'Dubai has emerged as a kind of Arab utopia' says founder of Arab Fashion Council ahead of Fashion Week

As Dubai Fashion Week launches this week, Jacob Abrian talks about why Dubai needs to spotlight its own local designer industry

By Sujata Assomull

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Published: Thu 9 Mar 2023, 5:26 PM

With his trademark flame-coloured hair and avant garde wardrobe, Jacob Abrian can be mistaken for a fashion influencer. While there is no denying that he is indeed looking to influence fashion, Abrian is driven by the idea of putting Arab designers on the global map. The CEO and founder of the Arab Fashion Council (AFC), Abrian is Lebanese and founded AFC in 2015 when he was only 22.

Ever since, he has become a champion of local design. Within months of launching AFC, he started Arab Fashion Week. Anchored in Dubai, this event has now transformed into Dubai Fashion Week with Dubai Design District (d3) being this new platform’s co-founder. The Gulf region is already known for its love of fashion, with one of the highest per capita spending on fashion in the world. International brands have made steep investments in Dubai, which is considered the gateway into this region for all things luxury.

As a not-for-profit organisation, AFC aims to spotlight homegrown talent, ensuring that contemporary fashion designers from this region can stand head-to-head with designers from Paris, London, Milan and New York. A region with a rich textile heritage, Abrian wants to build a fashion ecosystem that puts Dubai firmly on the world’s fashion map. A trained architect, he worked briefly as a model and believes that Dubai Fashion Week, whose first edition starts on March 10 at d3 and features contemporary labels like Mrs Keepa, Lama Jouni, couture houses Amato and Michael Cinco, will make an impact in expanding Arab fashion’s footprint in the world. In an interview, Abrian shares his vision for what Arab fashion can mean to the world.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

When did you first fall in love with fashion?

Ever since I was a child — around the age of four, to be precise —I developed a fondness for fashion. I enjoyed sketching full gowns and my aunts were quite taken aback with my drawings, so much so that they began to tailor my designs. My parents then made it their mission to convince me to pursue architecture instead. Studying architecture turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It gave me detailed insight into creative business and how one can sustain their creativity. After modelling for a short period in Europe, where I experienced the world of Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks, my love for fashion returned with even more gusto.

You started the Arab Fashion Council when you were all of 22. What made you decide to start this platform?

My studies in Milan stirred my curiosity about the lack of support for creatives in the Arab World, where they are unable to express their full potential the same way as during Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks. I had an idea — to build a strong global platform for Arab designers connecting Dubai to the rest of the world, while also drawing international creatives towards this destination when searching for a place from which to make their mark.

Will Arab Fashion Week still happen now that you have launched Dubai Fashion Week?

Founded by Dubai Design District and the Arab Fashion Council, Dubai Fashion Week is the evolution of 21 editions of the Arab Fashion Week. DFW stands as a pioneering milestone for the industry, offering an unparalleled official platform for Dubai’s creative industry success in today’s world.

You worked on Saudi Arabia’s first fashion week too. According to you, which city qualifies as this region’s fashion capital?

Organising the first fashion week in Saudi Arabia was a major accomplishment that had been long overdue in order to support the tremendous talents of its citizens. Saudi Arabia is home to great potential and although hosting such an event requires much more than just showcasing. Dubai is well-equipped to do so with its infrastructure, legal system, and what not. The triumph of Dubai Fashion Week should be celebrated by all Arab nations as it celebrates the artistry of each successful designer from the region.

Beirut has long been considered the home of creativity in the Middle East. Yet, Dubai is seen as the fashion capital. Can you explain this?

Beirut has long been a hub of creativity and continues to be so with so many acclaimed designers achieving global recognition. However, to be called a fashion capital, more is required than just creativity — there must also be a supportive infrastructure, legal system and ecosystem. Dubai has emerged as a kind of Arab utopia, and here we are celebrating it as the fashion capital of the region.

There have been many fashion weeks in the region, but most failed. Why?

Investors often view fashion weeks as a means of generating revenue and being festive. These events are B2B industry meetings that bring the creative world together with retail buyers and media outlets. Unfortunately, past fashion weeks have failed due to the lack of credible backing and the inability to make profits for the operators, resulting in short-lived events. Event organisers must comprehend the reason for launching an official fashion week: global promotion for designers. Dubai Design District and Arab Fashion Council’s foundation of Dubai Fashion Week should serve as a reminder of this fact.

At this debut edition of Dubai Fashion Week, there are men’s, women’s and couture designers presenting. Will you eventually have separate fashion weeks for each category?

The Men’s Fashion Week has already been launched and we are preparing to give the couture world its dedicated platform. However, the number of annual editions depends on the market outlook and many strategies we identify with our industry counterparts and key stakeholders.

What would you like the world to know about Arab fashion?

Arab designers are poised to take the world by storm with a trendsetting solid power backed up by a robust ecosystem, value chain, and system to promote our industry globally.

How do you build a fashion ecosystem?

The Arab Fashion Council plays a vital role in constructing and nurturing a fashion ecosystem. A fashion week is simply the product of this, being a way to demonstrate the success of such an ecosystem. Additionally, AFC focuses on encouraging local talent by connecting them with regional and local buyers and international brands for collaborations as well as dedicating time to devising strategies and providing resources. To highlight only some of the Council’s accomplishments, it is responsible for having brought together Jean Louis Sabaji x Barbie partnership to create an Arab Barbie, partnered up with Hot Wheels x Anomalous, launched the emergency network #Thread4Cause initiative at the start of the pandemic, set up the Green Label to back sustainable designers, launched an AFC scholarship programme for talented Arab students, teamed up with La Federation de la Haute Couture et de La Mode, which coordinates Paris Fashion Week, invited renowned brands like Jean Paul Gaultier, Moschino and Iris van Herpen to showcase in the city. Above all, being able to maintain and exceed the momentum for seven years in a row and position Dubai and our region on the global map of fashion.

Why is it important to have a vibrant homegrown fashion community?

It is inviting and reassuring for global brands and businesses to invest in cities with a vibrant fashion community because it signifies a growing creative industry, a sustainable environment for creative minds to grow, and an innovative economy.


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