Fashion Forward

Dubai's mega fashion event left Mohsin Sayeed dazzled, and heavy-hearted

Fashion Forward
Each time I enter Fashion Forward Dubai, I am almost shivering with excitement, and leave with a great deal of learning about the business of fashion and a heavy heart. I feel excited at the prospect of great fashion, words of wisdom, new ideas and meeting global leaders and thinkers in fashion; and a heavy heart because I know that we in Pakistan can do it all but our collective lack of vision and individual egos stand in the way of achieving similar success.

The recently concluded Fashion Forward Dubai Season 3 (FFWD) was no different. But I will only focus on the excitement part as wailing about our scene falls on deaf ears.

Jean Louis Sabaji, Tahir Sultan and Zayan Gandour
Jean Louis Sabaji, Tahir Sultan and Zayan Gandour

FFWD has three main purposes to serve: providing a platform to Middle Eastern design talent through shows, fashion talks by global industry leaders and networking opportunities. All aspects are hugely beneficial for professionals from any developing fashion industry in the world, however, the last two are particularly important for them.

FFWD shows created a wave of anticipation and excitement. Like always Amato by Furne One presented his take on India through a breathtaking, grand, theatrical show. Usually, pastels and nudes are his signature palette. But he surprised the viewers and his fans by going with colour this time. It seemed he was making up for lost time. A burst of bright colours like blood reds, sunny yellows, emerald green, cobalt blue played host to beautiful embroidery patterns with blinding bling and alluring silhouettes.

Powerhouse women at FFWD 3 (clockwise): Mariam deRicaud and friend, New York Fashion Week founder Fern Mallis, Women's Wear Daily's Middle East correspondent Ritu Upadhyay with Sonia Kiriplani, and one of Swarovski's chosen designers Madiha Muzaffar
Powerhouse women at FFWD 3 (clockwise): Mariam deRicaud and friend, New York Fashion Week founder Fern Mallis, Women's Wear Daily's Middle East correspondent Ritu Upadhyay with Sonia Kiriplani, and one of Swarovski's chosen designers Madiha Muzaffar

On the other hand Tahir Sultan’s majorly chic sportswear collection exploited one colour: Grey. He beautifully played with various shades and created appealing numbers using drapes and structures and showed his expertise with the extremely difficult and limited colour. Zayan the Label by Zayan Ghandour presented a collection for a girl looking for romance and fairytale in these times. Based on a line from Julia Robert’s Pretty Woman, ‘I want a Fairytale’ seemed bland and did not leave much impact or introduce any groundbreaking trends.

But one name that left me breathless with ecstasy was the Lebanese designer Jean Louis Sabaji. He used almost everything in his collection from surface embellishments to various materials, innovative cuts to drapes, flowers to insects, colour play to monochromatic effect in structures ranging from trouser suit to dresses, ball gowns to hot-pantsuits. But nothing threw the collection off-equilibrium or made any look appear out of place. From graduated dying to PVC, giant flowers to florals and crafted bouquets to intricate embroidery, oversize insects to bees, all seemed very happy and confortable in his dexterous hands. Truly a design genius Sabaji successfully paled almost all collections into the background and emerged as the star of FFWD Season 3.

Eccentric fashionista Reem (bottom), Swarovski officials all set to bring the brand to Pakistan (top), and Amato's vibrant designs on the runway (side)
Eccentric fashionista Reem (bottom), Swarovski officials all set to bring the brand to Pakistan (top), and Amato's vibrant designs on the runway (side)

Next day at Sawarovski high tea, I spotted a girl wearing Sabaji’s short, loose top in cream with pink floral print. I complemented her and praised her choice for choosing Sabaji. She turned out to be his PR Pascala Skar. She introduced me to Sabaji. Clad in a pair of blue denims and a white T-shirt, he is a lovely, unassuming, good looking chap who went red in the face when I showered him with praises on his brilliant collection. Next day he came bounding up to me as I entered Madinat Jumeirah, the venue of FFWD. “Are you Indian?” he excitedly asked me. My loud negative reply disappointed him a bit. I asked why he asked. He said: “I wanted you to tell me about this Bollywood actress who has approached us for making a dress for her for some event.” I asked him to tell me the name of the actress. And my excitement was surprising for him: It was Deepika Padukone. “You recognize her?” Like a true South Asian, I do know my Indian Cinema rather well. Sabaji was very happy as I briefed him about Deepika and urged him to go for the offer.

