One of the largest markets for designer clothing in the Middle East is undoubtedly the wedding market, closely followed by the innumerable dinner parties held weekly in our region. With more grandiose marriage celebrations and formal parties than we have closet space for, it’s hard to keep up with the wardrobe requirements of our city’s social calendar. Enter: Designer 24 – the company that promises to dress you in the season’s latest fashions to make sure you’re never caught wearing the same gown twice and to help free up some much-needed space in your closet.
Savoir Flair caught up with the girls behind this new rental concept, Ranya Khalil, Noor Breish, and Sara Alemzadeh, to find out more about what they’re bringing to the region.
First off, how did the idea come to you?
Ranya: It started with Sara and myself in London. We had just become friends, and we decided that we wanted to do something together. After looking at a few different options, Sara came across a similar concept. We looked into it in more detail, and decided to go for it.
Why did you choose the UAE?
Ranya: Because we thought there would be a natural demand for it here, because of the fact that there are so many events all the time. It is so event driven. People are also always in dresses, because of the climate. And social media is huge here.
Which is perfect for spreading the word.
Ranya: Exactly. So for all these reasons, we thought it was the right place to launch it.
And why the decision to launch a fashion project? From what I understand, most of you don’t have a background in fashion.
Sara: I actually worked for Morgan Stanley for ten years as an oil trader.
And how are you finding the switch to the fashion industry?
Sara: I’m loving it! But I’m also taking care of the business side of things, so it’s not all that different. At the end of the day, whether you’re trading oil or you’re trading dresses, your goals are pretty much the same. And I’ve always loved fashion, so it makes it more fun.
What about you, Noor and Ranya?
Noor: I’ve always loved fashion growing up, and I started my career by interning with Jimmy Choo and Burberry, so my background was very much in fashion. Before Designer-24, I was working with Luisa Via Roma in Florence, as part of their creative team and the editorial team.
Ranya: I was working at HSBC Private Bank for two years, before working for a luxury events company based between Beirut and London. Then I left and set up Designer-24 with Sara.
How do you divide the tasks between the three of you? Who takes care of what?
Ranya: Sara handles a lot of the financials and the strategizing. Most of the business development comes from her side. Noor is very creative, so she handles the content for the website and the images for the site. I deal with the marketing and PR aspect.
Basically, the idea is that we are offering current-season designer dresses for hire.
Could you talk our readers through the concept?
Sara: Basically, the idea is that we are offering current-season designer dresses for hire. The same dresses you could get in boutiques or luxury department stores, instead of buying them, you can rent them from us at a fraction of the price. If the dress normally retails for, let’s say, AED 10,000 you can rent it from us instead for AED 1,500. Social media is so big in this part of the world that you can’t really get away with wearing something more than once or twice, because even though you might have gone out with just a few people, thousands have seen it.
Tell me about it! It’s so hard to keep up with all the events we have to attend every week.
Ranya: We’re here to help! [Laughs]
Sign me up, please. Will people pay a membership fee to rent the dresses?
Sara: Actually, you don’t have to pay a membership fee. When we launch, we’re offering ‘Founding Member’ packages to the first 500 people who join, but you don’t have to buy those packages. You can rent just one dress if you’d like.
You can just do it dress by dress, basically?
Sara and Ranya: Yes.
Could you name a few of the designers our readers can look forward to finding on Designer-24?
Noor: We love the fact that we have a balance between up-and-coming designers and established designers. Right now we offer Christian Siriano, David Koma, Issa, Barbara Cassasola, and Marchesa, for example. Next season we’re excited about Antonio Berardi, Naeem Khan, Emanuel Ungaro.
Ranya: Every season, we’ll be adding new names; that’s the plan.
We love the fact that we have a balance between up-and-coming designers and established designers.
Adding and dropping depending on what does well?
Ranya: We’ll see what the market is asking for. Moving forward, it will really help us with our buying.
How many designers are you launching with for summer and pre-fall?
