The Business of High-End Fashion in the Middle East

By: Anum Khan

The Middle Eastern market, yet again, proves that it’s a lucrative one.  With mainstream designers specifically creating special lines in order to cater to consumers of the region is proof enough.  Marketing statistics support that brands are important to this specific market, and more importantly, an overwhelming amount tend to be brand loyalists, clearly, this market knows what it wants.

Various designers like Tom Ford, a leading American fashion designer, created his first dishdasha or thobe for Sheikh Majed AlSabah, who then asked Ford to have these produced for stores in the Middle East because of the demand.  Although, men are not the only ones wearing fashionable thobes, but have inspired some Western women’s fashion lines as well, including Hermès’ Christophe Lemaire’s Fall 2011 collection.  The women’s line is very dishdasha inspired with long, multi-layered, cream-colored clothing ensembles.  His line begins with your average ‘abaya template yet is designed as a sophisticated cream-colored women’s version thobe.  Other creations include tunic style dresses, blouses and coats with long and over-sized sleeves and matching pairs of desert sand-color inspired boots and gloves.  You can find Hermès Fall 2011 fashion line here.  Though, Hermès is not the only fashion house interested in using inspiration from the Middle East and expanding their markets to the region.

Marriam Mossalli, Features Editor for Arab News, a leading English newspaper in the Middle East tells Elan that for years, Western designers have been catering to Middle Eastern women by designing customized garments.  Mossalli regularly attends fashion events and trade shows showcasing Western designers trying to penetrate the Middle Eastern market and Middle Eastern designers in the international fashion industry.  When she attends trade shows in Paris, Mossalli recollects how she constantly hears Middle Eastern buyers requesting longer versions of pieces and designers happily conceding.  Mossalli says even traditional clothing like the ‘abaya or thobe, have been made by Western designers such as Armani, John Galliano and Blumarine.  Even Mossalli personally owns a Temperly London couture ‘abaya.  “The truth is fashion is a business. The ultimate goal is to make money. And these designers know that the money is in the Middle East,” states Mossalli.

A Western renowned fashion company, Gucci has continued its long-established relationship (over a decade) in the region with the establishment of a joint-venture between Al Tayer Insignia, the largest luxury retailer in the Middle East and Gucci.  This joint-partnership was established this March to allow Gucci a “direct entry into the United Arab Emirates.”  The Al-Tayer Group is a conglomerate with over 35 of the world’s most renowned luxury companies, including Bulgari, Boucheron, Bottega Veneta, Dolce & Gabbana, Emilio Pucci, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Ligne Roset, and Yves Saint Laurent.  Al Tayer is headquartered in the UAE with over 80 stores in the region with presence in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Qatar.

In 2010, the Gulf region claimed a $12 billion clothing market, with predictions to increase by 10% in 2011.  Western-styled malls have permeated the region with various shopping centers showcasing Arab and other top designers.  Mossalli says Louis Vuitton in Dubai makes over $25 million per month in sales.  The Emirates is emerging with the world’s most luxuriating experiences, including having built the largest mall in the world, with a ski resort and aquarium inside.

The fashion industry does not stop at the mall, but has inspired the real estate industry.  Isla Moda is going to be the world’s first dedicated fashion island to be built on Dubai’s “Third World” initiative with “limited-edition homes” designed by fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld.  There is also a “Style City” fashion district that is being planned in Abu Dhabi with an exclusive residential and retail-fashion market.

The Middle Eastern consumers of fashion are a force to be reckoned with.  As it continues to develop and gain momentum, the projects are constantly pushing the envelope and it will be exciting to see what’s to come.



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