Meet the Dubai-based designer who wowed at London Fashion Week

Having spent her life in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Amira Haroon stunned stylish crowds in London this week. (Photos supplied)
Updated 17 September 2017

Meet the Dubai-based designer who wowed at London Fashion Week

LONDON: Designers from the Middle East made waves at London Fashion Week, the latest edition of which is set to wrap up on Tuesday.
Fashion Scout, the international showcase for fashion pioneers, is the UK’s largest independent, globally-recognized platform for emerging and established design talent during London Fashion Week. This year, they featured a Dubai-based designer who succeeded in impressing the style-savvy crowd.
The Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) and the FAD Institute of Luxury, Fashion and Style Dubai (FAD) chose to spotlight designer Amira Haroon at the event as part of their bid to provide Dubai-based designers the opportunity to be seen on the global stage.
For her SS18 collection, shown in the stunning surroundings of the Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden last Friday, Haroon drew inspiration from US pop culture and paid tribute to the great talent Whitney Houston, whose music and timeless style inspired many generations of musicians and designers alike.
Arab News had privileged access backstage as Haroon worked with her team to ensure that every detail was right in the run-up to the catwalk show. Amazingly, considering the pressure and hubbub around her – a creative blur of make-up artists, hair stylists, models and a general sense of urgency with the clock ticking down to show time – Haroon seemed to be an island of calm.
“It’s exciting and stressful but that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be,” she said.
She has been on a tight schedule with a plethora of tasks to get through.
“I’ve been here in London for two days and there were a lot of last minute things that needed to be done. We had to check that we had the right models, the rights shoes — we have been sponsored by Aperlaï, Paris, a fabulous shoe brand. There were a few last-minute glitches — new shoe sizes had to be arranged for some of the models — and we also changed some looks around,” she explained.
On the day of the show, London was on high alert due to a terrorist attack on an underground train. “I woke up to that news — a very sad and worrying incident for London but I should say that we are used to this as we are from the region in the world where these things happen,” she said.
Haroon was brought up in Saudi Arabia and currently resides in Dubai. She attended the Parsons School of Design and launched “The Amira Haroon RTW label” in 2011. The brand’s signature style fuses modernity with cultural influences and versatility. She has had several showings in the Middle East but this is her first in London.
“Everyone here has been very supportive. It is highly organized — everyone has their job list and are trying their best.
“DDFC and FAD have been very kind to allow me this opportunity. DDFC is taking a major interest in how the fashion industry in the region is developing. This was a selection process, there were eight designers shortlisted and then we presented to a jury. The jury was very scary because there were big names from the international fashion industry on the panel. It’s an honor to have been selected,” she said.
Thomaz Domingues, senior manager of strategy and industry development at the DDFC, explained the competition procedure.
“We give an open call to our members every season. They go through a judgment process and the selected designer gets to come here with a fully-sponsored show in partnership with FAD.
“We are tasked with helping to develop the creative industries in Dubai, the UAE and the MENA region.”
Shivang Dhruva, founder of FAD, shed light on the organization’s role, saying: “We have been engaging with Fashion Scout for the past four years. We incubate and promote talent from across the Middle East and Asia. In addition to training, we support our designers to showcase on international platforms and expand their retail and business profiles.”
Haroon’s collection was notable for the elegance of the designs and the wonderful color palette and detailing. The clothes somehow managed to look both classic and contemporary and it was easy to spot the influence of Whitney Houston in the designs and styling of the models. This was a triumph of a London debut for Haroon and her vision of strong, independent women who showcase their personalities through their style.

Indian Miss Universe runner-up’s peace dream inspired by Kuwaiti childhood

Updated 08 June 2021

Indian Miss Universe runner-up’s peace dream inspired by Kuwaiti childhood

  • Adline Castelino tells Arab News about growing up in Arab environment with Pakistani friends, her belief in future for India, Pakistan built on mutual respect

NEW DELHI: Indian model Adline Castelino believes that coming third runner-up in the recent Miss Universe pageant in Florida will provide the springboard to follow her dream of becoming a peace envoy.

The 22-year-old beauty queen recently told Arab News about her childhood years growing up in an Arab culture, the need for peace between rival nations such as Pakistan and India, and her plans to spend time with family and enjoy food when the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic subsides.

Born and raised in Kuwait, Castelino returned to her homeland as a teenager to study in Mumbai and pursue a career in modelling. Instagram

She said: “I would love to don the role of an ambassador of peace. If that opportunity comes to me, I would be the first one to grab that and make the most of it, because I believe that’s what the world needs now.”

Born and raised in Kuwait, Castelino returned to her homeland as a teenager to study in Mumbai and pursue a career in modelling. The multicultural experience of growing up and having the “most comfortable and loving childhood” in the Gulf state has never left her, instilling a deep respect for others.

She represented India at the Miss Universe 2020 pageant where she finished 4th among contestants from 73 countries. Instagram

“I am very grateful to have had the experience of growing up in an Arab culture and I learnt a lot. The amalgamation of both cultures made me the person that I am. I think people over there give lots of importance to children and they really sacrifice a lot for children. I remember how we were so protected from the start,” she added.

