There’s been one name on the lips of every style insider, designer and creative in the region over the past few months, with whispers of a sort of promised land for the regional art and fashion worlds sounding almost too good to be true. But Dubai Design District, or d3 as it is more widely known, is real and this month will open its doors to the public for the first time with its ‘Meet d3’ weekend. Spanning three days, the event will give people a chance to see the space for themselves, participate in a range of activities and meet some of the designers that will help shape the future of the site and, more broadly, the region’s retail and fashion landscape. Five such figures are Arwa Al Banawi, 27, Khulood Bint Thani, 34, Budreya Faisal of Bleach, 32, Zayan Ghandour of Zayan The Label, 41, and Ayesha Depala, 37, who met with Bazaar to talk about what d3 means for them, and for the region as a whole.
It’s clear from our talks that these women are all incredibly passionate about Dubai itself, and each admit to seeking design inspiration from the nation’s surrounds. “I frequent Bastakiya,” says Dubai-based Indian designer Ayesha. “The old museum never ceases to inspire me and my work.” For Emirati designer Budreya, it’s “the old souqs and markets. I’m in love with Bur Dubai and the creekside too – the vivid colours, the difficult-but-special finds, the old Dubai feel – I love this city!” Also immediately evident from within the group is, that regardless of whether they’re launching their first line, like Arwa, or are an easily identifiable face in the fashion line-up, like Zayan and Ayesha, d3 offers something to everyone. “The fashion landscape in Dubai is very interesting as there’s a lot happening and it’s producing a lot of talent,” says Lebanese designer, Zayan. “But there’s only so much that could be done without the support of a government body focused on nurturing, guiding and supporting this talent. The d3 initiative has come at the right time, given that there’s a surge in local designers seeking support to take them to the next level.” Ayesha agrees, adding, “d3 puts more emphasis on Dubai’s fashion, retail and design sectors. Fashion giants were always offered prime retail space and were prioritised in shopping malls, while smaller, emerging brands in need of subsidised rent for the spaces were neglected in the process. Now, with d3, independent fashion brands have an opportunity to be seen amidst a sea of high-end retailers.”
The weekend fair also affords the designers an opportunity to come face-to-face with their consumers, and has allowed them to expand their creative capabilities. For Emirati designer Khulood, this has meant a chance to partner with Amer Aldour, architect and founder of Inter|Act, to create the region’s fi rst 3D printed dress, which has been produced in-house and infused with native camel leather to reiterate the narrative behind the project. Meanwhile, Zayan and her team at S*uce have curated an instantly shoppable (via a large-screen TV) mobile bedroom installation, which features functional design pieces by multi-disciplinary Emirati artist Latifa Saeed and Lebanese pop artist Corinne Martin.
One thing that they unanimously agree upon is that d3 will help designers overcome the challenges associated with sourcing fabric. Budreya explains, saying, “the biggest battle designers face in Dubai is access to specialised suppliers for those who don’t travel or prefer to source locally. d3 will undoubtedly help bridge that gap.” So, too, do they agree upon the spotlight the space will shine upon the talent on our shores. “d3 will play a big role in enhancing exposure opportunities for designers,” Saudi designer Arwa states. “I believe it will help the designers to engage with one another more freely.” Such engagement will help to unify the design community, placing it in a better position internationally, as Zayan explains, “the biggest challenge we face currently in Dubai is gaining international visibility and credibility with the support of d3, I feel as though we’ll be able to collectively achieve more than what we could if we all continue independently.” Ayesha agrees, adding, “It’s imperative for the design fraternity to support each other and being in close proximity with a unifying thread like d3 will allow that to happen.”
As Ayesha points out, the climate in Dubai is now right for a development like d3 to emerge. “The expansion and rapid change and growth in Dubai’s retail sector and d3’s initiative is not coincidental. The UAE accounts for tens of billions of dirhams in the fashion and luxury markets and continues to grow at a rapid pace.” Khulood expands, adding, “d3 will help to position Dubai, and the Middle East in general, as a design hub.” For Budreya, the site itself makes a significant announcement to the international fashion circle. “If there wasn’t so much talent emerging from this city, or flocking to it, this amazing project simply would not have been. d3 is a statement, that the UAE, and Dubai specifically, isn’t just playing the fashion game, it is now officially leading it.”
