Dubai's ace designer Michael Cinco on making PPEs
In the time before Covid-19, Michael Cinco's warehouse could have been mistaken for a fairytale setting, with every corner adorned with mannequins in his intricately-crafted, jewel-strewn gowns. Today, the only hue visible there is white. "My office and showroom is painted in white and my team of tailors and finishers usually wear white lab gowns while working," he says. "It's a joy to watch them work, as though they were in a hospital."
Cinco was one of the Dubai-based couturiers Arab Fashion Council reached out to to join their #AThread4Cause campaign, where designers make PPE gears for frontline medical staff. Cinco distinctly remembers the month of April when he decided to be a part of the campaign - a time when restrictions across the UAE meant his staff could not work from their d3 office. "Our workshop is not in a warehouse because I don't have a factory for mass production. I have a couture workshop in d3, which was also in total lockdown and no one was allowed to enter work in that area. So, when the government eased restrictions in the first week of May, I had a meeting with my business partner, Sayed Ali, to start producing the PPEs. So far, I have produced 700 lab gowns in one week and handed them over to Dubai Health Authority."
The fabrics and samples of clinical lab gowns, says Cinco, are provided by DHA and d3. "It's something new to me because I am not familiar with PPE microporous fabrics, but they are soft, water-proof and dust-proof. The government had announced that only 30 per cent of employees are allowed to work, so I asked some of my tailors to start producing the PPEs. First, we sanitised the whole office and production area. Then, we started to cut a very simple pattern for the medical gowns, complying with the authority's safety sanitary standards while producing them," he explains.
While the work is staggeringly different from what Cinco has been known for, he also added his own touch to it. Although most PPE gears are plain white, one day, he experimented with them and put black piping on it and draped it on a mannequin. Pinning it across, he almost made it look like a dress. The image was posted on his official Instagram handle and immediately went viral.
"Because of the demands, I might create a collection of wearable PPEs - not to be used in hospitals, but for everyday use," says the famous couturier.
Cinco is aware of the transition predicted for his profession. Reams have been written about how fashion and aesthetics will change in a post-Covid world. If he is not in denial, neither is he giving in to the foretelling. "Nobody really knows what the world will look like on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic," he says. "The only certainty is that it's bound to be different. The crisis has already ushered the global economy into recession and it seems poised to leave its mark on how consumers live, how they spend their money and even how they dress. Fashion, in fact, is one of the businesses most vulnerable to disruption from the outbreak since it relies so heavily on wedding and couture clients and, at this time, the government has advised restrictions on such events and gatherings, so most of my clients have had to cancel or move their weddings and special events to a later date."
Cinco, however, maintains that the fashion industry in the Middle East will be back in a few months' time, and he has a sound reason to back that claim. "In times such as these, fashion keeps us dreaming of the day when our regular lives of the past become a reality again. Everyone needs to still feel a sense of belonging and community, and the light that only fashion can bring to so many people."
Once showstealers at every global red carpet event, Cinco says his outfits too will find new platforms - virtual fashion shows and Instagram and other social media platforms.
For now, though, he is happy to have slowed down, like all of us. "Life has been a giddy ride; it was so fast paced we tend to forget to stop and appreciate the things around us, even ourselves. I was actually surprised that this pandemic brought people together with ideas, enthusiasm, and determination to make it work. And I've realised that I'm creatively inspired while in isolation."