Cutting it in a global downturn
The guest-lists have shrunk, catwalk shows have become rarer and the grandeur and eccentricism of previous years have been toned down.
As the luxury sector feels growing pain from the downturn, the world's fashion capitals are entering an era of restraint.
But not in Dubai. Even after the gloomy atmosphere in New York and the cancellation of shows in Milan, the show is all set to go on at the city's fledgling Fashion Week. Preparations are underway for the third instalment of the bi-annual Dubai Fashion Week (DFW) to be held next month and designers across the region are still signing up to take part, organisers are saying.
"We already have 31 designers confirmed, which is the same number as the last season," says Rohit C Sabikhi, the event director. "Going by the current economic climate, I would have expected a lesser number.
"Most of our previous sponsors have stayed on board and a majority of them have renewed their contract for the next four seasons. So it's business as usual."
Although an established fashion industry endorsed by relevant authorities does not exist yet in Dubai, a fashion aware market, fuelled by a growing breed of designers of many different nationalities have been pushing the agenda for many years. The global downturn, they say, could be a blessing in disguise.
"People are looking for value for money and they are paying more attention to local designers, who can create quality work at a much lower cost," says Russian designer Maria Zakharova, who, along with her mother Ekaterina run the label Ekaterina and Maria Fashion.
"A year ago, people would travel to Paris to buy their dresses. Now, many of them prefer to shop here."
Designer Huma Adnan agrees. According to her, the current climate presents more opportunity for those who understand the need of their clients. "In a secession, the money gets redirected towards products that offer more value as opposed to just good value. People will be looking for clothes that are larger than life at great prices," she says.
However, Rajiv Nihalani, the creative director of Royal Rickshaw which supplies to high-end retailers in the region, is not too sure if consumers are looking to local designers because of their price advantage.
"Why should we be second choice?" he asks. "Of course our overheads are lower but I think it's because people are looking out for younger and fresher designers. New designers come out every single day even during better conditions and there is still demand for great fashion, no matter the price."
Emirati designer duo Hind and Reem Beljafla, who run DAS Collection, say that while the economic situation has stricken a lot of industries, it has magnified the desire for quality-focused standards.
"It has already affected the industry positively," says Reem. Sister Hind adds: "Designers need to keep focused on the market needs, and their customers and raise loyalty by quality control management."
These locally-based designers however agree that the economic crisis is a reality they all need to acknowledge in order to survive in the industry. "Things are getting slow, and we should not be in denial," says Salma Khan, who designs under her own label. "Even our resources are slowing down as fabric and accessory suppliers are struggling to get new stock. I think at the moment we should be reasonable because many tend to exaggerate our prices.
"But recession is a phase and we should enjoy the bad times as well," she adds.
The current environment will prove to be a test for designers, according to Sarah Belhasa, a board member of the DFW and owner of Indian designer Manish Malhotra's boutique in Dubai, which will soon be rebranded as Studio 8. "The fashion industry is very competitive and some design houses operating non-professionally will be out of business unless they introduce new strategies," she says. "They will have to be very creative in terms of pricing and introducing the latest trends."
Adnan, who is the head designer for Fnkasia and who also manages the Amir Adnan brand, named after her designer husband, says this is a time when brand loyalties will be questioned.
"Ardent clients can easily be persuaded to shift their habits and go to newer brands which offer the desired look but at a more reasonable price," she says.
Zufi Alexander, whose loyal celebrity following includes names such as pop stars Beyonce and Alicia Keys, is possibly one of the biggest names to come out of Dubai. She says the continued existence of events such as the DFW "sends out a strong signal that the industry is fighting back".
"It is a crucial time for everyone. We are about to launch our Autumn/Winter 2009 collections and this will be a litmus test of how strong the market is going to be for the end of the year," she says. "The good thing about a time like this is that only the real talent survives and comes out stronger for it. There is so much talent and passion for fashion in the Middle East that it will continue regardless of the economic crisis."
This is also a crucial time for Dubai to put itself on the global fashion map, says Fnkasia's Adnan.
"Europe is becoming prohibitively expensive not only for Europeans but even for the Middle Eastern buyers," she says. "Dubai could very well be the next fashion capital if it plays its cards right."
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