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Sheikh to chic: Gulf looks to rival Paris as fashion capital

From Leone Lakhani, CNN
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 0232 GMT (1032 HKT)
  • Dubai wants to become a global fashion capital by 2020
  • Events like Fashion Forward aim to promote the best designers in the UAE
  • Luxury fashion and design sectors are worth more than $14 billion in the Gulf region, research states

Dubai, UAE (CNN) -- A haunting moon rises over a darkened stage, bouquets of flowers masquerade as elaborate head pieces while a fair-skinned model smiles through a mask of colorful jewelery.

Welcome to Fashion Forward, a semi-annual fashion expo that aims to promote the Middle East's burgeoning sartorial sector.

Alongside these elaborate and eye-catching runway shows, pop-up shops tout the latest designer accessories and fashionistas host forums on the latest industry developments in busy meeting rooms.

Although the Dubai event only began in April 2013, its founder has grand ambitions for its future and for fashion in the Middle East.

"I would like to truly have our own fashion heroes," said Fashion Forward founder and CEO, Bong Guerrero.

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"Where every mall almost looks the same ... you really need to have your own home grown brands," he added.

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Established Arab labels such as Amato are already regular attendees at Fashion Forward as are smaller up-and-coming fashion houses like Dubai's Zareena line.

The real yard-stick of the Gulf's fashion success, however, will be whether the creations on display from the likes of Zareena make it off runways and into popular stores around the region.

Those that can make this jump will find a lucrative market waiting for them.

The luxury fashion and design sectors are worth more than $14 billion across the Gulf alone, according to the consultancy Bain and Company -- and that accounts for just a tiny portion of the global market.

To tap into that potential, industry experts like the creator of New York Fashion Week, Fern Mallis, say the region has to find a way to set itself apart.

"There's a lot of talent around the world but everybody is looking for something new," Mallis said. "Even buyers in New York and Paris, they're all looking for something new that nobody else has."

"I often say that (fashion) editors and journalists, they're like pigs sniffing for truffles. They'll find it if the talent exists," she added.

But for many emerging designers in the Gulf having the talent is only part of the process.

Some like Arwa Alamari, a local designer who recently completed her first collection, say they need guidance and mentoring in order to fully realize their potential.

"For a new designer, they need appropriate education so they'll be able to understand the concept behind fashion because fashion cannot be taken as a hobby," said Alamari. "Second, I think you need a coach or someone to help you along the way. And the third thing, you have to find a proper outlet for your designs."

Creating that outlet for local talent is an integral part of Dubai Fashion 2020, a long-term strategy that aims to make the emirate a global fashion capital by the end of the decade.

I would like to truly have our own fashion heroes
Bong Guerrero,Fashion Forward CEO

At the heart of this process is D3 (or Dubai Design District), a government backed entire business park just minutes away from the Burj Khalifa dedicated to supporting these goals.

D3 will include commercial areas, manufacturing facilities and work spaces for artists and designers.

The woman at the helm of the company responsible for delivering the D3 project says it will be an eco-system to create jobs and nurture the region's talent.

"You have Paris and you have New York, and you have London, the idea is not really to bring designers or mimic whatever they have there," said Dr. Amina Al Rustamani, group CEO of Tecom.

"We are very strong in attracting brands here but I believe we are also ready and have the right opportunity to also develop global brands from Dubai."

"I believe we have our own authenticity, and you know, and unique design and talent that could showcase."Rustamani added.

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