Friday, 3 July 2009

The Arab World: Fashion's last Frontier?

Tuesday the 29th of June, nytimes.com featured a back to back blog extravaganza catching up on the recent men's fashion show in Paris and how it has been strongly influenced by Arab style. Stefano Tonchi narrated on how todays generation is bombarded with news of daily events and happenings in Kabul and Baghdad. On the other hand THE Suzy Menkes writes about the romanticism of the Orient, Paris' love affair with the East and Galliano's shot of fashion bolt. Two blogs, one theme: men's fashion is Eastbound.

But is it just men's fashion that is being swept away to the Orient or is it the global economic slump that drive today's generation of designers to go East where the oil keeps flowing and the money doesn't stop pouring? Amidst current recession, Dubai is still chic and Saudi is never volatile. Is the Arab world fashion's last frontier?

Everyday, more and more high fashion brands and luxury goods store are opening their flagship stores in the Middle East specially in one particular country whose reputation as the new spending destination is as hot as its weather—Saudi Arabia. In 2008 H&M opened their first store in the country introducing a unique shopping experience perfect for such a very defined and strict culture: the “Women Only” section. Saks Fifth Avenue on the other hand, followed their success in Saudi by opening their second store in Jeddah last January--- their fifth biggest store in the whole of the Middle East. In April, Italian powerhouse Versace opened their flagship store in the same country followed by Stella Mcartney in May.

As Saudi continues to attract big fashion brands, more money is being pumped up to boost more investments and combat possible adversity of the credit crunch. Last month, Maktoob.com, the world leading Arab portal reported on Bahrain's Investcorp 's (ex-investors of Gucci and Tiffany's ) plan “to buy stakes in home-grown Middle Eastern luxury goods companies as part of a wider plan to invest $650 million in the region in the next two years”.

Six hundred fifty million dollars! We could only hope this project will be an utmost success. And I am sure it will be. Middle East is an ocean teeming with fish and the designers are willing to thread sequined nets to catch as much as possible. Who wouldn't anyway? In a land where spending is a national pastime, I wouldn't be surprised if there are a lot of Princess Maha al-Sudairi's out there who would spend 15 million pounds for luxury undergarments ( and seek diplomatic asylum in Paris to flee her unpaid bills. Note: Paris as a place of exile for a shopaholic? Are you taking the piss?)


Anyway, moving on to the Orient, No one knows if the Paris' Fashion week is a faithful ode to the beauty and exoticism of Eastern culture and style or just a plain act of ass-licking to the a specific target market whose cashflow doesn't seem to end. After Christian Lacroix's bankruptcy earlier this year, designers are keeping their eyes open for million ways than one not to suffer the same tragedy. (Is till love you Mr. Lacroix even if you're skint.)


What happens to fashion if the economic crisis continues to suck us into a vortex of nothingness? Do we move with this Easterly wind? Would the Burka be the next couture? (President Sarkozy says no).


Shall President Obama turn things around , make a miracle and save us all from the pitfalls of global economic hell, will Givenchy pay him a homage and come up with an entire collection influenced by the Luoan tribe of Kenya?

Only the star that lead the 3 kings to Bethlehem knows.

Besos!

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