An Arabian Rise: Perspective & progression with Fashion Forward.

Fashion Forward’s season 2 came and went like an “all types of wear” whirlwind of wonderful. An organized frenzy of collective talent on display over-drive, presented to the masses in exquisite form. Already, inarguably, the Middle East’s perfectly produced fashion platform… Too perfect, almost.

“Oh? How’s that?”

Well, a stage should never outdo its performer, and in some cases, Fashion Forward’s immediate excellence in execution did supersede some of its designing stars. I say this with significant pain, by the way.

You see, it’s hard to get critical in the midst of what is a positive, overdue and very exciting development. It is literally painful to point the finger at those of us who are actually shaping history. But we must understand something here, critique is an essential part of the development process. To question, dialogue and dispute (with good intention) is to develop. It also makes for good conversation. Praise and praise and more empty praise, especially when undeserved, is so rotting to the brain. With that, let’s just get THAT out of the way shall we… (gulps). OK. So.

Fashion Forward has very correctly stepped up to a somewhat unprepared enviornment, and this is a good thing. A needed jolt. A superb reality check. A time where all participants in this rapidly transforming fashion-filled Arabian eco-system are left with no choice but to check themselves, check each other, question, build, rebuild, realise and do better. This isn’t about a lack of talent either, but more due to a lack of refinement, solid engineering, teamwork, unity, time, and authentic base.

By authenticity, I mean originality, struggle, character, voice, experience and knowledge. I mean working to a point where your nails bleed, interning and learning… more interning, more learning, regularly crying (those who know, know very well what I’m referring to). Solely wanting, yearning, building, just everything in absolutely mastering your craft. Looking to and emulating the very best in your chosen art – with pride. Unending pride.

These are the ingredients that make up creative “authority”, these are the necessary foundations required to keep a culture together, commercially strong, relevant, active, appealing, thriving and LASTING. Then of course there’s the structural elements of production, sales, manufacturing, distribution and other such nuts and bolts required to generate business. None of which can exist (or last for very long) however, without a perfected and protected authentic base.

“Editor’s edit…”

From an editorial perspective, critique is much more difficult than praise. It can be isolating, threatening, and potentially offensive. The truest of editors however will choose critique anyway. They’ll choose the need to dispute, disrupt and develop, over front row seats and “likes”. They’ll choose honesty over free clothes from their designer friends – because they see bigger, brighter and better things, for their designer friends, and their industry. They’ll encourage an editorial intelligence over advertising, knowing that sales should always support content, not the other way round. Never, will a [good] editor ever [ever ever] compromise on the art that they so deeply cherish. Never. Ask Anna Wintour.

“This theme of no theme”

Now, imagine writing a story. For this story to make general sense, you need a start, middle and end. A flow, purpose… point. There needs to be a format, an agenda, and it needs to be digestible, as smoothly as possible. Some kind of cohesive method to expressing and presenting that chain of thought. Right?

Right. As hard as that may be sometimes, it is right. As much as we may want to reveal everything (believe me, I know) the only way to reveal effectively is with discipline. I mean let’s face it, even the best kind of chaos is controlled.

Put simply, do it well. Whatever we choose to do in life, we must do it well. This exact principle would apply to ANY kind of presentation, including that of fashion, as another form of artistic expression, after all.

This understanding in organisation, editing, controlling, cohesiveness (whatever you wish to call it) requires guidance. This guidance tends to be environmental. It’s third-eye, it’s skills-based, it’s education, and it is crucial. It’s not based on the above water frolics, lots of momentary love, non-stop posing and meaningless kisses. It’s not based on free clothes in exchange for badly written reviews, void of this necessary cultural aesthetic and identity, often (so often) completely ignored.

Furthermore, artistic guidance, direction and development IS fundamentally and fully cultural, it’s protective, observing, thinking and shaping of what it means to have identity. It’s also argumentative (of course it is – what is art without argument?). This season’s Fashion Forward reminded its region of precisely that: every foundational seed, in this need to guide.

“Right so, what about the clothes?”

Moving away from analysis (for a bit), let’s talk about the show’s main attraction. Proceeding with a simple stream of consciousness, literally as one’s eyes, and heart, remembers the highlights…

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Taller Marmo: Their debut collection. All sorts of comfortable drapes and fabrics and whirls and winds and wearable wow. This modern Euro-centrism merged with traditional Arabian appreciation so evident throughout. Both under 25 and Italian and clearly respectful of their craftsmanship, as well as inlove with their Emirati environment. Strong. Understood. Impressed.

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Essa Walla: Well, what is Dubai fashion without mention of his name? A leading figure, notoriusly loved, so honestly challenging and always always remembered (it is the “liked” ones we tend to forget). An interesting women’s collection laden with lace and florals, powerful in its femininity. Intermingled was a sharp and unabashed set of menswear which must be taken to the UK and fed to this flourishing scene of style aficionados generally from the East London area, still mastering the looks so seamlessly presented on Essa’s catwalk.

