While London, New York City, Paris and Milan bask in their much revered statues thanks to years of organic growth, false starts and many a catwalk slips, the foundation of the Dubai Design and Fashion Council — aimed at fast-tracking Dubai into the elite clique of design capitals — has kicked off a nature versus nurture debate in creative corridors.
In her first interview since her appointment as the CEO of Dubai Design and Fashion Council, Nez Gebreel explains the intent behind the council: “I see it as a show of faith in the future of our nascent creative industry.”
“The Dubai government wants to help and support its creative sector. This decision acknowledges what the creative community has achieved so far. It also acknowledges Dubai as a global destination for design and fashion.”
Born to a textile designer mother and a diplomat father, who was appointed to the United Nations and awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his humanitarian services, Libya-born Gebreel graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London and initially worked within the human rights field with the likes of the Refugee Council and Amnesty International, United Kingdom. In 1999, she was coordinating fundraising initiatives for the AIUK on the Eurythmics Peacetour, when Simon Fuller head-hunted her and convinced her to switch gears into the creative industries.
Known within the international industry for her business-minded approach to creative ventures, Gebreel has a knack for changing brand perceptions — she was a key member of the team responsible for developing Victoria Beckham as a successful fashion brand and worked on the re-launch of the Roland Mouret’s luxury fashion label.
At the core of Beckham’s rise as one of the most bankable new generation fashion brands is a carefully thought out five-year plan, she says. “Her success is the result of a singular vision and concise brand message — both of which came from Victoria.”
Gebreel attributes her own success to a humane approach — something the council stands to benefit from.
“We are dealing with people and their aspirations. We see ourselves having an open door policy for our members. We want to be aware of what’s going on around us, be transparent and available to our members and the creative community of the region,” she says.
The establishment of the council also signals a dedicated vision towards what needs to be done to help the region’s design and fashion industry evolve into one that is taken seriously on an international level. “There is tremendous amount of energy and ambition in our region’s creative industry,” says Gebreel. Yet they don’t know how to take that next step. That is where the council comes in. “We are here to help emerging, small and even business that have been there for a long time but need infrastructural support and mentoring to realise their potential.”
Key to the council’s success lies in it being accessible. “We want to be as inclusive as possible. Individual and companies will be able to register with us as members to avail our resources,” she says, adding that quality, integrity and growth are the core values of its members.
The Vision and Mission statement of the council will be unveiled at its formal launch when it shall be made open for membership. Initially focusing on Dubai, the council aims to extend its reach to the MENA region and beyond. Towards that the council lays importance on conducting research into the fashion and design industry to provide valuable information and data to the public.
Based on feedback from the very community it aims to nurture, on top of the council’s priorities is to establish a world-class design institute in Dubai.
“We need to start work from the grassroots level. Education is the most important foundation of any community, industry or country and plans are afoot to have our own in four years,” says Gebreel.
In addition to short courses, the design school will offer Bachelors and Masters programmes in design. Scholarships will also be awarded. In addition to endorsing fashion and design events in Dubai, a Dubai Fashion Week focused on the regions’ talent is also being planned.
An incubation facility that aims at nurturing talent is high on the council’s agenda but Gebreel insists we don’t confuse it with a physical space or hard infrastructure. “The council calendar will provide opportunities for designers to really understand their trade,” she explains. “The incubator aims to develop them from a business angle, help them in their business plans, PR, marketing etc.”
From helping designers put together their business model to how to attract the correct funding and best sourcing manufacturing and production units, the council aims to work as the proverbial red thread, connecting talent to their core market through guidance and access to the best business minds in the creative industry. Members of the Council board — a healthy mix of corporate and creative giants — shall be at hand to offer help.
The council is working towards development of Intellectual Property laws in the region and manners they can be implemented by educating its members and the community.
“A lot about changing perception is about connecting with the essence of what you are working with and for,” says Gebreel. “It has to do with emotional intelligence. You also have to be very clear in what your vision is.
“We have great support from the government and all fifteen of our board members are fully engaged. We are sure with everyone’s support and goodwill we will make a positive impact on how the world sees Dubai and the region and how the creative industry here works.”
Meet the members
The Dubai Design and Fashion Council is chaired by Dr Ameenah Al Rustamani, group CEO of Tecom Investments, the company developing the Dubai Design District (d3). Laila Suhail, the CEO at Dubai Festival and Retail Establishments, the organisation behind Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises, will act as vice chairman. Nez Gebreel is the CEO. The board members are made up of the who’s who in the design industry. They include:
— Patrick Chalhoub, CEO of Chalhoub Group
— Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy of Azza Fahmy Jewellery fame
— Fashion designer Reem Acra
— Mohammad Al Shael, executive director of commercial licensing at Department of Economic Development
— Robert D. Booth, CEO of real estate at Emaar Properties
— Iyad Malas, CEO of Majed Al Futtaim Holding
— Khalid Al Tayer, CEO Retail of Al Tayer Group
— Ashok Sawlani, former chairman of and present honorary member of the managing committee at Dubai Textile City
— Farida Abdullah Kambar Al Awadi, president of Association of Professional Interior Designers in UAE (APID) and managing director or Cinmar Design
— Ali Jaber, Dean of Communication and Information Studies at the Mohammad Bin Rashid School of Communication at American University of Dubai
— Raja Trad, CEO Leo Burnett and Publicis Group of Companies Mena
— Gassan Harfouche, group CEO of Middle East Communication Network (MCN)
— Nisha Jagtiani, the director of Landmark Group
Pratyush Sarup edits the design site designcarrot.net. You can also follow the site on twitter @DesignCarrot.