"Made in Dubai" labels eyeing Indian market
In a reversal of things, Made-in-Dubai fashion labels are looking at the Indian market as they find the cultures very similar
Indian designers coming to the Middle East is no new story. In the few months Rohit Bal, Sabyasachi, Gauri-Nanika and Varun Bahl have done pop-ups in the city. Next year, Bollywood's favourite designer Manish Malhotra and one of India's formest designers, Tarun Tahiliani, are expected to open flagship stores in the city. That Dubai loves to shop is well-known by fashion labels all over the world. After all, Dubai is home to the largest shopping mall in the world. With over 1,200 stores, The Dubai Mall is still not big enough as there is a one million square feet extension being built to the shopping Mecca.
But now "Made in Dubai" labels are looking at the Indian market. Essa, Narsahsist, Madiso, Amira Haroon, Hema Kaul and Ananya collection are all well-loved labels from this city and were part of the "Middle Eastern Edition" that took place at the end of the month. These designers were part of a flash retail or "pop-up" shop in Mumbai and Delhi. Added to that, one of the hottest handbag labels from this region, Nathalie Trad, is now selling at Mumbai's chic concept store Le Mill. It seems Dubai has its eyes on the Indian retail market.
Dubai-based Hema Kaul's (left) label is now four years' old and is known her feminine take on fashion and has been selling in India for about six months. Her designs are available at Delhi's Kitsch and on line at www.rocknshop.com. She was part of the Middle Eastern Edition and was very happy to response to her collection, especially at Mumbai's Atosa.
"Indian stores and even Lakme Fashion week have been in touch with us, I think the pull is coming from India, who seem very aware of what is happening in this market. And with India being a huge market it was always on our plans," says the designer. And she is open to the idea of showing at Mumbai's Lakme Fashion Week in the near future.
Madiso is a home-grown brand. A regular feature at Fashion Forward, it was started by Pakistani-born Madiha Muzaffar who has lived in Dubai for almost 15 years. The Middle Eastern Edition was her label's first outing to the India. "The Indian market is quite fashion savvy and they know their fashion very well. India is definitely a great market of interest, firstly its huge and most importantly they understand and appreciate creativity. Also there is a huge saturation of Indian designers within India and that is the reason foreign designers are really appreciated. The only drawback is that consumers have been extremely spoilt with really low price points, and that is only fair as the production in India is quite economical," says Muzaffar. So Dubai designers will have to become more price-savvy as they look at the Indian market.
In Mumbai, the Middle East Edit was held the multi-brand fashion store Atosa in Bandra, a suburb of the city known for it love of glamour, fashion and the fast-paced life. Aparna Badlani is the co-founder of this stylish store and says: "We are a growing and expanding market with tremendous buying power and all brands realise this and are slowly making a foray to India." Atosa prides itself on working with young and dynamic homegrown Indian fashion labels but has previously done flash retail concepts with South Asia designers. Badlani believes that Middle Eastern designers have an advantage over other non-Indian designer as the cultures of the two regions are very similar.
And she is not the only fashion curator who sees the Indian market becoming more of a focus for Middle East-based designers. Cecila Morelli Parikh, the co-founder of Le Mill, a 4,000sqft lifestyle space that sells some of fashion's most coveted labels such as Alexander McQueen, The Row, Dries von Noten and Isabel Marant, is known for her discerning eye. Having worked on the launch team of Vogue India and as a buyer at New York's Bergdorf Goodman, she understands both commerce and creativity. "Both cultures share a focus on evening wear and a culture of dressing up at night. The Middle East and India both have a love for embellished pieces, so both markets understand each other," she says. For now Le Mill just keeps the handbags of Nathalie Trad, but Morelli Parikh has her eye on "Made in Dubai" fashion. "From what I have seen Made in Dubai designers are on par with international designers in term of finish...I am very open to keeping more designers from the region."
Of course, a few years ago there were no stores like Atosa or Le Mill in India. Though some designers from this region may have wanted to look at India, there were no options. One of the reasons that Indian designers were able to get a foot into the Dubai market was because there was the right retail environment, be it quirky multi-brand stores like S*uce or fashion forward department stores such as Harvey Nichols. As the market for high fashion has matured, there are finally shops that create the right ambience for niche independent international brands. As Muzaffar explains: "You have to present your collection where it fits well, people understand and associate designers to certain boutiques, and so your placing need to be spot on."
The concept of the "Middle Eastern Edition" was put together Front Row Events a company that looks for fresh global talent from around the world and then introduces these labels to the right Indian consumer base. Says Rujata Swarup and Kalindi Malia Suri of Front Row Events: "We want to bridge the gap between Zara and Valentino in India. The Middle-Eastern designers cater to a wide variety of cultures, are very well known internationally and are making their mark across the globe. They are in a unique position of being exposed to the Indian audience and also the Indian fashion industry in the Middle East. This has helped them to understand and capture the aesthetic and the sensibilities of the new age Indian shopper which is very well reflected in their designs."
Front Row is already looking at how and when to host the second "The Middle East Edition". So it seems just as Indian designers have realised that the Middle East is a natural extension of the Indian market, designers from the Middle East are now waking up to the fact that for them India really is a friendly and fashionable neighbour.
The writer is Khaleej Times Consulting Fashion Editor