Earlier this year Friday met with Deborah Henning and Shaikha Amal Al Maktoum of Azzalia who had been chosen by the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) in partnership with the FAD Institute of Luxury, Fashion & Style Dubai (FAD Dubai), to present their collections on the runway at London Fashion Week. Now as the new season approaches another designer has been chosen by a panel of judges to follow in their footsteps with a show as part of Fashion Scout during London Fashion Week.
UAE-based designer Amira Haroon was the lucky winner of the prize and she will travel to London next week where she will hold her catwalk show presenting her Catwalk Collection from her namesake brand. All competition entrants must be members of the DDFC to take part.
Amira was the single winner of this competition and was selected by a panel of judges. The judging panel included Jazia Al Dhanhani, CEO of DDFC, Sass Brown, Founder Dean of Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI), Martyn Roberts, Managing & Creative Director of Fashion Scout London (FSL), and Shivang Dhruva, Founder of FAD Dubai.
Amira Haroon grew up in as an expat in Saudi Arabia. With both parents from Pakistan, Amira had a childhood of many cultures and influences. She studied fashion at Parsons School of Fashion in Paris before moving to Dubai. Today she lives in Jumeirah with her husband and two young children. As well as running her family, for the past seven years Amira has run her fashion growing fashion empire from her home. Here Amira talks fashion, family and feminism to Friday ahead of her show in London next week.
How excited are you to be showing you collection at London Fashion Week?
I think it’s an awesome thing to be happening and I still sometimes find it hard to believe because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. London is somewhere I have always particularly wanted to show my collection as that is where so many contemporary designers are spotted. It couldn’t be a better platform for me and it couldn’t be a better time. I have had my brand for seven years now and have been making two, three or even for collections a year. I think I have the production side covered and I was very ready to focus on marketing and getting my brand name out there.
The show takes place next week – are you prepared?
I have revised the whole collection twice over already. I definitely have way too many looks – currently around 40 but I want to cut it down to around 20 for the show, so I will have a play around and see what works between now and then. I think sometimes there is a lot of confusion in the busy way I work but it always seems to turn out ok!
Can you tell us a bit about your experience of the competition?
It actually took me a while to get my membership with the DDFC but they encouraged me to apply for the competition. It was quite a surprise to be approached by them as I don’t usually enter competitions. I had to present my collection and answer their questions for about an hour in a closed room, which was very nerve racking!
What kind of questions did they ask you?
They wanted to know how my brand identity works well in this region currently, and how I intend to take it internationally. I think they wanted to know that my brand values fit with the values of the DDFC. And of course I presented my collection and the ideas behind the show that I will now do in London. Everybody said I was very organised but I don’t know about that!
Did you ever think you could win?
I never thought that I would. I was shortlisted with some great designers including Reemami who I really respect and Maha Abdul Rasheed of Bambah who is an amazing business woman, so it was tough competition. I think we were the outsiders! My brand is still quite small so it never occurred to me that I would be chosen, but I like to think that my brand values offered something that the judges were looking for, and of course I hope they liked my design sketches.
What are you most nervous about?
My first two fashion shows in 2013 got very bad reviews from one particular editor. These were my first shows ever and it has really scarred me in my career. I’m always scared of a bad review now, especially if it is quite personal to me which that one was. Of course it’s fine to get critical reviews but this one in particular that questioned my ability and I found that quite upsetting. So I guess that is my biggest fear that something like that will happen again. There is a lot of pressure on me now to present something that everyone is happy with.
What can we expect to see from you collection?
The show is all about powerful and confident women looking and feeling great in what they wear. The theme is the nineties hip-hop era. There bold message that I want to portray is “I’m every woman” – I want to express the important role that women have in society today and how important being strong and comfortable in what they wear is, no matter what their fashion, religion or cultural choices are. The main difference with this collection is that for the first time ever I have also experimented with accessories – jewellery, headpieces and scarves in particular.
