Meet the designers who are taking Mideast fashion forward

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Utruj is a Jeddah-based design house.
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Utruj wowed crowds with its latest collection.
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Sadeem Al-Shehail’s collection has a nautical theme.
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Saudi designer Sadeem Al-Shehail showed off her latest collection at the event.
Updated 26 October 2017

Meet the designers who are taking Mideast fashion forward

Dubai Design District is hosting the 10th annual Fashion Forward (FFWD) showcase in the emirate, a celebration featuring runway shows, presentations, exhibitions, talks, shopping, music and film. Previously invite-only, the event — which runs Oct. 26 to 28 — is now open to all fashion lovers in the region.
One designer who will be showcasing his collection is Beirut-based Hussein Bazaza, who felt a desire for artistic expression from an early age. Having studied in Paris and with Elie Saab in Lebanon, Bazaza created his first collection in 2012. Through his designs, and with “every cut,” he works to reflect “a different story, a personal emotion that creates a one-of-a-kind experience. (It is) fashion with a soul.”
The story behind Bazaza’s SS18 collection revolves around “the battle between all five personas that make up one’s ultimate character, and in the end, the winner dominates it.” Composed of 40 looks in total, each of our five characters walk the runway in eight looks. The primary color is pink, but there are touches of different hues obvious in every character.
The collection is meant to be a journey. As Bazaza explains: “You can spot shimmering silvers at first, light pinks appear next, striking reds follow, then strong blacks make an entrance and, finally, vibrant golds end the show.”
Saudi designer Sadeem Al-Shehail is also at FFWD with SADEEM, a pret-a-couture brand. Designed for a woman “who is confident, elegant and sophisticated, a woman who is looking for timeless, well-made and versatile attire,” Al-Shehail’s collection is based on sustainable design and ethical practices. To that end, she only collaborates with companies that share the same principles.
Al-Shehail’s collection “NAUTICAL by Sadeem” cultivates a “luxury wardrobe that caters for a contemporary woman on a summer holiday.” Inspired by sailor suits, seashell shapes and the glamorous yachting lifestyle, the collection offers timeless silhouettes, from daytime chic to sophisticated soiree looks.
When asked what makes this collection disruptive, Al-Shehail said: “I’m proud that my company produces a sustainable and eco-friendly line, and all fabrics used are certified non-toxic materials made in Japan. Also, the garments were ethically constructed in Dubai’s very own Design District.”
Utruj, led by creative director Laila Abduljawad, is a design house based in Jeddah. The brand is named after a type of citrus fruit that is both bitter and sweet. Utruj espouses a new vision of contemporary modest wear that women today can truly identify with, and with Abduljawad at the helm, the brand can look forward to many more years of redefining design.
Utruj’s collection is called “Authentic Structure,” and it “depicts stories that merge imagination with reality. Each piece in the collection is a visual representation of a social construct — the structures reflect our societies and reflect ourselves as Middle Eastern.”
The collection’s focus is on the intricate shapes of traditional forms of art and architecture that “embellish the rural region of Saudi Arabia. It signifies a confident woman who values her traditions, but who wants to work practically and look modern.”
Showcasing their collections at FFWD is important to all designers as it is an international platform situated at the intersection of East and West. “Dubai has become the fashion capital of the Middle East, and FFWD is always great exposure,” said Bazaza.
“After showcasing many seasons… the FFWD family are dear to my heart. It’s now like a second home to me. They’re very well organized and incredibly professional with the entire process, from the very beginning until even after it ends.”
Al-Shehail said: “I’ve had the privilege of showcasing some of my previous collections in New York and Paris, and I was very happy about the positive feedback I received. But showing my collection in Dubai has had more of an impact. In my experience, emerging designers showing in Europe and the US always struggle to find the perfect agency that can properly represent them, as not many are enthused as the competition is very high. FFWD is the best platform in the Middle East and North Africa. It’s a joy to be part of it.”
The event allows designers to cater to the modern international visionary consumer, and Dubai provides just that platform. “We aim to universalize the abaya, and we want to bridge the gap between the Gulf and the rest of the world — we know that Dubai is a perfect place to push that,” said Abduljawad.
“It’s in the Middle East but has international and Western exposure. We’ve seen that Middle Eastern designers are afraid of the abaya, that it may not be well received. But we’re not afraid, we’re proud, and now — after showing this collection in Paris and Europe and receiving such strong, positive feedback — we can bring this collection back to Dubai.”


Dubai handbag brand gets royal approval

Creative director Hanna Ransjo with a HALM bag. (Supplied)
Updated 21 August 2019

Dubai handbag brand gets royal approval

DUBAI: HALM is the Dubai-based handbag brand whose discreet take on design has caught the eye of several of the region’s tastemakers including Queen Rania of Jordan.

Across fashion, there is a “new luxury” that you can see taking momentum, and nowhere is it more obvious than in the women’s go-to item, the handbag. HALM embodies that emerging trend.

With Swedish creative director Hanna Ransjo, who has lived in the Emirates over 25 years, and British project manager Hannah Louise Brewer, who came from womenswear label Temperley London, the company has gone from strength to strength.

The duo have merged the best of three cultures into their two-year-old brand: Scandinavian minimalism, British pragmatism and Dubai’s love for luxury. Theirs is a “Made in the Middle East” label that embodies global fashion’s move towards blending minimalism and maximalism. 

Their signature bag, Chilluxe, works as a perfect day to night accessory, and was given the ultimate seal of approval when Queen Rania carried it at her first official engagement of 2019. On a visit to the Children’s Museum — she stepped out in a checked buttoned top by A.W.A.K.E, paired with an asymmetric navy skirt — her hand firmly clutched a HALM bag.

“We see this bag as ‘relaxed understated luxe,’ elegant yet chilled, designed in such a way as to gently soften with wear, yet maintain its core signature structure,” said Ransjo. Another edition is set to follow in their next collection.  

Brewer added: “It was a very conscious decision to keep branding on the bag to a minimum — we want the customer to know that they will be buying quality and design, not just a name.” HALM is helping to change the notion that “Made in the Middle East” is about maximal design and shows how the region is embracing the new feel of luxury.