After almost two years in the role, Dubai Design & Fashion Council's (DDFC) Nez Gebreel is stepping down from her post today.
It's a big loss for the Council, established under Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE, given that in her time as CEO, Dubai's fashion and design scenes have flourished, going from strength-to-strength and establishing themselves as serious international players.
For our December 2014 issue, Bazaar was the first publication to both interview and shoot Nez (who, before taking the reigns at the DDFC, was responsible for taking Victoria Beckham from a Spice Girl to a respected businesswoman, and also helped to relaunch Roland Mouret's eponymous brand). Our editor-in-chief Louise Nichol spoke with Nez about her past successes, her thoughts on the work to be done in the region, and what she hoped to achieve in her time as CEO. Nez spoke about the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (which was recently announced to be opening in the autumn of 2018) and what it would mean for the emirate, and what Dubai needed to do in order to be taken seriously on the world stage.
Here, we relive some of our favourite moments of the interview, and wish Nez all the very best for her next adventure.
ON VICTORIA BECKHAM
“With Victoria it was about dreaming big and thinking big. Having a vision and always focusing your mind long term... She knew what a woman wanted to feel like and what a woman was comfortable in. She was educating herself, it was a big, big learning curve. Early on her collaborations became commercially successful, which meant that we were able to reinvest in her own brand later. It was a smart move. For example, the Rock & Republic jeans were hugely popular and we went international with them. People were buying jeans with the crown DVB logo at Dhs1,900 and more.”
ON WHY SHE WAS THE RIGHT WOMAN FOR THE JOB
“I really understand the industry and how to build something. I also understand the region, which is key because I don’t think you can bring a western philosophy and just cut and paste it. We have a deep heritage and it’s about pulling all that together and understanding that Dubai is such a cosmopolitan place as well. And actually having no attitude – pulling your sleeves up, getting your hands dirty and having that transparency and open door policy but also having a professional background that people respect. Whether it be someone internationally that we are collaborating with or a designer here, they know that I know what I am talking about.”
ON PREPPING DUBAI FOR CHANGE
“You have to break it down and look at what’s missing. It can’t just be all the shiny flashy stuff, it has to be a showing people what you can do."
ON THE DUBAI SCHOOL OF DESIGN
“If our goal is to create this Arabian Armani, where do they start? Education is key. We need to create an educational system which is unique to us and not just another franchise, but develop a curriculum that’s innovative, that’s design-led, working with some of the leaders in education... We have designers here who have product that could sell internationally [but] when you ask them if they have a business plan they say no, which is quite shocking. In the industry one of the first things you do is develop your business plan along with your creative plan.”
“A lot of the designers I mentor in London and New York go through the whole process so I know what works, what doesn’t work. I love nurturing talent and thinking about brands on a larger scale. I get a lot of joy from looking at something and thinking, what will add value to that? How can I contribute to the success?”
“I’d read a lot about Dr Amina Al Rustamani [chairman of the Dubai Design and Fashion Council board and group CEO of Tecom Investments] because for me as an Arab woman, to have those kind of role models is really important. I met Dr Amina and I was really blown away. To have someone challenge you but bring out the best in you was very exciting for me professionally.”
ON INVESTING IN LOCAL BRANDS
“The moment I start buying local designers at the right quality and price point is when I’ll know that the [Fashion Council] board and myself have done the right job. As an international consumer I find it difficult to relate the price points to the quality, which seems to be somewhat of a problem here. The prices don’t relate internationally.”
ON DUBAI FASHION WEEK
“We know we aren’t going to be New York or London in a short period of time, but we are going to be something strong and relevant for this region.”
ON GIVING CRITICISM
“I’m very happy to give critique, but I mean it from a genuine place. I’m not going to tell you something’s wrong just for the sake of saying it. I’m saying it because I want you to do well. If I see something wrong – whether you’re Roland Mouret or Victoria Beckham – I will be happy to share with you my opinion from experience.”
“Everyone needs to work together. Someone told me that I’d be the most hated person in Dubai but I am very straightforward and I don’t understand why people wouldn’t want to collaborate. My job is to ensure that they do.”
ON SETTLING IN
“Once I found home-roasted coffee I was like, now I know I can live here [laughs]. Coffee for me in the morning is really important.”
ON HER VISION FOR DUBAI
"...I don’t think any country will have the next Armani or the next Gucci. I don’t know if that’s possible in this day and age. But we do have the creativity here so it’s a matter of educating and promoting our talent and making international markets realise what we have... We will be a fashion capital by 2020.”
Prices approximate. Photography: Vikram Gawde. Hair and make-up: Hedi Kalmar at Illumin8 Media Make-up Studio. Hair and make-up assistant: Nikita Simona at Illumin8 Media Make-up Studio. Shot on location at d3, Dubaidesigndistrict.com