“Not all designers are born and bred in New York, Paris and Milan,” Fern Mallis once said. The former director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), widely credited with creating New York Fashion Week in the noughties, may have never heard of Fashion Forward. But judging by the enthusiasm of those involved in the inaugural four-day fashion extravaganza that’s kicking off in Dubai on Friday, she may do so soon.
Mallis may have moved on from her role as CFDA head, but the trade association’s CEO Steven Kolb will be one of the keynote speakers at the event, which will also see established and upcoming designers showcase collections over the weekend.
It’s not a fashion week, but it’s just like one — only a little bit more. Ever since the bi-annual Dubai Fashion Week dropped off the UAE fashion calendar a year ago, and organisers stopped answering calls from us curious media types, the country’s fledgling industry has been looking for a collective to spur it on.
And designers say Fashion Forward has come at the right time and to the right place.
“Dubai is not just about the greatest and the tallest buildings. It’s also about fashion. And I think it’s time for us to produce such an event which the international press and powerful people in the fashion world will notice,” says Michael Cinco, the Dubai-based Filipino designer. “The Middle East is one of the biggest consumers of fashion. And that’s reason enough to have an event like this.”
Cinco’s is undoubtedly one of the hottest names on the Fashion Forward roster. With a client list that includes Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Sophia Vergara and Chris Brown, he says international stylists have been enquiring about designers in Dubai.
“And this is where they will come and find them,” adds the designer, who’s currently working on costumes for a major Hollywood film.
“Dubai and the Middle East have been on the foreign media’s radar for quite some time now - and Fashion Forward couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Dubai-based Indian designer Ayesha Depala, a Bollywood favourite who runs her eponymous label. “Collectively it will augment the region’s fashion houses’ profile and expose them to a wide array of buyers and clientele. Aside from this, we will get an insight into the business of fashion from the industry heavyweights themselves. I have high expectations.”
Cinco’s fellow countryman Furne One (pronounced on-ay), says he joined the line-up because he believes in Fashion Forward founder and creative director Bong Guerrero’s vision.
“The industry needs this platform,” says the designer, a favourite of Hedi Klum, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. “And not just in terms of fashion show. We have to get the message out that we have the talent, and I think he’s bringing the correct type of people to help us do that.”
Aside from Kolb, who will give a talk on how the CFDA supports emerging talent, Paris-based Lebanese designer Rabih Kayrouz will discuss how the region’s designers can promote themselves internationally. Other programmes include talks by the faculty of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and the London College of Fashion.
“It’s going to be a definitive fashion week-type of event, especially because of the scope of activities, from the educational programmes to number of designers,” says fashion entrepreneur-turned-designer Zayan Gandour. “There is so much talent. And all they need is that extra push via an event that is of international quality.”
Gandour should know. Her S*auce range of stores has been instrumental in promoting and mentoring aspiring designers. The Beirut-born designer has also served as an advisor to the Dubai Fashion Week, and says this event is different.
“Whether it’s the organisation or the activities, the involvement that the panel was asked for did not match what the region needed,” she says of the erstwhile event. “For Fashion Forward, so far the organisation has been impeccable and I’m really looking forward to it.”
The only thing missing, Gandour adds, is a buyers-only trade show where designers can set up temporary showrooms.
“It’s a popular formula at all fashion weeks, because they can all be in one place,” she adds.
Fashion Forward will be Gandour’s first ever catwalk show for her label, Zayan. Putting together the fall-winter collection has been a learning process, she says.
“I appreciate the whole process of bringing together a collection now. Buying and selling are the end of a very, very long process and designing is just 10 per cent of that process. There’s production, margins, fabrics, marketing and branding, that very few people take into account.
“It’s a complex model. That is why, if you don’t get it right in the beginning, it will all go wrong.”
Depala says technical knowledge and talent are as important as operation skills and management. “A fashion design house sources, creates, manufactures, retails and distributes and needs to communicate efficiently with the media. It is vital to embrace [the fact that] you will not be efficient at everything.”
One’s advice to aspiring designers is to be patient.
“I didn’t just wake up and Katy Perry wore my dress. I started designing when I was very young and have mastered my craft and the vision I have for my label. It’s a lot of hard work. And of course, a little luck,” he says. “Perfect your craft before going mainstream. You have to establish your look and have to be prepared.”
Known for his flamboyant creations, he says his collection will be a bit less dramatic this time.
“It’s my garden of good and evil and demons and angels. I think it will be controversial again,” he laughs.
Cinco, who recently showcased at the Los Angeles Style Fashion Week, says his is inspired by Christian Dior, and the glory days of the Russian Czars.
“It’s a look back in time, but very fashion forward,” he jokes.
While Depala, who is looking to launch her line of shoes soon, says hers will be a mix of casual and formal.
“Fall-winter 2013 will be feminine and sensual with a smidgen of fierce fashion attitude,” she says.
Fashion Forward founder and creative director Guerrero says he’s had to politely turn away many designers who wanted to be a part of the showcase.
“We had to be very careful in our selection. Our yardstick was accountability of the designer or label,” he explains. “You needed to have them established a minimum of three years, have consistency and we needed designers that had at least a regional or global objective in their business model. It’s when they have that, that Fashion Forward really makes sense.”
He hopes the event will take the region’s fashion industry to the forefront.
“Hopefully it will be a platform the industry truly needs and be a catalyst for the start of something,” he says. “We need to be presented to the world.”
While plans are already being drafted for Season 2 to be held in October, he says it’s been a bit overwhelming but very satisfying to put together the event’s debut.
“So far, it looks very promising,” he says. “We’re really hoping for the best.”
*Entry to the Fashion Forward showcase is by invite only. For more on the schedule and the event, go to fashionforward.ae