Filipino fashion designer Michael Cinco is Dubai’s go-to man for ballgowns and red-carpet dresses. His highly embellished, exquisite designs have become something of an institution since he brought his studio here in 1997 and developed his couture line. From his base in Dubai, he travels all around the world presenting his designs and dressing celebrity clients – and that includes Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey. He’s shown at Paris Fashion Week, but this season he decided to bring his show back to his Dubai home and to last weekend’s Fashion Forward, the city’s biggest platform for local and upcoming designers to present their fashion collections.
The biannual event (it began in 2013) now attracts international industry experts and buyers, and this season, its ninth, saw 22 catwalk shows from regional designers as well as talks and presentations and The Showcase, which allows upcoming designers to present and sell their clothes and accessories on a smaller scale.
The magic of a runway show of course starts months before, in a designer’s atelier, culminating in a form of organised chaos that brings together models, hair and make-up and rails and rails of huge gowns, all hidden from the view of the guests lining the catwalk nearby. Friday, however, was given exclusive access behind the scenes of Michael’s magnificent show, meeting the models, who spend around two hours in hair and make-up, and seeing them as they have a run-through of the show on the catwalk – in their regular clothes – around an hour before it’s due to start.
Michael is a hands-on designer, and after the rehearsal, the 30 models head to another room where he dresses them with the help of his team. Every outfit is inspected by Michael personally and last-minute alterations are done seconds before the show starts (one model had the train of her dress cut shorter with scissors before she went on). These gowns are more than your average dress – the detail that has gone into them means they are incredibly delicate and yet heavy to handle. While Michael wouldn’t disclose the price of one of his couture gowns, they are rumoured to cost anything up to Dh150,000.
Once dressed, the gorgeous girls practised their walks to ensure they didn’t fall over, and, of course, took selfies before they headed for the runway. It was incredible to see how everything came together and while the feeling of stress is definitely present backstage (especially when 20 minutes before the show models still weren’t dressed and some were still finishing hair and make-up), once the show has ended, everyone is on a high.
‘Putting together a fashion show is so stressful and I always get ill afterwards, but it is so worth it when the orders start coming in,’ Michael told us when we got to speak to him two days after his show, once things had calmed down a little. ‘I’ve had a huge number of orders already – local customers who attended the show have been to my studio to choose pieces, and I’ve also had a lot of overseas orders from people who saw images of my show online.’
Michael has adopted the see-now-buy-now system that’s been taking over the fashion industry in recent seasons; ‘it’s really great that people can see my show and put their orders in straightaway. It’s changing the way we work, but it means that the designs are fresh in people’s minds and they can order right away. The results have been amazing already.’
It takes up to three months from when the orders start coming in to them being ready to go home. Every piece is handmade to order. ‘Most women will come for two fittings, one for the initial measuring and then a final one for adjustments. I’ve also had a lot of orders from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. For these we will make the dress according to their measurements and they will come in for a final adjustment.’
The collection itself was a celebration of glamour in pastel and golden shades. ‘I was inspired to create the collection on a recent trip to Versailles Palace in France,’ Michael says. ‘Each part of the collection is inspired by an aspect of the palace,’ whether it’s the hand-painted ceiling that was replicated on the finale dress or the gowns that came from the gold pillars and furniture. King Louis XVI and his ill-fated wife Marie Antoinette were the muses for the collection, with their opulent style coming through to the clothes.
‘My favourite pieces from my shows are always the gorgeous ballgowns,’ he says. ‘I named these the Somewhere over the Rainbow collection, because they are colourful and have a magical feel to them. In particular, I love the last piece, which features the Versailles Palace ceiling. This was completely hand-painted and took the longest to create.’ The dress in question was a sculptured bodycon dress. The ceiling of the palace also happened to be the design of his catwalk during the show.
Michael has had huge success after his past shows at Fashion Forward, including one particular client he told us about. ‘It has always been my dream to have a celebrity wear one of my designs for the Met Gala in New York. After my Fashion Forward show in 2013, the British singer Paloma Faith ordered one of my gowns and wore it to the event. I was told she saw the show online and had to have the gown as soon as she saw it. That really was the dream for me.’
Michael’s celebrity clients are another reason he continues to show here. ‘All the international stylists are watching Fashion Forward now… it’s how many of my celebrity clients end up wearing my pieces.’ He has had orders from a number of huge celebs, with everyone from Beyoncé to Mila Kunis to Lady Gaga wearing pieces that were first presented here in the UAE. ‘The most exciting thing for me is when the celebrities are coming to the UAE and I create pieces for them to wear,’ Michael says. ‘This happened most recently with Mariah Carey when she was here for the Jazz Festival [last month]. We made her three dresses, then went to her hotel when she arrived to do the final fitting. I’m so happy she’s worn all three gowns I made for her.’
But it doesn’t always go that smoothly. Michael told us of a number of celebrities he has sent dresses to, dresses that never got worn. ‘I’d love to dress Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Cate Blanchett. I have made dresses for these ladies before but they didn’t end up wearing my designs. This happens a lot, as they often get offered money to wear certain gowns by international designers. That’s something I don’t do.’
Nonetheless, he plans to keep sending pieces to leading ladies and hopes to see some of them wearing outfits from the latest collection (we suggest he add Meryl Streep to that list). ‘When a celebrity wears one of my designs, I see an instant reaction with orders for that dress. This happened when Jennifer Lopez wore one of my gowns at the 2015 American Music Awards – the orders came straight after it happened.’
When Michael moved to Dubai in 1997 the fashion industry was almost non-existent, but this has rapidly changed. Michael sees things getting even better in the next few years. ‘We are seeing a movement where many designers’ biggest customer base is in the Middle East, so it makes sense for them to have a very big presence here. Many years ago, it was the Chinese who spent most on fashion, but now, top designers like Christian Dior and Valentino have told me that it is our region that is spending the most money – which is what it is really all about.’
Looking to the future, Michael says his main priority is selling clothes. ‘Good reviews of shows are great but the main thing that matters to me is getting the orders in and having people actually wear my clothes.’ He’s ventured into creating costumes for films and music videos, for Mila Kunis in Jupiter Ascending and for Beyoncé in her 2015 music video for Haunted. ‘Both of those were great but making costumes is different fromdesigning clothes and that’s what I ultimately want to stick to. We’ll see what the future holds but for now I want to focus on the see-now-buy-now aspect of my show and make that successful.’