Sara: We have between ten and 15. In the fall, we should have about 20.
Noor: I really love Greta Constantine, which we have right now. The designers behind this line have been doing great so far; everybody loves their styles. They make everyone silhouette look incredible, regardless of your body type.
Sara: I think the nice thing about what we are trying to do too is that we are providing so many different styles that suit so many different people. Greta Constantine is going to do really well, we really believe in it. We also have Issa, for example, which is just so easy to wear, especially the flowing kaftan styles that so many people can wear. We have Marchesa pieces, which are beautiful, couture-like gowns. So we are really trying to mix different styles and have some “wow” pieces alongside pieces that are just super wearable.
Rania: We want to make sure there is something for everyone.
Sara: For everyone, every event, and every mood.
Will you be working with any regional designers?
Sara: We already are. We think it’s really important to support local talent. We’re actually launching with Ayesha Depala and Marina Qureshi.
Rania: We’re adding Rami Al Ali next season, and we also have Rani Zakhem from Lebanon.
Sara: We’re going to continue to add regional talent to the list.
Noor: We like Noon by Noor and Razan Alazzouni, but we’ll have to do a two-piece with her.
Her skirts and cropped tops are so amazing.
Noor: Yeah, that’s what we love most from her collection.
Sara: We could try it!
She sells out everywhere.
Noor: We actually talked to her, because we were thinking of launching with her.
She’s so talented. Apart from dresses and potentially two-piece looks, are you going to offer any accessories?
Sara: It is something that we can look at down the road, because they go hand in hand, but we want to get our core business right first, which is the dresses. We’ll scale into different things down the road.
Ranya: Shoes are a tough one, because of hygiene issues.
Sara: Plus everybody has a classic nude or black pair of pumps, and you just wear them over and over again.
True. I love the dresses you’re wearing today.
Noor: They’re actually really suited to our characters!
And what happens to the dresses once they’ve gone out of season?
Sara: Every six months, we’re going to hold end-of-season sales to make room for new stock. People will be able to buy the dresses at a pretty big discount. Maybe if we love one we’ll buy it ourselves, but we can’t just take it.
Ranya: We still have a business to run! [Laughs]
The three of you are new to Dubai. Have you made any interesting observations on the fashion scene here so far?
Ranya: The thing I’ve noticed is that you have to put in constant effort. Everyone in London is quite casual; you’re always in workout gear or jeans and Converse there. Then I came here and found that you have to make a lot more effort in Dubai; the scene is a lot more dressed up than New York or London. I’m constantly finding that I have a shortage of clothes.
So you’re always shopping?
Ranya: Yes! I keep getting new things.
Sara: Me too! I’m shopping so much more here. You feel like you always need to look nice, because everyone looks nice.
Ranya: It’s exhausting. [Laughs]
Noor: I haven’t had to make so much of a change, because I’ve always dressed up a bit. In London I’d feel overdressed, but here I blend in more.
I remember always being in workout leggings and trainers in London.
Ranya: Exactly. And if you wanted to dress it up you’d add a Moncler jacket. [Laughs]
Sara: Because in London and New York you walk everywhere, so trainers are justifiable. In Dubai no one walks, but that’s good for our business! [Laughs]
Back to the business, will you be shipping to the other GCC countries?
Ranya: No, not right away. We’re just working with the UAE to start with.
And you deliver to the customers, right?
Ranya: Yes, everything is delivered by our van to the customer’s door. We deal with everything, including the dry cleaning. Literally all you do is get the dress, wear it, and we come pick it up. You don’t do anything.
Sara: You also don’t have to worry about minor spills or damages. We charge a very nominal, small amount that covers the basic insurance. So you don’t have to worry when you’re out and having fun.
Noor: Obviously, we want people to feel comfortable and not like they’re standing in a wedding dress saying, “Oh no, don’t come near me!”
I can’t wait to rent something!
Sara: Take whatever you want for the weekend!
Don’t tempt me…
Visit Designer-24.com for more information.