The world’s first Emirati model, Rafeea Al Hajsi stole the show as she walked the runway at the third edition of the Huawei Arab Fashion Week.
Held at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse to promote regional talent, the biannual event, which concluded last week, showcased the ready-couture collections of local and international designers.
Al Hajsi – who is also a television presenter on Abu Dhabi TV – opened the fashion extravaganza wearing a gown by designer Ilse Jara from Paraguay, styled with a towering headpiece made from human hair.
“To be involved with Arab Fashion Week is a huge honour,” says Al Hajsi, from Dubai. “I feared walking with the hat – which was made by hair stylist and chief operating officer of the Arab Fashion Council, Fadi Nasr – but I just kept telling myself, ‘You can do it!’.
“People’s response to my taking part has been very positive and open-minded. It’s taken me eight years to get to this stage as a model and I’m so proud to have represented my country.”
In addition to being Master of Ceremonies at HAFW’s glittering closing ceremony last Monday, Al Hajsi participated in the runway show of celebrated Dubai-based designer Aiisha Ramadan.
She strode the catwalk in floor-length crimson and black evening gowns from the Lebanese designer’s collection of 35 hand-finished pieces, entitled Parc en Cielle.
“I have to choose carefully the dresses I wear, because of my culture and family,” says Al Hajsi. “Some designers don’t accept that I might need to ‘close this’ or ‘change that’ to make styles work for me. So, it’s important to work with the right ones, and Aiisha was perfect. I’ve always loved her classic, elegant dresses.”
Ramadan was one of seven Middle Eastern designers who presented their hybrid bespoke, pret-a-porter lines to industry professionals and the media at the Spring/Summer 2017 event.
“It’s my first participation in Arab Fashion Week,” says Ramadan. “Just like every international brand, mine needs the right home to nurture, protect and present it to the world. While there are other platforms that I admire and respect, HAFW is the perfect representation for me as an Arab, offering ready-couture to the world.
“From an event and expertise standpoint, this is the standard I wish my brand to be associated with.”
Regional contemporaries taking part included Emirati designer Lamya Abedin, with her range of carnival-inspired creations under the label Queen of Spades.
Ingie Chalhoub, from Lebanon, rolled out high-glamour ladieswear and kaftans for her brand, Ingie Paris, while Sheikha Alanoud Al Attiya from Qatar presented a selection of embellished sculptural gowns for her fashion label, Tiiya.
Completing the five-day schedule of shows, more than 30 established global brands – from the United States to Europe – presented alongside their Gulf counterparts.
The line-up included two esteemed members of the elite Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris. Jordanian-Canadian nonconformist Rad Hourani sent exquisitely tailored unisex tuxedo vests and belted tunics down the ramp to rapturous applause.
Hot on his heels was French-Algerian designer Yacine Aouadi, with his eponymous label’s collection of ethereal coffee-and-cream gowns in silk chiffon, suede and python skin.
Flown in from New York and Shanghai to peruse the collections – which also included those by select accessory designers in dedicated showrooms – were buyers representing leading department stores and high-profile clients.
“Business cards were exchanged – now we’ll see if future collaborations and orders take place over the next six months,” says HAFW adviser and Arab Fashion Council board member, Jessica Garnetti. “Buyers were impressed and surprised by what they saw, which is great because it’s our aim to provide designers with the ‘lights, camera and action’ to grab their attention.”
Garnetti also invited Yifan Derek Dai, chief executive of Wonderka in New York, who flew to Dubai with his VIP client, Chinese designer Xing Lucas Zhou. Dai’s art and fashion consultancy is committed to elevating foreign couture designers in China as well as promoting Chinese ones overseas.
“The quality at Arab Fashion has been superb and I’d very much like Chinese designers such as Xing to show here,” says Dai. “I’ve been amazed by the quality of the collections, which in parts have been as good as those you’d see in Paris or Milan.
“Many designers stood out for me, from Aiisha Ramadan to Rad Hourani’s very architectural pieces. I’m working on a project to launch a fashion city in China in the coming years, so perhaps there are ways to coordinate and cooperate with Dubai.
“I think Chinese clients will appreciate regional designs because they share a similar design aesthetic. Both markets respect tradition but also embrace change, desiring innovative, creative and unconventional pieces.”
The promotion of home-grown brands abroad is music to the ears of HAFW’s organisers, and the Arab Fashion Council, who are already planning to expand the schedule of next year’s show.
“We’re still crunching this season’s attendance figures, but it feels like around double on last season,” says Garnetti.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if HAFW doubles again when it returns in March. The fashion industry is never an easy one and our designers need our support to allow them to grow. So that’s what we’ll continue to do – develop them and help them compete.”
Visit www.arabfashionweek.org for more information