MILAN — They say timing is everything. Arab Fashion Week is betting on it, making a bold wager on the obsolescence of the traditional fashion calendar. The event’s fourth edition is set to coincide with resort collections in May, and not — as in the past — on the heels of Paris Fashion Week.
The plan to hold Dubai’s five-day fashion event from May 16 to 20 marks a bid to ride new market currents that are sloshing the fashion system, driven by changing demographics and the Internet.
“I believe we are seeing a real revolution,” said Mario Boselli, honorary president of Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana and the Arab Fashion Council at a presentation here.
Boselli said flocks of young consumers to e-commerce and social media, especially in the Far East, were changing the course of revenue flows and cultural influences, leading to the erosion of seasons, gender distinctions, and delayed gratification — the latter spawning the disruptive see-now-buy-now phenomenon. Runway shows, Boselli said, are not really for wholesale buying any more.
“About 70 to 80 percent of orders have already been made by the time we see the collection on the catwalk,” said Boselli, who blamed the rigidity of the historic calendar for the disconnect.
“Roughly 75 percent of buyers’ budgets are spent on pre-collections,” explained Arab Fashion Council chief executive officer Jacob Abrian, citing conversations with major operators and what he claimed was common knowledge.
Boselli and Abrian are confident that by showing four months earlier, Arab Fashion Week will better sync with real seasonal demand. Abrian said major European department stores have already committed to attend.
“Our great ruler, His Highness the Sheikh Mohammed [Bin Rashid Al Maktoum] always teaches us only to accept to be the first,” said Abrian, who explained that the Arab Fashion Council has the goal of making Dubai the world’s leading fashion capital by 2030 by capitalizing on the strong luxury markets of the Middle East, Asia and Russia. Arab consumers spent $320 billion on luxury fashion in 2016 and are expected shell out $490 billion in the market in 2019, Abrian said.
If attendance at Arab Fashion Week is any indication, Dubai is at least on the right trajectory. Attendance grew from 3,000 present at the first edition to 16,000 in the third. Abrian expects 20,000 people in May. Meanwhile, Internet impressions last edition reached 1.6 billion.
But Arab Fashion Week designers who are finding success outside the Middle East are generally still based in Europe or the U.S. rather than in the region, according to Abrian. He pointed to Yacine Aouadi, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, and Rad Hourani, a Canadian of Jordanian and Syrian descent. Both belong to the couture scene in Paris. Abrian also drew attention to Laura Mancini and Laquan Smith, who are based in Milan and New York, respectively.
As for Middle Eastern based designers on the Arab Fashion Week schedule, Abrian said they just do not yet have the infrastructure at their disposal to win attention and distribution abroad.
To help sow the seeds of the local creative economy, the Arab Fashion Council and the American University in the Emirates unveiled the launch of a Masters of Fashion System, a graduate degree in business to complement creative fashion bachelor degrees already available at the university. Abrian explained that of the many graduates trained in fashion design, few have founded and managed brands. Four full scholarships were also revealed: three undergraduate and one postgraduate. And for the second year in a row, a design competition sponsored by the Italian coffee brand Lavazza will award its winner the opportunity to study fashion in Dubai and Milan.
Arab Fashion Week showcases designers from all over the world, as long as their collections are “ready couture,” a category Abrian devised that falls between luxury ready-to-wear and haute couture. Garments are designed to be manufactured but also customized by each client, at a price of roughly $1,000 to $10,000.
The event, which will take place at the Meydan Hotel in Dubai, features over 20 fashion shows plus showrooms, seminars, related events and two gala dinners. A major Italian designer, whose name will be revealed in March, will attend as the guest of honor.