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When it comes to moving forward, the UAE has no shortage of ambition. Whether it’s a new building, shopping mall or – as we saw last year – a canal, our country of residence makes the impossible possible and it does it quickly too. Just 40 years ago Dubai was a small city surrounded by desert, and we can all see today the metropolis it has become in that short time. While Dubai’s tourism is thriving, its fashion industry is in a growth period. With big ideas of becoming a globally recognised fashion city, there’s no reason why Dubai can’t crack that fashion barrier and be listed with the likes of London, Paris and New York as a key fashion city in the future. While this might be a long way off yet, there are small but significant changes happening in an aim to get international recognition for the incredible design talent we have here, but at the same time nurturing and looking after the potential we have locally in the UAE.

‘The UAE is more than coming into its own, particularly with the internal emphasis on homegrown designers,’ says Jane Monnington Boddy, director of Colour and Womenswear at trend forecaster WGSN.
‘For this part of the world [the Middle East], it is absolutely correct to say that it is and will continue to be a fashion hub.’

Here are our predictions for the fashion industry, home and abroad, in 2017.

Fashion Week in Dubai

Amato by Furne One at Fashion Forward.

Every year my friends ask me the question: ‘When will Dubai have something that’s as big as New York Fashion Week?’

Each time my response is the same. ‘Dubai doesn’t need to copy other cities, because we have something really unique here.’

Italian designer Giada Curti Arab Fashion Week

While the likes of New York and London fashion weeks are an ultimate goal for fashion designers around the world, what I love about the UAE and its fresh, growing market is how we look after and promote homegrown talent. Fashion Forward has become a great platform with local designers – both small and larger businesses. ‘Fashion Forward was developed to address a specific need that we identified in the regional market – for a fashion movement or platform that would celebrate regional designers,’ says Bong Guerrero, CEO and co-founder of FFWD. ‘Combined with the support of our loyal sponsors and the international speakers we host every year, we are confident FFWD will continue to be the leading platform for regional talent [in 2017].’

We can expect to see more international buyers and press attending Fashion Forward this year with the hope of getting even more of our local brands recognised.

While Fashion Forward will continue to promote local talent in the region, Arab Fashion Week was developed two years ago to showcase international talent. Bringing designers from Europe and beyond, the five-day event will take place again this year from May 16-20, with the designers yet to be announced. While it is important for the UAE to have a successful fashion week, it can also have a negative effect and become confusing to consumers if there are too many events happening. For 2017, I hope the focus will be on one or two major events that will be recognised internationally.

Emirati designer Madiyah Al Sharqi took centrestage at 2016’s edition of Fashion Forward.

Fashion Forward has the local angle well and truly covered, but I would love to see Arab Fashion Week (or Dubai Fashion Week, which is rumoured to be making a return this year), pushing the international angle. With the right investment and marketing, is there space for a platform for established international designers to choose to show their collections, as other major cities do? Victoria Beckham for example, has shown her designs in New York since her first runway show, despite being from London. While getting Beckham to show her collection here is a long way off, other designers are beginning to look at different cities (Saint Laurent recently showed a collection in LA rather than Paris). So perhaps well-known fashion designers might choose to show their collections in the UAE in the future, if we have a platform for them to do so.

Online fashion in the UAE

Our pick of fashion sites you can shop from: Ounass, Asos and Namshi have all made their marks in the UAE

Before I moved to Dubai from the UK four years ago, I used to do all of my shopping online. From my clothes to my weekly food shop, if I didn’t want to step into a store, I never had to.

Then I arrived in the UAE and began to realise my online shopping options were somewhat limited and I was going to have to visit a mall to get what I needed. ‘The e-commerce boom started in the UAE around 2013-2014,’ says Ulugbek Yuldashev, founder and CEO of Awok.com. So we are still way behind other developed countries, who’ve had a successful industry for up to 10 years now.

Don’t get me wrong – in the last four years things have improved. Namshi.com, which you could say is the UAE’s answer to British online store Asos, launched in 2011 and has become the region’s most successful online-only mass-market fashion retailer. Souq.com is a huge platform that allows sellers to upload their own items to be sold locally. And of course many international brands are now shipping and delivering here.