Last season of FFWD I found out that the Starch Group picks up, trains, grooms and launches six young designers every year. This year Swarovski, the global leader in precision-cut and gorgeous, luxury designs in crystals also joined the fray by collaborating with six Middle-East based fashion accessories designers. Swarovski commissioned a capsule collection each and presented them at FFWD3. Aura Headpieces, by Carolina Chammas; By Sophie, by Joumana Haj Ali; Madiso, by Madiha Muzzafar; Poupee Couture, by Roula Ghalayini; Sarah’s Bag, by Sarah Beydoun; and Vanina, by Tatiana Fayad and Joanne Hayek were the chosen brands. Each designer chose a theme to capture the essence of their brand, and incorporated Swarovski crystals in fresh and innovative ways. A definitive fashion industry platform for the region, this unique collaboration aims to spotlight the Arab world’s wealth of talent.

But first let me take a selfie: (clockwise) Mohsin Sayeed with Jean Louis Sabaji and his PR manager, with Bryan Boy -- the world's biggest fashion blogger, and's Marriam Mossali
But first let me take a selfie: (clockwise) Mohsin Sayeed with Jean Louis Sabaji and his PR manager, with Bryan Boy -- the world's biggest fashion blogger,
and's Marriam Mossali

I felt rather proud when I learnt that Madiha Muzaffar is a Dubai-based Pakistani accessory designer. At Madiso, she came up with a cutting-edge, icicle-inspired collection. Her pieces were a unique formation of painstakingly hand-worked organic shapes and hand-embroidered silk. For the Fashion Forward collaboration with Swarovski she created a collection of statement anklets that could also be worn as necklaces, and juxtaposed ebony silk with icy crystal to breathtaking effect. She was really sweet when I visited her stall at The Garden and gladly posed for my camera phone.

Swarovski hosted a glamourous high tea to celebrate these designers. Sparkle was incorporated in the ambience through just the right amount of crystals in décor and more glitter was added by the guests. Managing Director Andrew Mojica and Head of sales Middle East and Emerging Markets Nadir Iqbal played gracious hosts. The event was well attended where glitterati like Fern Mallis, designer Ezra, international blogger Bryan Grey-Yambo, popularly known as Bryan Boy, Saudi fashion journalist and mind behind  chic website Marriam Mosalli, Swarovski’s head of Trend research Lee-Anne Carter, Portsmouth Group’s Andleeb Shadani, Dubai Design District’s Umran Shah, Women’s Wear Daily’s Middle East Correspondent Ritu Upadhyay, Carmella Spinelli and so many others lent shine. It was enlightening to meet them one to one.

Turbans are everywhere this season
Turbans are everywhere this season

In conversation with Nadir the best news I got at the high tea is that Swarovski is starting operations in Pakistan and will soon be opening stores in Karachi and Lahore. The crystal giant’s full range of products will be available at the stores. It has started working with designers in Pakistan. Only I know what great difficulty I am facing in keeping the names under the wraps. It is much before time to reveal the chosen designers names. I wish I could!

At the high tea, it was great to catch up with Mosalli in real time. We keep exchanging messages on Instagram and Facebook. She is a pleasant surprise as she breaks all myths and clichés about Saudi women. Highly stylish, her knowledge and expression of fashion and style are really superb.

The most interesting and colourful character I met was Mariam deRicaud, French-Moroccan interior designer. Quirky, witty and blazing, Mariam immediately warmed to me and we indulged in a heavily politico-cultural conversation discussing the situation in the Middle East and Pakistan. She was keen to learn more about Pakistan and visit. Another interesting person was Sam, Mariam’s Saudi filmmaker friend. Young, very mature and sophisticated, Sam changed my perception about Saudi men. Seems young Saudis like Mosalli and Sam are pushing boundaries, finding their voices and changing the cultural landscape of the country.

When I was introduced to Ritu Upadhyay by old friend and Dubai-based filmmaker Sonia Kirpilani, Ritu said: “I remember you. Last season at my session you asked a very controversial question.” I took a deep sigh regretting my big mouth and uncontrollable mind that always lands me in trouble. But Ritu was sweet and appreciated my candidness. When I dished out my visiting card, she knitted her brows and asked: “What’s the connection with The PinkTree? I know the name.” I informed her that it is a clothing company I am a partner in. And then what she said was nothing less than music to my ears. “I own a couple of their pieces which I got from Asmat Jaffer’s Asmaani in Islamabad.” I almost fainted with glee. I mean Women’s Wear Daily Correspondent has our clothes! Ritu’s husband who is a US diplomat was posted in Islamabad. Therefore, she got to spend some time there. Turned out that she knew some Karachiites too and was even familiar with Nazimabad as we further discussed Pakistan. Isn’t that amazing?