With that sense of safety and protection, Castelino, a native of Mangalore in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, could grow up Indian, although away from India. “Even though I was very far away from my motherland, I always had the values and tradition intact.”

Castelino works with a welfare organisation called ‘Vikas Sahayog Pratishthan’ (VSP). Instagram

She was also able to make friends with Pakistanis whose country has long been a bitter rival of India, the two nations having been involved in periods of armed conflict since the independence and partition of the former British-ruled subcontinent in 1947.

Castelino said: “I don’t think this enmity, this animosity needs to continue. There is such a wonderful relation we could share, because of our history, because of where we come from.

“I truly feel that they are part of our family. I have a family in Pakistan, and I really want to tell them that I see a future there where both countries actually join hands and to have very mutually respectful relations. Because we share the same history, because we have shared the same pain and struggle at one period of time.

She became only the second Indian in two decades to achieve major success in the Miss Universe competition. Instagram

“In Kuwait, I have lived alongside Pakistanis, Bangladeshis. And they have been my best friends, they are my family, people who have cheered for me and had my back,” she added.

Her main source of support, however, has been her parents. When she became only the second Indian in two decades to achieve major success in the Miss Universe competition – after actress Lara Dutta won it in 2000 – Castelino immediately called her parents who still live in Kuwait.

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic has been brought under control, she will be off to Kuwait to see her parents and friends. Instagram

“They were very supportive even though they were not there in the entire journey, they were always supportive and trying to guide me. I called up my mom soon after the crowning. It was early in the morning. She was excited and so proud of me,” she said.

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic has been brought under control, she will be off to Kuwait to see her parents and friends, and to enjoy her favorite and “amazing” Arab dishes.

“When I go back, when I think of going back, that’s the first thing I think of after my family. I am going to have amazing shawarma; I am going to have amazing falafel. I am just waiting for the opportunity to go back to Kuwait,” Castelino added.


KSA Fashion Commission backs luxury designs with 100 Saudi Brands program

Updated 04 June 2021

KSA Fashion Commission backs luxury designs with 100 Saudi Brands program

  • The authority invited those wishing to take part in the program to register before June 20
  • The program offers a one-year package of training and guidance programs

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Fashion Commission has launched the “100 Saudi Brands” program, which aims to support the business development of 100 Saudi designers and luxury brands, providing Saudi fashion products with international competitive standards.
The authority invited those wishing to take part in the program to register via the website before June 20.
The program offers a one-year package of training and guidance programs, and includes sessions for groups and individuals, along with virtual and physical training workshops to develop competitive business advantages in the Saudi fashion industry.
Course topics will include brand review and mentoring, training in defining brand concepts, sales performance strategies, public relations and marketing strategies, methods for finding and identifying particular clients, innovations, technology and leadership skills.
The program’s stages include activities presented to the consumer to encourage sales in the local market, the first of which will be held in Riyadh in December, the activation of electronic sales outlets in January, and a campaign targeting wholesales in order to activate international sales in February.
The program will help build 100 Saudi brands that are able to compete regionally and internationally, within the framework of the Fashion Commission to develop the fashion sector in the Kingdom in all its legislative and regulatory aspects, and to support and empower its workers, including creators and investors.

Princess Diana’s wedding dress goes on display in London

Updated 03 June 2021

Princess Diana’s wedding dress goes on display in London

  • The taffeta-ruffled white dress has a 25 foot (8 meter) sequin-encrusted train
  • Prince William and Prince Harry have loaned their mother’s wedding dress for the exhibition

LONDON: The dress Princess Diana wore at her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles went on public display Thursday at the late princess’s former home in London.
The taffeta-ruffled white dress designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, with its 25 foot (8 meter) sequin-encrusted train, helped seal the fairytale image of the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and the heir to the British throne.

Reality soon intruded. The couple separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996, with both acknowledging extramarital affairs. Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 at the age of 36.
Her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, have loaned their mother’s wedding dress for the exhibition “Royal Style in the Making.” The exhibit also features sketches, photographs and gowns designed for three generations of royal women, including Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother. It runs until Jan. 2, 2022.

Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari

Updated 15 May 2021

Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari

  • Banarsi silk was a luxurious hand-woven fabric once made in the city of Khairpur, in Sindh
  • No official data exists on the history of the industry and the stories are told by the weavers themselves