But while the growth has been slow, it looks like 2017 will be the year the UAE catches up with the likes of the UK and US, making online shopping second nature to consumers.

‘One thing is for sure and that is that the consumer is in the driving seat and the catalyst for change is technology,’ says Megan Biebuyck, VP of marketing at Namshi. Namshi saw 80 per cent of its customers accessing its online store through its app on tablets or smartphones, so it’s not just about the website – it’s about understanding what makes the lives of shoppers easier.

Most recently, in December last year, Ounass, an online luxury fashion and beauty retailer, went live. Perhaps the most significant part of this announcement is that they will deliver products to consumers within two hours of ordering. (I tested out that promise this week – and our items arrived in one hour and five minutes. I’ve had salads that have taken longer to deliver.)

Early 2017 will see the launch of a very different site, Noon.com, which last week announced it will be stocking hundreds of fashion brands with over three million items available for same or next day delivery. The site says this is more than five times more than its nearest competitor.

‘For too long, consumers who want to buy fashion online in the Middle East have suffered from a lack of variety,’ says Mohammad Alabbar, the founder of Noon. The site, which will go live this month, aims to change this, with a focus on high street and sportswear, making affordable fashion easier to access online than ever before. ‘Fashion will be at the very heart of the Noon experience… We will also launch with a large private label collection that will offer unmatched value to the customer,’ said Alabbar in a statement. This private collection will be Noon’s in-house range of own-brand products – something none of its direct competitors (the likes of Namshi and Sivvi) have. Aside from fashion, the site will stock 20 million products in total, from books to health and beauty products.

Meanwhile, brands with stores within the region are acknowledging the need for online shopping by launching e-commerce versions of their brands. Ulugbek predicts, ‘With the entry of more digital commerce businesses in the market, as well as the increasing demand for online buying among consumers, there will be a more active shift from bricks-and-mortar stores to online, which will result in more sales happening through this medium.’

We are already starting to see this happen. High street store Splash went live with its shoppable website in the second half of last year, as did Marks & Spencer. Locally run boutique Valleydez announced the launch of its website the same week as it closed its Dubai flagship store – proving online is the area it will be investing in this year. While the experience of visiting the UAE’s super-malls will probably never go away, the convenience of having items delivered to your door is something that goes hand-in-hand. When we don’t have time to go to a mall, e-commerce is the easy option, and it’ll hopefully start to become a lot easier this year.

Where to Shop

  1. Ounass.com – for luxury fashion, home and beauty products, delivered to your door within two hours.
  2. Namshi.com – for high street fashion for men, women, kids, plus exclusive brands.
  3. Noon.com (launching early this year) – for everything from books to music to household goods
  4. Asos.com – international fashion shipped from the UK in as little as three days.

Emerging designers

Hussein Bazaza’s show at Fashion Forward

Last year saw more design talent coming out of the UAE than ever before, and our local designers having success across the world. ‘After showing at Fashion Forward, designer Hussein Bazaza debuted his [autumn/winter] 2016 ready-to-wear collection on the online shopping platform Moda Operandi,’ says Bong Guerrero, CEO and co-founder of FFWD. ‘Dubai-based fine jewellery and accessories designer Madiso unveiled a collection of evening box clutches and statement necklaces on the same international platform.

FFWD participant Rula Galayini caught the eye of FarFetch

Long-time FFWD participant Rula Galayini was picked up by FarFetch during season seven and also received an invitation to reveal her signature cuffs at the iconic Galeries Lafayette Haussmann in Paris. Such accomplishments demonstrate how FFWD acts as a catalyst for international visibility and drives our commitment to invest in the platform with new and innovative elements each season.’

Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad and Rami Al Ali all began their careers in the Middle East and we can see the incredible success they’ve had, so I hope 2017 will bring further success for our local talent.

Aside from Fashion Forward, late last year came the announcement of the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) Mentorship Programme and the DDFC Internship Programmes, which will find and nurture local design talent. Funded by the Dubai government, the Mentorship programme is structured in five-month cycles, during which time designers will be paired with mentors and eventually have the capability of building their own fashion brand. The DDFC Internship programme will also connect students with successful fashion businesses to help grow their knowledge.

