How to Become a Fashion Designer in the Middle East

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Bedouin Fall/Winter 2016 Presentation | Photo: Courtesy of Fashion Forward

With Iran now positioned as a new frontier in fashion, coupled with the meteoric rise of fashion bloggers in the Middle East and the pioneering lead of designers like Zuhair Murad and Reem Acra, the MENA region is one of the world’s fastest growing fashion hubs. Dubai itself is a burgeoning fashion capital, aided by the international success of locally based designers such as Nathalie Trad, the construction of d3, and the development of events like Fashion Forward Dubai.

Not only is the Middle East packed with fashion talent, but it is also the birthplace of several successful designers around the world – talents such as Racil Chalhoub (Lebanese-born, London-based) and Rabih Kayrouz (Lebanese-born, Paris-based) come to mind. Yet, there is still plenty of room for progress throughout the region’s fashion sector, and new resources must be developed for emerging designers in order to achieve growth that is also reflective of cultural roots.

One designer who has had powerful influence in the fashion world is also one of the region’s leading success stories – Elie Saab. He has chosen to station his atelier in his native Beirut, rather than a bigger metropolis like Paris or New York, persevering through incredible odds to become one of the most favored red-carpet designers in the world. Not only did he survive the impact of war in Lebanon while he was growing up, but he was also a child whose dreams to become a fashion designer seemed impossible.

In an interview with CNBC, Saab once confessed, “Fashion design as an occupation was unfathomable because it simply didn’t exist.” His efforts, however, changed all of that. A few decades ago, fashion design was not widely viewed as an avenue for future success, but – thanks to Saab and his peers – it is now an acceptable and celebrated career in the modern Middle East.

 

For those who have been inspired by the incredible designers and brands of our region, a natural next step would be to learn the design trade. Instead of decamping to a major fashion capital, young Arab students who are hoping to achieve success in the design field can find all of the resources they need right here in the Middle East.

There are several schools that are geared specifically toward fashion design and marketing. In fact, Saab is behind one of the best educational opportunities in the region, having partnered with Lebanese American University (LAU) and London College of Fashion (LCF) to create a fashion degree. In a statement to the press, Saab said, “The vision behind LAU’s fashion-design program was to offer the region’s students an education of the highest possible international standards without having to travel too far from home.”

In order to gain a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Design from LAU, students must undertake 130 credit hours. Besides completing courses such as Pattern Cutting, Contour Design, Styling, and Designer Fabrics, they also have to find placements as fashion interns. LCF also has a relationship with d3 in Dubai, offering short courses in October, February, and May. These are the exact same courses that you would take if you were attending the school in London, with topics ranging from “Starting Your Own Fashion Label” to “Handbag Design” covered.

Reemami Fall/Winter 2016 Campaign | Photo: Courtesy of Reemami

ESMOD Dubai comes from the hallowed tradition of ESMOD France, a fashion design and business school launched in 1841. ESMOD Dubai opened in 2006, and offers an undergraduate degree in Fashion Design and Creation, and a third-year specialization opportunity called Women, Luxury New Couture, and Scenic Design. Many of the designers who appear on the virtual pages of Savoir Flair have graduated from this institution.

In a conversation with Savoir Flair, Omani designer Lubna Al Zakwani of Endemage praised the school, saying, “ESMOD Dubai was a great start for me, especially being one of the first graduates – I got the right exposure that I needed at the time. It was a little tough being thrown in the deep end without seniors to look up to, but it eventually paid off. I believe I have graduated getting the maximum knowledge that I could in fashion design and pattern making.”

Additionally, designer Reem Al Banna of Reemami contributed her thoughts on her time at ESMOD Dubai, saying, “The school builds the foundation for art, fashion design, pattern making, and trend forecasting, and gives you a glimpse of what’s to come in your career. Attending ESMOD opened my eyes to exactly what I love to do — and how to get there. It’s an important path to take before your journey.”

If cost is a barrier to exploring the world of fashion design, Lebanon offers a free fashion school called Creative Spaces Beirut that offers a three-year fashion degree to students from underprivileged backgrounds. Classes are taught by a rotating roster of highly qualified Lebanese and international designers who generously volunteer their time to teach everything from drawing to textile, pattern-making, and conceptual-design courses.

In an effort to establish solid foundations on which to build a sustainable fashion industry, the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) has committed to opening the Dubai School of Design in the next two years. Educational support is the most vital component in creating a thriving fashion-design sector in Dubai, which will also have a positive ripple effect throughout the MENA region.

As more design programs become available throughout the region, the creative class will continue to rise, giving way to increased commercial success and renewed focus on the advantages of arts and leisure. While most design-minded individuals seek both their education and fortune in the likes of New York, London, Paris, and Milan, there is tremendous benefit to receiving a fashion education in the Middle East. Not only does it contribute to the homegrown, grassroots movements started by entities like DDFC and individuals like Saab, but also keeps the region’s unique cultural and ethnic influences at the heart of the design process.

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