Six things you didn’t know about Middle Eastern Fashion

By Isabel Tapp, Founder of Luxury Communications Council, GCC Chapter

It’s often not until they holiday in Marrakech, that people realise Yves Saint Laurent isn’t French. Originally born in Algeria, the designer lived half the year in Morocco, bringing inspired designs back to France, then onto the world of fashion. And there were many more Arab designers after him. 

Here’s what you don’t know about Middle Eastern fashion.

It’s seasonless
Although technically there is a winter and summer season in the Middle East, the difference in temperature isn’t significant enough for puffer jackets and boots. There are generally two temperatures: pleasant and sweltering. On a practical level, a seasonless wardrobe is much more sustainable and gives pieces better longevity. Dubai-based AUTONOMIE’s designer Maha Ahmed has also recently decided to forgo the season-to-season collections and opt for a slower approach with smaller but significant drops.

Middle Eastern designers dress A-listers
Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Heidi Klum to Paris Hilton have all appeared on the red carpet wearing Middle Eastern designers. The recent Oscars red carpet has also seen a host of Middle Eastern designers dressing the stars. Elie Saab stunned with his scarlet voluminous one-shoulder piece on Cara Delevingne, while Tony Ward was quick to make headlines with Fan Bingbing in a silver gown with a green cape. Rihanna dressed her baby bump in a sheer paneled look by Alaïa, which was founded by the Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa.

Another designer ruffling feathers is Zuhair Murad, who is not only taking over the runway, but has also designed Jennifer Lopez’s wedding gown for her recent wedding to Ben Affleck. Local designers haven’t been left behind either, recently the Miss Universe contest saw Amato Couture’s creations in the national costume competition on Miss Bahrain Elvin Khalifa, who was celebrating Bahrain’s 50th anniversary with the stunning gold ensemble.

It’s not just couture
Though these designers make headlines, Middle Eastern fashion has diversified over the last few years to include leisure, sports and even swimwear. Combined with a surge in local talent and more women entering the workforce, the trend was accelerated during the pandemic when ball gowns and evening dresses never left the wardrobe. Today you can fill your wardrobe with t-shirts, pants and leggings all from local designers from the likes of Madiyah Al Sharqi, Buka and Bambah.

East and Western fashion co-exists
Although the region is home to designers catering to Arabic styles and culture featuring long-sleeved, floor-length abayas, many also cater to Western culture. Amsterdam-based, Mochi was founded by Ayah Tabari. After travelling for most of her life, Ayah settled between Dubai and Amsterdam where she channeled her passion for artistic expression and love for colour and exuberant prints into wearable designs. Mochi expresses itself through kaleidoscopic prints and traditional embroidery, which is produced in collaboration with local artisans in the region.

Designers launch Ramadan Collections
Ramadan is the most important month in the Islamic calendar – it is the month in which the Qur’an (the holy book of Islam) was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. For the entire month, Muslims all around the world fast from sunrise to sunset, meeting with family and friends in the evening for the Iftar feast. Every year, designers launch Ramadan collections focusing on elegance and modesty with beautiful kaftans, abayas and flowing maxi dresses. From high-end to fast-fashion, and local to international designers, a large number of brands are now launching their own Ramadan collections including Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Prada. Local brands such as The Giving Movement and Noon by Noor have also produced Ramadan collections this month.

Women wear their finest pieces anytime, anywhere

For Arab women, there’s no occasion too big or small to wear their designer clothing, shoes or handbag. Even for a casual stroll round the mall, they slip into a pair of Jimmy Choos with a Hermès handbag on their arm. If you own it, flaunt it, tends to be the mantra in the Gulf countries.