Aside from the clothes, have you thought about other aspects of the show – the music etc?
The music will fit the theme of hip-hop through the eras. The show will start with the original I’m Every Woman song by Chaka Khan and fade into more modern songs as the models walk the runway. The music will set the mood of the show – modern and woman-centric!
You mentioned that the show will be woman-centric what do you mean by this?
My brand very much focuses on how women should always look and feel confident within the many roles they have. Whether it’s being a mother, sister or businesswoman and that is what I focus on. All women have so many roles and tasks in their lives and I feel that women carry a big burden and pressure to look and be confident and I think fashion has a very big responsibility to do this. I am a little bit of a feminist if you haven’t realised!
What are you hoping will come from having your show in London?
I think the main hope is to learn a lot from this. Already in the run-up to the event I’ve been introduced to so many people from all over the world that want to be involved in the show so it’s really exciting already. The actual experience of presenting in an amazing location in London is super exciting for me too. Currently this is all I’m hoping to achieve but who knows what could happen. I don’t want to come back feeling like Versace, I just want to come back feeling like I’ve achieved something!
You grew up in Saudi Arabia – how much do you think your culture influences your designs?
It definitely does. I consider myself absolutely Khaleeji [despite being a second-generation expat.] Growing up in Saudi was one of the safest cultures and I loved it and still do to this day. I think it has affected my drive to work hard and it is the best place in the world to live in, and I think I find it easier to adapt to whatever is happening around me.
Are you seeing an overlap between Middle Eastern fashion and western style designs?
This is a huge thing at the moment. I think some of the biggest brands in the world started to realise that they were losing out to small kaftan and Abaya designers and that’s why so many brand shave started designing ‘modest’ fashion. (A word incidentally I hate – who decides what is modest?) But yes I think there is a real mix of cultures in mainline fashion these days but obviously it is all because it makes commercial sense.
How do you think the DDFC is changing the fashion industry in the UAE?
I am very impressed with what they are doing here and the way they are trying to form a collective community of creative people. I think it is what the city needs.
How do you manage running your own fashion label and a family? You must be crazy busy right?
Sometimes I really don’t know how I manage it! I always want to be a hands on designer. In my home life I have two kids to look after, but thankfully I do have fantastic home help that has allowed me to do that. I was brought up by one single housekeeper for my whole life and I have tried to adopt that same style. We have somebody who has become part of our family, and she really makes it possible for me to pursue my dreams as she runs the household like clockwork. I think I am very lucky and blessed to be in this situation it wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world.
Do you have a large team that works with you on your fashion brand?
No my team is small. I have three staff that manage the brand and then I have one master pattern cutter who is incredible as well as a small production team.
Are all your pieces fully produced in the UAE?
Yes all the manufacturing is done here in the UAE. I source my materials from all over the world and my embellishments are made in India; purely because I can’t get anything of the same standard outside of India, but aside from that everything is done here in Dubai. I would love to have the guys that create the embellishments done here too, but they won’t come!
Who is your designer inspiration?
It keeps changing. When I was growing up it was always Versace. When I was in college it was Alexander McQueen, and I think these days I am very impressed by Stella McCartney. I’m inspired with how she has set up her brand and how she went from being dissed by everyone in the industry 10 years ago to what she has now. On a personal note as an avid shopper as well I’m really happy with everything I buy by her.
Is there anyone you would love to dress?
There are so many women I would love to dress. Anyone who is strong and confident. If I had to choose it would be Princess Haya and Queen Rania of Jordan.
What else can we expect to see from you in the next year?
I have a couple of very exciting collaborations coming up but I can’t talk too much more about that just yet but it’s happening very soon! I want to launch my own accessories line and I’m also really interested in designing teenage clothes. I am hoping to get my website fully up and running soon but in the meantime my collections are available to buy in Bloomingdale’s and at Harrods in the UK.
Amira’s show will take place at London Fashion Scout on Friday, September 15, at 9.15pm UAE time.