Last week I had the good fortune to attend a very special Emirati show taking place in the heart of London. It was the silver jubilee of the London Fashion Week and Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, the Emirati fashion designer behind the Qasimi label – who is only three years older than London Fashion Week itself – put the performance together.
I told the two Emirati friends whom I was travelling with that we should leave very early to be in the Old Sorting Office on New Oxford Street where the show was taking place by 11am. But it seemed that the excitement was so high that the place was sprawling with luminaries from the fashion industry an hour before the show even began on that sunny Sunday morning.
Though Khalid (who, in the interest of full disclosure, is a distant cousin of mine) has lived in the UK for many years, his designs echo the Emirati spirit. Last year in one of his fashion shows Khalid incorporated what is known as a tarboosh – what some call the Emirati answer to a tie that men wear on their white dresses – into one of his designs. This year his women’s collection is clearly inspired by the Gulf’s colourful jalabiyas, long dresses that many older women wear. In fact, Khalid’s respect for feminine strength was the driving force behind several of his designs. He told a reporter he “wanted the models to resemble warriors walking out of a crypt and down the runway”.
Khalid’s achievements within such a short span of time – it hasn’t been two years since his label’s launch – is an inspirational story for all young Arabs to learn. Here’s an Emirati who studied in our schools, grew up in our environment and clearly has no advantage over anyone else in the industry he has chosen to enter other than his skill, determination and creativity.
What is most inspirational about Khalid’s achievements is that he has participated in an open arena, on a level playing field and on a global scale. Not only has he triumphed but done so among the best of the best. And here his initials and titles make no difference and can sometimes work to his disadvantage due to certain unfounded perceptions.
The show itself was quite an experience for me. The catwalk for this women’s fashion show was designed in a U-shaped layout with models walking down the aisles of the venue, a warehouse with six-metre high ceilings draped in black from the ceiling to floor. People stood and squeezed into the warehouse to get a glimpse of the latest daring and creative designs that used vibrant shades and exotic colours. My friend remarked on how wide a range of styles were on display but each of them always maintained a distinctive “Khalid” signature.
In attendance were celebrities such as Diane Pernet, the French fashion maven, and Jimmy Choo. The last show Khalid held was so successful that it caught the attention of celebrities such as Lady Gaga and The Pussy Cat Dolls, who are probably among the most famous female entertainers in the world. Khalid’s designs have graced the pages of international magazines including those in Germany, Britain and Japan. They have been featured repeatedly in the pages of Vogue and Harpers Bazaar.
I wondered where all the fashion houses in the UAE were at this event. Harvey Nichols, Galeries Lafayette and Bloomingdale’s, which is soon to open in the UAE, would have done well to stock this young Emirati’s creations and those of other Emiratis who have succeeded in the fashion world.
The truth is that within the traditional culture of the UAE it is not unexpected to encounter an air of astonishment or superciliousness when one mentions that a young Emirati man has gone into fashion. Being involved in retail is one thing but actually putting pen to paper – the creative and challenging side of fashion – is often what raises eyebrows. This mentality may be in retreat but it will take some time to eliminate.
One of my family members commented to me when I told him that I had been to Khalid’s show, “well done for him. He realised what he wanted to be and he went for it with all his heart and soul.” I couldn’t help but think after I heard this how wonderful and liberating it would be if all Emiratis pursued their dreams and followed their hearts and souls.
The show also served to remind me of the talents that this young country has within it. Many other Emiratis have excelled in various fields around the world. There is reason to celebrate and honour their achievements. It is clear that the future for this country is bright, no matter what shades are used to colour it.
*This article first appeared in The National on Sunday 27th September 2009