My most favourite person Zaib Shadani was her usual bright, beaming and courteous self. Despite being on her feet from morning to late night, supervising VIPs and media, interviewing and handling celebrities, running between shows and media, Zaib always looked crisp, fresh and her well-dressed self all the time, never a crease on her forehead, smile never leaving her lips. I don’t know how she manages such huge event without stress. Or she is a great actress.

These babies could become all the rage in Lyari
These babies could become all the rage in Lyari

Another favourite is Cedric who manages front rows at FFWD. Everyone tries to be Cedric’s best friend. Armed with a highly individualistic, quirky sense of style and a caustic sense of humour, Cedric was his own side fashion show. One day he wore a jacket with cartoon comics. The next he wore a T-shirt screaming ‘Even Anna sat second row’ with a profile picture of Anna Wintour. On one of the days had a white kettle in his hand. “To pour on misbehaving guests. You be warned, neighbour,” said Cedric to me. Being an Indian and a Pakistani, ‘neighbour’ was the term of endearment between us.

Last season I had spotted an intriguing character floating in black robes, capes heavily worked with gold and wearing complementing shades. This season she was back in all her gold and black glory. I decided to make acquaintance with her. She was flanked by an entourage of dapper young men who looked more like her bodyguards. Turned out her name is Reem and she is a designer: “Like God and Madonna”, she declared. “I like it and this is my style” was her reply when I asked why she was always in black and gold.

One trend I spotted at FFWD Season 3 is turbans. So many fashionistas sported various styles of turbans. Lee-Anne Carter also confirmed during her talk that Turbans rule in the next season. In accessories, the most interesting thing I spotted was a pair of shades with a gun design. I immediately thought of their potentially insane popularity on Karachi streets, specially in Lyari.

Like always the guest speakers list had some instantly recognizable names, founder of the New York Fashion Week Fern Mallis, fashion blogger Bryan Boy, Carmela Spinelli Professor and Coordinator International Special Projects at Savannah College, Paul Tierny, Fashion Journalist and Faculty London College of Desgn Dubai, artist & advisor Patricia Millns, Swarovski Head of Trend Research Lee-Anne Carter, Hosam Arab Co-founder and MD of Middle East’s premiere online fashion destination Namashi; Barbra Trebitsch Domus Academy Head of Fashion School, Ennio Capasa Designer and Creative Director of Costume National, Yolanda Wardsowski New York City Fashion Consultant FIT & DENYC and other such names. Topics of talks ranged from business related subjects like e-commerce: reshaping Habits, The Shoe Business, Perspectives on the US Retail Market to fashion ones such as Modernisation of Arab Fashion, Fashion Week: Going Forward to intellectual ones like Art and Fashion.

[quote]Bloggers in Pakistan have begun taking themselves rather too seriously[/quote]

Sofia Guellaty’s conversation with Bryan Boy was light, fun and casual. Although, it could have been a lot more weighty and informative if Sofia didn’t seem to be so much in awe of the blogger. Bryan regaled the audience with stories of how he started the blog as a travel one which ultimately morphed into a fashion blog. I felt great when he appreciated fashion journalism. “I never wanted to be a fashion editor or journalist. It is difficult, very difficult.” And very honestly put blogging in its right perspective. “It is very important to put a context and a story. Bloggers are not putting context and story. It is very easy to post a beautiful picture. Anybody can do that,” he announced. “We really need people who are experts and critique collections.” Now that coming from the biggest, most famous blogger in the world should settle the ongoing debate about the seriousness and status of fashion bloggers who, in Pakistan, have begun taking themselves rather too seriously. He made light of his picture on Vogue. “I was shocked to see myself on the cover of Vogue. I thought Anna Wintour was on drugs.” I was tweeting his conversation live from the venue. Later Bryanboy retweeted my tweets. I am hoping this is one of those cases of retweets being endorsements.

[quote]"I thought Anna Wintour was on drugs"[/quote]

Paul Tierney’s talk on ‘Writer vs Stylist: What’s Right For You’ did not make much sense to me. He compared writing about fashion and styling shoots and collections. It was confusing as to me he seemed to be comparing oranges and apples. He said some people are stylists and some are writer. “It is also possible you can be a stylist and a writer at the same time but not vice versa.” Whereas I totally disagree because you can be a writer and a stylist but not vice versa because a writer needs another kind of skill set that not many people have.