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Zayan the Label: Cute, adorable, happy, colourful and every other positively lovely feeling one collection can possibly pump into one’s soul. A noted evolve on the evening dresses too. International in tone. Odes to Stella McCartney here and there. Comfortable in feel. Globally fitting. Oh and just a sidebar: Two Scoops (and SAUCE in its entirety) stays forefront as one of region’s leading brands. Setting up the necessary operations to support regional growth in such a young and profound manner has to be sincerely noted, and also commended.

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Madiyah Al Sharqi: A heart-warming mix and match of texture, print and fabric. Loved the use of lace on the knee-length skirts (lace, as hard as it is to work, was dominant this season. Madiyah worked it, especially well). Quintessentially regal, but not always practical, as was evident by the models and their regular near falls. Pleasant though. Still gracious. Fresh.

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Amato: The King of theatrics. His usual DUHRAMA. Happiness and darkness and also somehow Marie Antoinette. Demons and fears and dungeons and grandeur and misery and confusion – and love. Deep down, beneath it all, there is a sweet, sweet love. Amato has always managed to take me away from the clothes, and into deciphering his story. Always a mesmerising experience, in costume and complexity.

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Reem Al Kanhal: Her unique beauty lies in her simplicity. Her ability to take strong traditional values and intertwine them with a memorable modernity. A contemporary observation and presentation of Arabian heritage. Timeless in taste, and never a ‘trend’. The sense of her themed “serenity” oozed throughout this season’s set of pastel colours and sweeping cuts. Sophisticated and forward, elegant and bold. For every kind of real woman.

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The Emporer 1688: Let’s not waste time, the Golkar brothers have understood what it means to be local and global. They’ve harnessed a sensibility truly appealing to all. Traditional detailing, colours and craftsmanship, set upon the usually plain-clothed canvas of early 20th century colonial bumpkins. A modernised and beautiful combo, so well integrated. Many looks to take in, but not enough at the same time? As a woman, I suppose I say this selfishly, having wanted to witness more of The Emperor’s superb empress stylings.

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Ezra: A man who reminds us of our emotions through the raw and open displays of his own… a designer who’s art is embedded in the intricacies of humanity. Although this season’s collection did lack a sense of story (as did a number of presentations), he still left me wanting to don a majestically favorite Black piece of gorgeousness, knowing it was created with the utmost sincerity. I like to feel who I wear, and Ezra very naturally fulfills that preference.

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The Garden: When it comes to fashion, Arabia seems to be SO creatively gifted when it comes to their craft of accessories. I don’t know how or why this is, but THIS garden (an expansion from last season’s stall due to understandable demand) blessed with over 50 accessory designers from across the Middle East, left me speechless. And penniless.

Particular stand-outs included La La Queen and Aveen, who both used 100% leather to create beautifully original pieces. Another was Vanina, and basically their flawless fusions. From sparkle and simple to metals and hipster and luxury and rope (?) and keys and fire matches. Some kind of wonderfully new style order, to some kind of recycled disroder. Also, Poupee Couture. One of a kind clutches and handbags, caged colour pops and a superb use of materials, all the more adored thanks to their  lovely creator, Roula Ghalayini Nakad. Worth looking up. Thank me later. You’re already welcome.

“Remember, you have to care to be critical”

T’is true. You really do. You also have to be focused on the bigger picture; in this case that would be to build a thriving fashion industry in the Middle East, equal to that of Paris, London or New York. No longer these geographical idols by comparison, but rather, neighboring rivals. “Made in the Middle East”, as attractive a label as anywhere else.

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As I highlighted during my speaking engagement at “D3 Fashion Talks” (the educational element of panel discussions as orchestrated by Fashion Forward and Dubai’s forthcoming Design District), before embracing the latter nuts and bolts of a developing industry, we must first embrace ourselves. Creative entrepreneurship is clearly the Middle East’s – and Africa’s – real revolution, and within this glorious process we must also recognise and revolutionise our sense of “self”, reshape and commercially respect our identity, truly owning our own. In the pure words of my dear friend Antonio Mancinelli “when I come to the Middle East, I want to see the Middle East”.

“And in conclusion…”

One’s work over the years is synonymous not only with the best in creativity, but in truth, unabashed truth. Influence hasn’t come along with pleasing everybody, but through elevation, risk-taking, and zero fear. Speaking out against the worst of us, and highlighting the deserved. It is because of this that I can say the following with a big and beaming smile:

Season 2 of Fashion Forward brought about a more collective sense of critical address, shocking to some, and yet refreshing to so much more. Finally, more questions by more people were being raised – openly, less vague, less time for ego-boosting and more focus on genuine expertise. All needed and appreciated in the eyes of the thorough, and a ripple of insecure “woah what’s happening” amongst those too used to being undeservedly glorified – by the under-qualified.

Fashion Forward’s greatest contribution to the “Made in the Middle East” brand? CONTENT. Actual, deliberating, insightful, intelligent, colourful, original, homegrown content. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure this content is as excellent, as true, and as proud as the stage that has united and internationally delivered it.

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