Local consumers’ pride in wearing homegrown talent is boosting the fast expanding fashion and accessories industry in Dubai.

 With Dubai becoming the fashion capital of the region, the style of this city is very much being influenced by its culture. Cosmopolitan, with a love of the good life, it still has a deep respect for its Islamic roots and traditions while being one of the most modern cities in the region. Proudly multicultural, yet aware of its rich Emirati heritage, this city’s style cannot really be described in one simple sentence.

‘Modern Arab Style’ may be a new phenomenon but it is diverse and has many layers. Ritu Upadhyay is the Middle East Correspondent for Women’s Wear Daily, and she says: “Dubai is a very international, multicultural city. I don’t think it is necessary for designers to have to reflect a regional identity. But it’s important whatever they show; there is a depth of research and understanding as to why this is their style statement. Not all designers will play upon their heritage. In fact, it should really only be done if that’s genuinely part of your creative aesthetic.”

In the last few weeks, fashion fever has definitely hit Dubai – it started with Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD) last month and ended on Wednesday night with the announcement that Lebanon’s Hussein Bazaza were the first winners of the coveted Style.com/DDFC Fashion Prize. In between that there was the Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience, the Swarovski Sparkling Couture Exhibition and let’s not forget that both Stella McCartney and Public School hold catwalk presentations in the city. Seeing local and regional talent alongside international talent made you realise that ‘Modern Arab Style’ is now coming into its own. Especially when it comes to accessories.

It seems this region has a real flair for those important extras – after all, accessories are the make or break feature of any outfit. Washington-based Upadhyay was here for this month of fashion frenzy for WWD and she observed: “The emerging designers from the region have really stood out in terms of accessory design. This is a part of the world that really embraces statement accessories, especially handbags. Consumers are more inclined to experiment when it comes to these categories, which provides a major opportunity for designers.” Be it the fine jewellery of Nadine Kanso’s Bil Arabi, the costume jewellery by Madiso, the bags of Amanda Navai or Nathalie Trad and NS by Noof, there are plenty of reasons to want to indulge in Modern Arab style this festive season. Perhaps this region’s love of dressing up has meant that accessory and jewellery designers are really able to be as artistic as they want.

Says Bong Guerrero – founder and CEO of Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD): “In my opinion, accessorising well is one of the signatures of the Middle East. Ladies, as well as gentlemen, in this region have a passion for making an outfit unique to them, by adding jewellery, a bag, or embellishments to their clothing. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that we have an abundance of amazing talent when it comes to accessory design.” And this is one of reasons FFWD has a special “Showcase” exhibition area dedicated to accessory and jewellery designer. At the most editions 27 designers from around the region were part of the showcase.

Another important reason for the success of accessory and jewellery designers is that, there is still a certain ‘snobbery’ in the minds of many of the high spenders of fashion. An international brand will always take preference over a local label. Slowly, as the fashion consumer is becoming aware that simply wearing a luxury brand does not make you stylish and as fashion becomes more about aesthetic appeal and self-expression than the label, the brand and the cost, smaller, niche, independent, local designers are able to capture the mind-space of the high fashion spenders. A shining example is Nathalie Trad. She may only be two years old in the world of fashion but you will find her bags in Dubai’s Harvey Nichols, London’s Selfridges and Mumbai’s Le Mill. She says: “The Middle Eastern woman of today is starting to embrace regional designers, opening up to wearing emerging talent and making bolder fashion choices, especially when it comes to accessories. We are starting to notice that there is now a certain pride for local consumers in wearing homegrown talent. Their support is extremely important for boosting the fast expanding local fashion industry.”

Here are three local designers who you should have on your radar and perhaps add to your Christmas wishlist:

Bil Arabi:

Trained in communications, arts and advertising design, Beirut-born, Dubai-dwelling Nadine Kanso started her fine jewellery line Bil Arabi a decade ago.

A well-known photographer, she was looking to make a message with her art.

“I wanted women to have a pride in our identity,” says Nadine. “After 9/11, we were not being looked at in a nice way,” she adds.

And what better way to show the beauty of the culture than through its typography; it is distinctive, decorative and dramatic.

“The calligraphy of this region is something to be proud of,” she says. She started with rings that were created to represent something other than a woman’s marital status. She uses white, yellow and pink gold, diamonds, and precious and semi-precious stones in her handcrafted statement jewellery line.

She has shown at trade shows in Paris and also at Design Miami. Poised now to expand her collection to international points of sale, you can currently find her jewellery at Sauce, Bloomingdales and Harvey Nichols in Dubai.

Says the designer: “The essence of the Modern Arab identity to me is about being unique, and with a need to be seen and heard.” With her designs inspiring many other young designers in the region, she is definitely a trendsetter.

Nathalie Trad:

A clutch designed by Nathalie Trad can be described as a fusion of arm candy, architecture and art.

Born in Beirut, educated in Paris and New York, the Dubai-based designer says, “The basis of our brand ethos is to take classic shapes – ubiquitous in our natural environment – and radically transform them, deconstructing and always trying to redefine the boundaries of fashion aesthetics.

“My aim when designing is to, first and foremost, create unique sculptural pieces that invite curiosity, fusing contrasting material combinations that yield an overall design style that is architectural, experimen-tal and highly geometric.”

Two years ago, she started her label and celebrities such as Solange Knowles, Olivia Palermo and Sienna Miller were spotted carrying a Trad clutch. Having just presented at New York Fashion Week, this young designer seems to have understood how to make the ‘Made in Dubai’ label relevant to an international audience.

She is known for geometric shapes and use of unusual material such as shell, brass, steel and copper. She often references the work of architects Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Louis Kahn.

Says Trad: “Dubai represents a city that will never cease to evolve, recreate and outdo itself and thus serves as the perfect example for me. It pushes me to expand the realm of possibilities with my designs and create truly innovative pieces.”


This is a home grown brand, a regular feature at Fashion Forward, with a number of interesting collaborations and accolades. It was started by Pakistani-born Madiha Muzaffar who has lived in Dubai for almost 15 years.

Last weekend, Madiso was the first shoe accessory designer to showcase at Dubai Mall’s Level Shoe district at a special flash retail event. She will be back at the store in December for another pop-up. Her hand-crafted costume jewellery could use semi-precious stones and silk is her usual base fabric.

Each piece is one of a kind. It is bold, organic and makes a statement. A complete fashion accessories brand, her line includes handbags and neckpieces. Her unique jewellery for your shoes seems to have caught the attention of both retailers and the fashion media.

She explains: “I love shoes. And being an accessories designer, I wanted to experiment with the idea of adding an interesting element to a simple pair of black pumps or strappy sandals that would instantly glam up the whole outfit.”

A very proud Made in Dubai brand, Madiha says: “Dubai is one of the most interesting cities in the world. Its rich multicultural society has sown many designers, although every designer has his or her own background and aesthetics. The style in this region is really fun and quirky – it’s very youthful and colourful.” And this is what the DNA of her brand Madiso is all about.

Check out more articles from the Khaleej Times Consulting Fashion Editor