Michael Cinco showcases designs at the 1st day of Fashion Forward Dubai 2014 held at the Madinat Jumeirah on 4th October, 2014. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

If there was ever any doubt about the fashion talent coming out of this region, one need only look at the first day showcases at Fashion Forward season four, the fashion week-style twice-yearly event that opened on Saturday in Dubai.

Highlighting a mixed bag of talents — from Lebanon to Iran and the Philippines — the first day saw an eclectic mix of designers, starting with Rayya Morrcos, the Beirut-based designer who is all set to represent the Middle East in the coveted Woolmark Prize next year for womenswear with her label Bird on a Wire. (Emperor 1688 will represent the region for menswear). The day closed with a Dubai favourite, the Filipino designer Michael Cinco, who’s dressed many Hollywood stars, and whose dreamy take on the Audrey Hepburn classic My Fair Lady only established his mastery of materials and textures. He showed off his flair for form and fabric.

Maral

Launched only last year in Paris, Iranian designer Maral Yazarloo made a strong Dubai debut with her royal collection for her label Maral. Using predominantly raw silk, her collection took inspiration from her rich Persian heritage, with an Indian twist. Having lived for many years in India where her label is still based, Yazarloo’s very wearable pieces were rich in embroidery and took on an orientalist vibe.

There were layered gowns and playful cocktail dresses with rich work but on very contemporary silhouettes, most of them created out of raw silk.

“If you leave it to me, everything would be made of raw silk,” the designer joked after her show. “Raw silk is beautiful, the texture is very strong and the colours can go as strong as you want. I just love the look of it, the way the fabric blends into each shape. I don’t think any other fabric can look that way.”

If she chose this collection — also infused with a hint of Greek goddess — as her entry to the Gulf market, we can only say Yazarloo would have chosen well.

Starch Foundation

The young designers from Rabih Kayrouz’ Beirut incubator have had a show at Fashion Forward since its inception, and with good reason: It’s a great way to showcase what can be done with those who aspire to fashion design are given support and training. And so while they are not faultless and the collections are limited, it’s always a show to believe in. First up was Timi Hayak’s study of cream crepes and gauzes, clothing the colour and texture of bandages, but with the opposite effect, one of lightness and freedom. Most successful were the skits, midi and long, with high slits, and an a-line dress. Woolmark Prize nominee Rayya Morrcos struck a high note with a fresh take on a long overcoat that fluttered and flowed around the body.

Emperor 1688

What is a brand to do? Evolution and showing your customer something new is the name of the game, said NOWFASHION editor-in-chief Jessica Michault in her housefull, honest and hilarious keynote speech on fashion lessons on Saturday. But staying true your identity and heritage is another must-do. For a young brand such as this one, founded with menswear only in 2007 by the Golkar brothers Babak, Haman Golkar and Farhan, moving forward while staying on-messsage is the biggest challenge. I found plenty to like in their collection, now 60 per cent womenswear, which still plays be the menswear rules of tailoring, even incorporating suit-fabric checks into shorts. (The brothers seem to have gotten a preview copy of Michault’s playbook: She also mentioned that even for womenswear hopefuls, the less-cluttered menswear calendar is a good place to make a name.) There is nary a frill in sight; drama comes from a textured and richly coloured selection of fabrics.

House of Ronald

The collection from the Lebanese designer was jarring. Starting with a sleek metallic take on 1970s flares before moving into cutesy crop-top and skirt combos, there were nice touches such as a short sleeve with only the top half of the cuff making a frame for the upper arm. However a series of short, tight dresses, one of them with shiny black PVC, let down what had the makings of a smart collection. It was surprising to see pieces that would have been at home in a high-street store.

Jean Louis Sabaji

Birds of every hue and stripe came fluttering on to Lebanese designer Jean Louis Sabaji’s catwalk on his second show at Fashion Forward — and what a dramatic result. The Beirut-based designer showed off his understanding of fabrics, mixing them to create breath-taking shapes and forms as the models took flight, some transforming right in the middle of the runway.

No animals were harmed while creating this collection, as Sabaji interpreted everything, even feathers, with his use of materials. Ripped organza stripes, for instance, took on feather-like proportions. Silicone was also used to great effect, reflecting bird’s flesh and representing their claws, some of which dotted the heels of the models. It is with this literal translation of nature that Sabaji really shines, creating striking looks that speak volumes about his talent. One highlight was a dress made of stuffed hoops held together by sheer fabric.

While many items took on his signature haute couture flourish, there were also a few wearable pieces that would work well in the region.

“I can never let go of haute couture — but this is my way of saying I can also do ready-to-wear and still have a lot of fun,” Sabaji told tabloid! later.

Michael Cinco

If Michael Cinco is trying to convince UAE high society of his ability to create lush dream-like opulent dresses, like his inspiration Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady, he needn’t try too hard. This Dubai favourite and Hollywood A-lister constant sent some dramatic dresses down his runway in a mix of pastels, marking quite a departure for someone known for his stark use of colour.

Starting with whites, the Cinco signature patterns took on various forms: an off shoulder short dress, a tulle gown with an embroidered cape and playful bubble skirts. He then sent them out in various shades of pastels, and then added a twist: menswear. Some of the female models were accompanied by male models in matching colours wearing richly embroidered jackets that have almost become another Cinco signature.

“My clients have been asking for more and more menswear so I had to do it,” he explained later, adding that the flowers mirror those Audrey Hepburn sells as Doolittle in the film. “But of course, my first love and priority will always be couture.”

And he didn’t disappoint. Cinco’s final act saw massive poufy dresses come down the runway, some so big and possible heavy that the models had to kick them forward as they walked. And they were as dramatic a Cinco’s signature looks always are.