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DUBAI — “Who needs New York? Who needs L.A.?” proclaimed Alber Elbaz to a huge crowd of people at a cocktail event Wednesday night at the One and Only Royal Mirage in Dubai, marking the designer’s first visit to the emirate. “It is all about heat and heart here,” said the designer, who hosted a cocktail to make guests feel like they were “part of the fashion family, not industry.”

“Already a lot of brands have come here and everybody has a bigger party because the bigger the better, but I thought, ‘Let’s think small again,’” he mused. “Let’s do something smaller, going back to a sort of humbleness. Not about doing it on the 300th floor somewhere, but doing it in your grandmother’s garden.”

This story first appeared in the April 17, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

If your grandmother is a sheikha, maybe: With nearly 400 guests roaming a candlelit Arabian courtyard carpeted with flowers, what the event lacked in true intimacy was made up for in the designer’s warmth in working the crowd. “I always say when you love people, they love you back. I felt very loved here and I gave it back,” he said, greeting guests, who clamored to take selfies with him. Also present at the party was Lanvin chief executive Michèle Huiban and Dubai-based retail executives including Dina Karam, Patrick Chalhoub and Anthony Chalhoub.

As bodyguards whisked him off to a quiet interior hallway to cool down for a moment, Elbaz was still all smiles. “I really enjoy it,” he said of Dubai, while admitting he didn’t expect it to be so hot and humid. “I saw so much body heat here and hugging and photos. It is really great. I don’t mind…I was not born in Switzerland so I get it.”

The Moroccan-born designer also hosted an afternoon tea with members of the Emirati royal family to preview his exclusive six-piece capsule collection for the Middle East.

Echoing his fall 2015 collection, the items winked to his roots. “There is something about Moroccan people and people who still look into your eyes and there is still humanity and generosity and emotion,” Elbaz said.

Still, he insisted, “There isn’t a difference between French women, women in America, women in Dubai. Women are all alike everywhere in the world: Everybody’s on a diet and everybody’s counting calories and everyone’s craving chocolate and everyone loves to have a red dress with a huge diamond necklace. There is this common thing about women everywhere.”

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