New York, London, Paris, Milan. The traditional line-up of fashion capitals is about to be disrupted. Dubai is emerging as a new fashion leader and running the show is Emirati Dr. Amina Al Rustamani.
Dr. Al Rustamani is the opposite of the stereotyped Middle Eastern woman.
Starting her career in 2001 as a project engineer at TECOM Business Park, within 12 years she became CEO of TECOM Group – a business park operator owned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammedbin Rashid al-Maktoum. In the role she oversees a workforce of over 86,000 people in the information technology, design, media, education, wholesale and manufacturing sectors.
Widely recognised as one of the Arab World’s most influential business leaders, she is dedicating her efforts according to the UAE National Agenda to achieve Vision 2021, a plan to turn the country into an innovation-led economy.
She rapidly became the force behind Dubai’s efforts to become a global fashion and design hub, and her achievements are nothing short of astounding.
Besides leading the TECOM Group, she is currently chairperson at the Dubai Design and Fashion Council as well as President of the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI), an educational institution offering the first bachelor of design degree in the Middle East.
“Luxury is the ease of a t-shirt in a very expensive dress.” – Karl Lagerfeld
City of glitz and glamour, Dubai has been ranked as the second-most important destination to shop for fashion after London and ahead of New York and Paris. It is home to more than sixty shopping centres including the biggest one on earth, the Dubai Mall, which welcomes roughly 80 million visitors a year. Luxury hotels are attached via indoor walkways lined with shops (the Armani Hotel has direct access to the Dubai Mall), making Dubai a favourite destination for the shopaholic.
But Dubai also has a thriving fashion culture.
Fashion Forward is a twice yearly week of catwalk shows from regional designers with talks from global industry giants. Franca Sozzani’s Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience is a two-day style extravaganza launched in 2013 by the Vogue Italia Editor. It supports and mentors emerging designers, and saw Christian Louboutin on front row of last year’s runaway show. And the recently revamped Arab Fashion Week is the only platform in the world promoting the “ready-couture” collections, with off-the-rack clothing that is tailored to haute couture standards and can be customised.
Over the last few years Dubai has also become an important showcase for global product launches and marketing events, hosting Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel cruise show and Swarovski’s 120th anniversary Sparkling Couture exhibition.
Dubai is well placed as a buzzing fashion scene. But the young and ambitious city wants more. And Al Rustamani is dedicated to fast-track Dubai into the elite clique of global fashion capitals.
“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” – Coco Chanel
One of Dr. Al Rustamani’s first projects was to champion the development of the Dubai Design District (d3), a 21.5 million square feet urban hub dedicated to the design and fashion industry.
The concept is simple. d3 is a unique centre where all design lovers can connect and explore all things artistic and trendy. A place for learning, networking, conducting business and of course, shopping.
The purpose-built facility is home to galleries, studios, fashion stores and workshops. A first of its kind, the Swarovski Creative Centre hosts a range of talks, exhibitions and events. It gives the region’s creatives access to the brand’s materials and machinery. Aspiring designers across fashion, jewellery and interiors, can visit the space free of charge and play with the technologies available.
At Si Fashion Galerie one can meet the designers, sketch our dream garment, select the fabric and watch it all coming to life while enjoying a coffee.
Initially commissioned in 2013, the $1.1billion mega project reached 95 per cent capacity by the end of 2017, and serves as office space for Zaha Hadid Architects, Christian Dior, Christian Louboutin and Burberry.
“Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them.” – Marc Jacobs
d3’s standout infrastructure might attract design lovers from all around the world but it’s education that will create the next generation of change makers.
Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC), a state-funded body chaired by Al Rustamani, acts as an incubator for new design businesses, providing technical support and advice.
In 2016 the Council launched the Mentorship and Internship programmes, two initiatives that will act as career acceleration platforms. As Al Rustamani explained, the aim is to support UAE-based designers as well as connecting emerging creatives with design industry leaders so they can get real-life experience as they begin their career.
But the Council’s flagship project is the creation of the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI), the Middle East’s first formal design university.
For the president of DIDI – the one and only Dr. Amina Al Rustamani – growing talent is key. “Our youth form the backbone of the UAE’s economic diversification ambitions, and DIDI will tend to their creative curiosity and nurture their talent, ultimately ensuring the long-term commercial viability and sustainability of the regional design industry, and its contribution to our economy.”
The four-year degree programme follows a world-class curriculum jointly developed by two international leading design universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and New York’s Parson School of Design (Parsons). With a capacity for 550 students and 36,000 square feet of mega studios, DIDI is set to welcome the first intake of students in September 2018.
“What is important in a dress is the woman who’s wearing it.” – Yves Saint Laurent
If London is edgy and Paris elegant, Dubai focuses on innovation. And Dr. Amina Al Rustamani is committed to shape Dubai into a global fashion and design capital.
According to her, hard work and a strong believe in oneself are the fabric of success.
“I was exposed to different sectors where I used to be the only female in the room,” she told Entrepreneur. “The challenges we often hear about, actually don’t have anything to do with the sector or the culture, but it is all about believing in yourself and putting your efforts in to really move forward. This is a piece of advice that applies to both males and females: enjoy what you do.”
To borrow Ralph Lauren words, Amina Al Rustamani may not design clothes, but she definitely designs dreams.
Alia Chebbab @AliaChebbab