The mall experience

While we have spoken a lot regarding the future of online fashion, there is still no beating the mall experience. According to Jane at WGSN, ‘The entire shopping experience is fundamental to the way of life in the Middle Eastern market where women have an expendable income, and the touch and feel of product is vital. Therefore, the enclosed mall with individual designer stores will become even more important, particularly since many designers have moved away from the modest clothing that has been a part of Middle Eastern culture, embracing new and extremely glamorous trends in single shopping.’

So while moving with technology is key and convenient for consumers, in a country where shopping is so important, there is still room for our incredible malls and shopping districts, something that’s set to grow even more in 2017 with new openings and expansions across the country.

It feels like every time I go out I stumble across a new mall. Just this weekend I happened to come across the latest mall by Nakheel in Al Fursan, which has fashion and beauty stores including Tips and Toes and Beyond the Beach, as well as a huge Spinneys. Just opposite my home, work has begun on Al Khail Avenue, which will be a huge shopping and dining complex. It seems there is no end in sight when it comes to building more and more malls in the country, and with so many newly developed areas there’s no doubt there will be even more places to shop this time next year.

The Dubai Mall, already the largest in the world, is getting a 300-square-metre expansion this year, giving space to more luxury fashion retailers than ever before and also (which we are thrilled about) adding more space to its Fashion parking area.

Production also continues on Mall of the World as well as on two new malls on Palm Jumeirah (we hope they expand the parking here, too!) It’s fair to say, then, shopping in the UAE is as popular as ever and with so many options it’s likely fashion lovers from all around the globe will be flocking to splash the cash.

Singaporean department store Robinsons will come complete with a living wall designed by botanist Patrick Blanc

It’s also all about department stores, with two major openings this year: City Walk in Dubai is getting an outpost of French department store BHV in September; while over in Dubai Festival City, the city is finally getting a taste of the Far Eastern shopping experience with the opening of a Robinsons from Singapore this spring.

Abu Dhabi is also upping its mall ante with two mega malls due to be completed in early 2018.

Reem Mall, which is currently being built on Reem Island, will have 450 stores as well as the world’s largest indoor snow play centre.

Al Maryah centre will feature the city’s first Bloomingdale’s as well as the region’s first branch of world-renowned department store Macy’s.

What’s happening overseas?

Runway to stores

With almost 30 mainstream designer brands presenting ‘see now, shop now’ collections last year, 2017 could be the beginning of the end of fast fashion as we know it, as more brands plan to do the same. In previous years, high street stores such as Zara and H&M carried affordable ‘designer-inspired’ versions of catwalk collections before the luxury pieces could make it to stores. But with the instantaneous character of the ‘seasonless’ shows, it will make it impossible for affordable stores to beat the luxury brands to it – with the latest trends suggesting a change in how we shop and what we shop for in 2017.

The new fashion icons

This year is going to see a huge curveball mixed in with our modern fashion icons. While she’s surrounded by controversy, there’s no doubt Melania Trump’s style choices are going to be making headlines. Dolce & Gabbana already dressed her for a New Year’s party, and while many designers have refused to dress her, Melania is surely going to have supporters for her style.

Kate Middleton can also take a back seat this year as it’s Prince Harry’s actress girlfriend Meghan Markle who will be attracting the attention of designers and industry insiders. Meghan’s classic style with an edgy twist is much more accessible than the prim and proper fashion choices of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Plus-size fashion making an impact

Following in the footsteps of Alexandra Shulman’s decision to put plus-size model Ashley Graham on the cover of British Vogue in 2016, let’s hope 2017 is the year models of all shapes and sizes make it to magazine covers.

Where will our fashion trends come from?

For as long as I can remember, fashion trends have been dictated by what’s on the catwalk, which then filters down to the high street for us mere mortals to buy. However, as we step into 2017, I recently had a conversation with a colleague about a recent trend to wear fishnet tights under ripped jeans and where this had come from. As far as I can recall this isn’t something I have seen on any recent catwalk. And then it hit me. This is not a catwalk trend but instead a style trend as started by the Kardashian/Jenner family, all of whom have been wearing this particular outfit in the past few weeks. With sites now reporting this as one of ‘2017’s biggest trends’, can it be that our style choices this year will be dictated by celebrities and reality TV stars rather than the classic method of fashion designers?