Fern Mallis spoke on the topic ‘Fashion Weeks: Going Forward’. I have met Fern in Delhi and Bombay during fashion weeks and interviewed her for my stories. I remember in Delhi she lambasted the media: “Everyone is a journalist. The moment I entered the venue ten mics were shoved in my face asking me if I am buyer, a designer. How can they even interview me when they don’t even know who I am?” But this time she seemed mellowed, cautious, reserved and a bit distant. She reminisced about how she created the New York Fashion Week. About the importance of fashion weeks, she said: “There are over four hundred fashion weeks in the world. Is there enough talent to support so many of them? Maybe. But I doubt it.” While mentioning fashion weeks around the world, she named two in Karachi, too. “But who knows where the next big talent in fashion comes from?”

She said that there are passionate people who love clothes, sell designs and dreams, a whole army of journalists, retailers, buyers and socialiites at fashion weeks which are more media and entertainment events today. “But it is business. Fashion weeks’ purpose is to create news buzz, opportunities, business, employment and revenue.”

Mallis wished FFWD good luck with a brilliant lesson as a parting shot. “Have fun, be nice and check your egos outside.” And this confirmed my reading that Fern Mallis has definitely mellowed over the years. She also did not take any questions in the end on the pretext that she had a flight to catch. However, I spotted her later in the frow at Amato’s FFWD finale show.

[quote]She declared aging is the new trend[/quote]

Swarovski’s Trend Research Head Lee-Anne Carter’s talk was one of the most inspiring and informative in the entire FFWD. She shed light on the tedious process of collecting prevalent and future trends from all over the world, analyzing them, finding patterns and then forecasting for the next year based on the research. “It is not an easy job. It takes months and months to forecast.” She declared aging is the new trend. Old people are dressing more flamboyantly than the young ones. Swarovski has four basic categories: Classic, Romantic, Progressive and Glamour. Every year the crystal company releases forecasts in these categories that are to reign in the coming year. She highlighted Swarovski’s trends for 2015 in these categories respectively. They included Fades Memories inspired from candy colour 1950s American adverts; Sunset Rituals desert/earth tones based on tribal namely Aboriginal traditions and aesthetics (They seemed very similar to our chunri and Sindhi surface embellishment in palette and patterns); Vivid Moments which is contemporary and comes from a unique blend of Japanese and African prints and the last Forgotten Glamour which of course mostly is in black crystals. The new colour is tangerine and the new effect in this will change Pakistanis’ perception of bling and crystals, which has been so far shining white and big rhinestones. Little do we know that it’s just not rhinestones but a range of decorative elements like pearls, stick-on motifs and so much more that can be explored and played with. It’s more than just bling – cut, shape and colour also matter. Pakistani designers should be glad that all these will be available at Swarovski stores.

[quote] "I am done with Arab spring and conflict art"[/quote]

Art and Fashion turned out to be the most fun, interactive and engaging session. Moderated by Ritu Upadhyay, the session had art magazine Canvas’s editor Myrna Ayad, artist and advisor Patricia Millns and Savannah College Professor Carmela Spinelli as participants. They highlighted the relationship between art and fashion. “Both are forms of expression,” said Spinelli. When the floor opened for questions, I raised my hand and Ritu said: “Here comes another controversial question. Yes Mohsin?” I asked that if art and fashion are interrelated, how can both flourish in an apolitical environment which the Middle East mostly has. Art from the region is mostly bland, barring countries like Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. It seemed as if I had rattled a bee’s nest. Myrna Ayad replied sharply: “I am done with Arab Spring and conflict art. Pink panties with slogans written is not art.” To which I I said to her: ‘Either you didn’t hear me properly or didn’t understand my question. I didn’t say ‘conflict’. I said politics which is entirely different unless your definition of it is conflict.” Ritu appreciated my question and said it is a good one and turned to the panelists. Millns defended by saying that Middle East is producing good art “We do not discuss politics and religion.” Carmella simply nodded appreciatively to my question. Later she told me that my question was extremely valid and poignant. “In this region people don’t discuss such topics openly on public fora.”

[quote]Sabaji was very happy as I briefed him on Deepika Padukone[/quote]

I am sure by now it is clear why I always walk out of FFWD with a heavy heart. I crave to have such a grand, enlightening fashion event in Pakistan every year where we discuss our own industry in relation to the world, where we listen to the world’s leading experts in fashion and the business of fashion and get to interact with them, where participants leave with knowledge and apply it to their businesses and eventually take Pakistan to the global level in the real sense of the term. But it doesn’t seem possible in the foreseeable future. Till then rock on, Fashion Forward Dubai. I am already preparing for the 4th Season.