dresses and ankle-length wrap skirts. Charming but ultimately a tad too innocuous.

Staged in three tents at the recently opened Dubai Design District (D3), many shows attracted as over 800 people – with standing room three deep at the back, like for Madiyah Al Sharqi, who showed voluminous trench-coat dresses and bold micro-fiber parkas along with tulip sleeved blouses and grand Edwardian gowns worthy of the schoolmarms in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. Her over reliance on harsh metals did cause one to blink, but this was fine display from a designer who did not come out for her ovation. As the daughter of Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, the ruler of Fujairah, one of the Emirates, the princess is forbidden by royal protocol from taking a bow. A designer – not the shyest of professions - cannot get much more modest than that.
 

A look by princess and designer Madiyah Al Sharqi


And, unlike Anna K, the hipster sportswear designer from the Ukraine, who showed some great wee graphic semi-sheer tops with all lots of lettering. From Crypto Fashion to Fashion Coin, since everyone here is talking about selling in Crypto Currencies. Bit Coin is already last year’s thing in Dubai, the financial hub of the Middle East. Beaming and long-legged Anna K, not only took a long bow, she also wore the last look in her own show.
 
FFWD is the brainchild of the energetic, Philippines-born Bong Guerrero, who got a taste for organizing events in college in California
 
“I had an affinity to the local fashion industry. When I saw others doing not quite a good job, I though I could do a better job. So I observed, and I visited fashion weeks abroad, like in Paris. I coined the name Forward and we eventually debuted in April 2013,” he explained.
 
This season, FFWD added Fashion Future, a global graduate showcase, featuring over 25 graduates from many countries.  “Our anchor partner is Fashion Scout in the UK. And we work with Domus Academy and may others,” explained Guerrero.
 
FFWD is privately held but crucially endorsed by the governing council in Dubai, where the royal family remains benevolent but all powerful.  The shows are all held in the D3, a happening new series of 11 building on a new man-made bay with boutiques, luxury brads regional headquarters, chic restaurants and Pop Up stores. D3 is controlled by Dubai Holding, the key investment vehicle of Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. They plan to open up a major new, Norman Foster-designed, fashion school in September 2018, the first important one in the region.
 
FFWD 10 also added five international designers for the first time; showcased two LVMH Prize nominees – Nabil Nayal and Sid Neigum – and revealed another talented Lebanese Roni Helou with a special skill in deconstruction.
 
“We used to be quite stubborn and only show Middle Eastern talent – by that I mean all the way from North African down to Oman,” conceded Guerrero.
 
All told, 28 shows over three days at FFWD, which
also had a retail salon, The Garden, with local accessories brands; a series of well-attended Talks from the likes of Mary Katrantzou and Simon Locke, CEO of Ordre.com, in D3; and DJs spinning in small plazas throughout the afternoons and evenings.
 

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