HANA AL KAED Muse for Arwa Al Banawi
Muse and friend to the newest name on the fashion block, Arwa Al Banawi, 27-year-old Hana Al Kaed says that it’s the brand’s “fusion of vintage and modern, femininity and masculinity, and simple pieces that make a statement” that resonates most with her. She describes her own style as “minimalist and inspired by menswear”, which is what drew her to this two-piece printed suit. On why she thinks Arwa’s designs are a perfect fit for the region, Hana explains: “We need more designers that portray women as individuals of strength and encourage them to feel confident and powerful wherever they are, and whatever position they hold. Arwa’s designs do just that.”
TALA SAMMAN Muse for Zayan Ghandour
“I was so excited when Zayan announced she was starting her own label. I love her eye for design and style. She really is one of the most hardworking and talented women to come out of this region,” Tala Samman, 25, tells Bazaar of Zayan Ghandour, whose eponymous label, launched in 2011, regularly dressing the social media star. Of her own style, Tala describes it as eclectic. “It really depends on what inspires me and how my mood is that day. I always just make sure that I’m comfortable in what I’m wearing.” When it comes to the fashion offerings in the region as a whole, the MyFashDiary blogger says she’d like to see more creativity and better tailoring. “I try to support quite a few regional labels but I’m sometimes disappointed with the fit and finishing, though Zayan, Nathalie Trad, Nadine Kanso are exceptions to that.”
ADELYA BAKHTIYA AROVA Muse for Ayesha Depala
Being considered a muse to Ayesha Depala makes her “feel truly honoured,” says 29-year-old Adelya Bakhtiyarova, “because Ayesha’s style is so impeccable and classy.” Wearing a brand new creation from Ayesha’s eveningwear collection, Adelya tells Bazaar that the look was in line with her personal style. “I love the concept of a little black dress with heels. It exudes effortless chic.” She cites Rosemin Manji as her regional fashion inspiration and says that she’d like to see “more fashion shows with more creative stage design and performance” produced in the region. “There’s always room for improvement but to its credit, Dubai’s fashion scene is constantly evolving and improving. It’s always exciting to see what comes next.”
HIND FAISAL Muse for Budreya Faisal
A love of fashion runs in the Faisal family. Hend, the 20-year-old younger sister to Bleach designer Budreya, says that she’s long admired her sister’s sense of style. “Growing up, I always looked up to Budreya for her fashion sense and design ethics. For me to be a muse for her amazing label is a privilege that I can’t begin to put into words.” Describing her personal style as “minimalist”, Hend says the outfit she wears in our shoot is perfect in more ways than one. “My sister and I both love Japanese fashion. Having just moved back from Tokyo, being in a look that was inspired by, and felt like, the art I saw in my summers, made me feel as though I was back there.” When it comes to what she respects most about fashion in Dubai, Hend says, “I love the risks that a lot of designers are taking. They’re becoming more daring with their creations. There is a professional yet experimental scene that speaks to a greater field of women and makes shopping here that much more fun.”
ZAHRA LYLA Muse for Khulood Bint Thani
There’s a shared sense of appreciation between Zahra Lyla and Khulood Bint Thani, both effusive over how nice the other is and how much they respect each other’s work. “I appreciate a well-produced piece that’s been thought out and is part of a cohesive collection,” says Zahra. “The way Bint Thani meshes art and fashion together is refreshingly edgy and Khulood’s work is unique but wearable.” The Lylalovesfashion blogger admits she’d like to see “more mentorships to help new designers build their fashion brand.” Of the region’s sartorial scene as a whole, she refl ects, “I love how designers here incorporate the culture into their designs, it’s interesting to see that recognised in the work produced. I also like that many are young women making a name for themselves. That is really inspiring.”
Words: Maddison Glendinning. Styling: Charlotte Blair. Prices approximate. Hair: Amanda Almeida at Illumin8 Media Make-up Studio. Make-up: Hedi Kalmar at Illumin8 Media Make-up Studio. Shot on location at Dubai Design District (d3), Dubaidesigndistrict.com. This article first appeared in the April 2015 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia