Dubai's fashion show face-off

Fashion Forward and Fashion Week Middle East arrive in the city


Before bi-annual industry event Fashion Forward (FFWD) bounced on the block almost two years ago, the anchoring ceremony of Dubai’s fashion industry had quite literally fallen off the radar. Those of us in the know waited for the return of Dubai Fashion Week, but it never came. Fact is, until the launch of FFWD in 2013, the city had struggled to hold down a platform for emerging and established designers to showcase their work. With the three-day event now in its fourth season and the debut of Fashion Week Middle East taking place from October 1 to 4, we ask: what’s changed?

‘I think a city or a market needs to have a certain level of maturity for any platform to be truly viable,’ says founder and CEO of FFWD, Bong Guerrero. ‘Platforms like this, they’re not just a spectacle and I think that was the problem. The key players were all very new to the game, couture in this region is only 20 years old, ready-to-wear started about eight to ten years ago and even the concept of multi-brand boutiques is quite new. There has to be commerce and an exchange and a great amount of talent,’ he says. ‘Now is the right time. Dubai as a city has ripened up and it has a very positive appeal to the rest of the fashion world.’ Indeed, where similar events of this scale are predominantly invite-only, FFWD’s draw card is that even your average Joe can score a seat for a small fee.

On the opposite, and slightly more exclusive side of town, four-day Fashion Week Middle East is also offering a small portion of its seats to the public, 20 percent to be exact. Managing director of PR company English-Strickland, Stephanie English-Strickland, pits the event as the more mature of the two. ‘FFWD focuses on education, which is absolutely needed and we support that. They show how designers can improve their businesses and bring speakers to inspire them. Pretty much all of the designers [at FFWD] are from the region or emerging,’ she says. ‘Our designers need to be in business for at least three years and have a stockist here or someplace else where fashion is prominent.’

Those set to send collections down a magnificent stage setup under DIFC’s iconic The Gate include US designer Charlotte Ronson as well as UAE-based Shrekahnth and Ntombi Couture. Alongside this, Fashion Week Middle East will offer an exchange program, whereby two home-grown designers from the region (local or expat) will show at New York Fashion Week and LA Fashion Week, going forward.

So what is the key to solidifying a seasonal fashion week in Dubai’s future? Stephanie says it lies in avoiding past mistakes. ‘Fashion week should not have a face to it, it should be all about the designers and the sponsors who are involved in it. We don’t need a face for fashion week, period. With that it becomes sustainable.’

Fashion Week Middle East
From Dhs100 per person per day for a full-day pass. October 1 to 4. The Gate, DIFC (

FFWD season four
Online registration: Dhs150 for visitors, Dhs100 for students. On-site registration: Dhs75 per person and Dhs50 per student per day. October 4 to 6.
Register online in advance at Madinat Jumeirah, Madinat Arena (04 432 7844).

FFWD season four highlights

Bong Guerrero reveals his picks.

Day 1
2pm: The Garden Party

‘This really opens up FFWD and the space boasts over 50 accessory and jewellery designers.’

4pm: ‘Life Lessons in Fashion’
‘The big highlight of this talk is editor-in-chief of, Jessica Michault.’

5pm: The Emperor 1688
‘They won the regional menswear IWP prize for India and the Middle East. They’re ones to watch out for.’

Day 2
3pm: Essa

‘He’s won the best regional designer prize three times and always puts on a theatrical show.’

4.30pm: ‘Modest Fashion in Modest Times’
‘This is a very interesting talk and we have a guest blogger from the states, Hipster Hijabi, giving us her insight into conservative fashion.’

10pm: Tahir Sultan
‘Emirati designer Zareena is closing. She’s one of the pioneers of Dubai’s fashion industry and she’s always surprising us.’

Day 3
2pm: ‘The State of the Industry: Where Do We Go From Here’
‘This will cover where we are as an industry and I think it will get quite heated.’

6.30pm: Amato by Furne One
‘He’s always one of the bigger, most theatrical shows at FFWD.’

11pm: After party
‘We have after parties every day on Fort Island. Every night is going to be rocking.’

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