UAE designers showcase fashion trends in Washington

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Washington, DC is the political hub of one of the world’s leading super powers, yet, this week, Washington played host to the world of high fashion.

Following the ever-glamorous fashion weeks in Europe and New York, DC Fashion Week is contending to hold its own—interpreting fashion in a way that is reflective of the city: cosmopolitan and worldly. While DC Fashion Week has always invited international designers, this year, the fashion event showcased talent from the UAE.

While showcasing their fashion lines the women, all from the Emirates, also managed to tell a story about Emirati culture, art and design. The show, which drew a diverse crowd of around 200 people (diplomats and ordinary Washington, DC resident alike), included the work of three Emirati fashion brands: House of Fatam, Sugar Vintage and Abeer al-Suwaidi.

The “line inspiration that I’ve done for Washington, DC is to take you back to our history and slowly [shows] how our traditional gown, which is the abaya, has transformed and changed to today,” said Abeer al-Suwaidi, who showcased a line of stunning abayas at her DC Fashion Week show.

The brands, and their respective designers, all had different images that ranged from playful casual wear to modern takes on the more traditional abaya. Despite the different approaches, the women all reiterated the same idea: that they were in Washington, DC to represent the modern, educated, empowered Emirati woman.

“We are here to give a message to the American community to showcase our talents as Emirati professionals and [to promote] women empowerment,” said Sugar Vintage designer Leila al-Marashi. Her line blended Western influences with Arabic fashion hallmarks; daring, bright tee-shirts were paired with the more traditional haram pant. Suwaidi’s abayas were body conscious, colorful and a far cry from what has traditionally been known as the all-black loose-fitting abaya.

The variety in design aesthetics that made their way down the runway was reflective of the young, innovative, creative and at times, playful, mood now prevalent in the UAE’s fashion scene, according to Suwaidi. She added that the concept of innovation and creativity is engrained in the culture of the UAE.

Weaving women together

Beyond the pure design element, each woman maintained that their line stood for more than just trendy threads. Fashion can be a cause for good and can serve as a unifying factor, they stated.

“Fashion is a peaceful bridge that can make the whole world understand something. I find it a very powerful way to send a message across,” Suwaidi said.

In order to accomplish this, she added, “make sure that if you’re going to do something, make sure that you… make a difference. Try to have a message. My message is that now, I’m hoping, that the pieces I create make everyone happy.

It is meant to communicate [that we are] peaceful, yet very daring and powerful UAE women and this is the definition of a Middle Eastern woman.”

The designs tried to invoke the voice of a modern Arab woman, but the struggle to create something from scratch and see it flourish is universally relatable.

Shaima Gargash, one of the co-founders of House of Fatam, said that striking the perfect work-life balance is something she has to work at every day.

“It is not just a commitment of choice, but it is also a large time commitment… we need to split our time between our husbands, our homes, our children. This is something we have to think about,” but, she added, “nothing is impossible.” In fact, the creation of the House of Fatam was an effort to streamline work and life—Shaima created the line with her two sisters so that the three of them could have a project to work on together, despite their respective busy lives.

“The fashion industry is a tough one. We’ve confronted challenges and every day we learn something new. At the beginning it was not easy at all, every day you have to make hard decisions that will ultimately not compromise the greater goal for your dream,” Marashi said.

In a brief respite from the politics that typically dominate Washington, the Emirati fashion show showed that design, art and glamour can sometimes be an effective mechanism in bridging cultural gaps. Citing premiere designers Oscar de la Renta and Christian Dior, Gargash said that beautiful fashion does not appeal to one culture or nationality alone, but rather all who choose to appreciate it. In essence, it is a language we all can speak.

*Yasmeen Alamiri is with Al Arabiya in Washington, DC. You can reach Yasmeen on Twitter: @Yalamiri