Motherhood and fashion go hand in hand for Shaikha Amal Al Maktoum. The Emirati mum-of-three started her fashion label Azzalia a year ago, after taking time out to have her children, during which period she made the decision to get into the fashion industry. Since then, she’s had exhibitions and shows around the Middle East, and most recently showed at London Fashion Week – a prize she won after being chosen by a panel including Reem Acra.
Passionate and enthusiastic about fashion, Shaikha Amal’s love for what she does came across loud and clear when we spoke to her in Dubai. She’s never studied fashion, but instead studied business and began working for her university in Dubai, helping graduates to start their careers. With no professional design training, she used her experience and knowledge of starting a business and applied it to her fashion brand.
Her brand, Azzalia, is named after her two daughters and incorporates three fashion lines, all at varying price points. Daisy by Azzalia is the casual, affordable range, Lily by Azzalia is mid-market, and Iris by Azzalia is her couture line, which she showed at London Fashion Week.
Managing three children, three fashion lines, constant travelling for shows and sourcing materials, as well as actually having a life, is tiring but, despite all that, she says that she is ‘blessed because I am doing something I love and people feel it in my voice.’ That was definitely the case when we met her to find out more about her London Fashion Week experience.
What was it like showing your collection in London?
It’s so hard to choose just one word that describes my experience, but it really was truly amazing. I’ve done shows there, of course, but this was on another level. When I saw the huge audience and their response to the show, it was the most incredible moment for me. It made all the hard work and sleepless nights really worth it.
Did you learn a lot from it?
It feels like a got a degree just from participating in the event! You learn so much, and it’s so different from the UAE. Learning how to run a show on an international level was a huge learning curve for me. Now I can tell you what I would and wouldn’t do next time. It was challenging, informative and adventurous.
Did you get to meet any interesting people while you were there?
The other designers were going through exactly the same things as me. They have the same feelings and struggles that I have, which made me feel really at ease.
What has the feedback been like?
On the day, a lot of people came up to me to congratulate me and the feedback was fantastic, but the real results will show when orders come in. Right now I’m putting together the lookbook, which I’m going to send out to buyers, both in the Middle East and internationally, and hopefully the orders will come in from there.
How did you feel at the end of your show?
I was in tears backstage. The piece for the finale is an incredible wedding gown and it looked so beautiful coming down the catwalk. I’m a very tearful person anyway, but that really made me cry.
What was the inspiration behind the collection?
The inspiration was the 1950s. I’ve always been fascinated by that era. It’s so glamorous, but with a classic touch. As a woman, you want to look elegant but not overdone, and I think this era captures that.
Having three separate ranges is a lot of work – what made you decide to do this?
It is a handful, but I choose the challenges because I want to be able to provide the whole package for my women. Some women may not be able to afford couture, and some may only want to wear it occasionally, so by having the three lines I can create looks for every aspect of a woman’s life. I have clients who think they only want to buy the couture line until they see the more affordable pieces and often end up taking pieces from that range too!
You are from the UAE, but your clothes have quite a Western feel. Any specific reason?
I have actually designed many of my pieces so they can be worn in more than one way. There are a lot of pieces that could be worn as a classic abaya, but also as a jacket over a dress.
A lot of my looks have removable skirts or trousers underneath dresses, so depending on the woman, she can wear them in a way that she feels comfortable with. I think it’s important to cater for everyone when we are living somewhere like the UAE, which is so multicultural.
Have you always had an interest in fashion?
Ever since I was a kid. I have two daughters now and I hope they will also be.
How do you think the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) is helping and nurturing talent in the region?
I was very, very happy to know that something like that had been established in Dubai; it’s very natural for it to have a fashion council. His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, oversees everything in such a lovely way; it will be successful.
Can you tell us about being selected by the DDFC to go to London Fashion Week?
It was so nerve-wracking. One of the judges was Reem Acra. She is my hero so I was so overwhelmed. She told me I was ‘already there and knew how to the whole thing’ and that was a moment I’ll never forget.
What happened next?
I found out I had won at the end of December. All of my suppliers were off for Christmas until January 7, and my fabrics still needed to be flown over from Paris. My show was going to be at the beginning of February, so I had to put my collection together in a short time.
It was challenging and there were sleepless nights but somehow I did it. I would never have sent anything less than perfect down the runway. It was a real challenge to get everything right.
Did you have people helping you?
I have a team of around 20 people, but each gown requires so much detail, embellishment and patterns, and they take hours and hours to put together, even if you have a group of people working on it.
Where do you source your materials from?
I go to Première Vision in Paris twice a year. This is one of the biggest fabric and materials exhibitions, bringing swatches from all around the world. I get most from there but their original source could be from anywhere. I always make sure I get the crème de la crème of fabrics so that my products are unique. I get so excited buying new fabrics, I admit I do get carried away. What can I say, I’m a shopaholic for fabrics!
Will you showcase in the UAE?
I have showcased here in the past, but at the moment I’m working on getting my name out there at exhibitions around the region, but who knows what will happen over the next few months.
What can we expect to see next from you?
Right now, I’m trying to get my brand – and this collection in particular – out there at exhibitions and events across the region and internationally. I do this through exhibitions and getting my lookbooks to the right people. The next thing I have coming up is the Ataya exhibition in Abu Dhabi in May. This is a charity exhibition under the patronage of Shaikha Shamsa Bint Hamdan Bin Mohammad Al Nahyan. All the fees that designers pay go to charity and it’s a really high-profile event for the region.
Amal’s collection is on azzalia.ae.