SINDH: At the Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Colony in the city of Khairpur, in Sindh, 47-year-old merchant Zafar Abbas Ansari was waiting, hoping for a few additional orders of silk Banarsi saris as Eid Al-Fitr approached.
The sari is a garment native to South Asia, where a long piece of cloth is wrapped elaborately around the body — usually in cotton or silk — and worn with a matching blouse.
Although the city does not make Banarsi any longer — it is now made in Karachi, more than 400 km away — customers still come to the city to purchase the fabric.
Inside the deserted 70-year-old market — once a bustling place — Zafar’s shop is among the last three Banarsi shops left. His family is one of the 40 weaver families who brought the industry to Khairpur when they migrated from India in 1952.
“It is almost two decades since Khairpur stopped producing Banarsi saris after the industry’s collapse. However, even today, the brand is popular among customers. They keep demanding Khairpur’s brand,” Zafar told Arab News.
In its heyday, Khairpur’s Banarsi sari was synonymous with luxury, with vendors supplying the fabric not only locally but also exporting to Pakistani families living in the UK and other European countries.
Inside Zafar’s shop, unstitched pieces of colorful saris — the blouse, the petticoat and main sari fabric — are displayed. The shop shows off different varieties of saris, including the traditional katan — a plain woven fabric with pure silk threads — chiffon, as well as synthetic fabrics.
“Banarsi sari has distinction and standing,” Zafar said proudly. “It is worn by royal families because of its grace and elegance. In some families it is an essential part of the bridal trousseau.”

The price of a sari depends upon its type. The most expensive sari fabric available in the Khairpur market currently is worth Rs45,000 ($300) a piece
Khairpur’s Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Colony is named after the city of Banaras in India (now Varanasi) because of the silk weavers who migrated from there.
There are no official records, and the story of the garment comes from the weavers themselves. They say the history of the Banaras sari industry in Khairpur is linked with Ghulam Saddiquah Begum — the wife of Khairpur state’s then ruler, Mir Ali Murad Khan Talpur of the Talpur dynasty.
Saddiquah Begum herself came from Bahawalpur state, and in 1949, the weavers said, during a visit to India’s Hyderabad Deccan, she offered Mohammed Yusuf Ansari — a sari trader from Banaras — the chance to start manufacturing in Khairpur.
She is said to have offered her state’s support for the establishment of the manufacturing units required.
In 1952, about 40 families of the Ansari clan migrated from Banaras to Khairpur and sari manufacturing began on handlooms. Later, the saris were exported to other countries.
Arab News could not independently verify this information.
According to Anjum Sajjad Ansari, grandson of Muhammad Yusuf Ansari and a representative of the Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Association Khairpur, at its peak there were 400 handlooms in Khairpur. Today, not a single handloom remains.
“At Khairpur’s Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony today there are 16 houses of traditional weavers. However only three are involved in this business of selling Karachi-made fabric,” Anjum said.
Like elsewhere, the Banarsi brand was associated with pure silk thread work. Initially, Khairpur used silk imported from China, but later the silk came from Punjab’s Changa Manga as Pakistan developed hatching silkworms and silk fiber producing factories.
The whole family engaged in the manufacturing process, including silk weaving, dyeing, warping, and reeling. It took between two to three days’ work to complete a single sari.
The silk weaving industry was thriving into the 1960s.
“In 1965, Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan visited and gave incentives and subsidies that boosted the industry,” said Anjum.
“However, in the later years successive governments paid little heed to this industry, and manufacturing units were shifted to Karachi by 2000,” he said.
For Anjum, there is still a chance to revive the past glory of Khairpur.
“We have given proposals to the government at different forums. But nothing has been done yet. The Banarsi sari has become a trademark for Khairpur,” he said.
“Khairpur’s distinction was to produce only handmade silk fabric, unlike other areas where machines are involved. If the government is sincere, factories could be re-established and skilled laborers could be recalled once more from Karachi.”


Startup of the Week: Alia’s Touch; Combination of classic, modern clothing design

Updated 11 May 2021

Startup of the Week: Alia’s Touch; Combination of classic, modern clothing design

JEDDAH: Alia Al-Zubaidi’s passion for design led her into becoming an interior designer. But it was her love of fashion that prompted the setting up of her own business, Alia’s Touch.

Her popular twist on the tie-dye technique has seen her incorporating the design into dresses, abayas, and other personalized, hand-painted items of clothing.

The entrepreneur started out producing custom-made pieces for her customers, but as the process developed, she began selling her designs to stores.

“I particularly like printing my designs on the fabric itself. I buy fabrics from different places such as India, Pakistan, Dubai, and the UK. I source a variety of fabrics from around the world and add my unique touch.
It is my work and my hobby,” she said.

Al-Zubaidi described her style of clothes as “classic-modern” and the paint for her recent tie-dyed designs was imported from India.

“Tie-dyed clothes were not a common fashion in Saudi Arabia, so when I started making them, I was skeptical. However, my customers loved the new designs and wanted to buy them immediately,” she added.

As tie-dye became popular in the Kingdom, Al-Zubaidi noticed other fabrics being sold with the designs printed on them.

“I was hand painting each article of clothing at that time, so each piece was different. The challenge I faced at the beginning of my business was finding outlets to sell my products. Any concept stores, or bazaars were extremely expensive.”

The designer draws her inspiration from many sources including the traditional jalabia (a full-length loose dress commonly worn by Saudi women) and produces trendy prints and patterns for younger people.

Although preferring prints, she is not afraid to experiment with embroidery, laces, and different designs.

“I think the biggest thing that designers struggle with is the high cost of making these clothes. There are limited outlets where they can be sold, and the competition is extremely tough,” she said.

Further details on Instagram @alias_touch