‘Let the person shine not the dress’ Demand for haute couture will always be there

Women in Kuwait and from the Middle East are much into haute couture. They patronise high fashion. Some even travel across the globe to get a sneak peek of the latest trends from Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta, Marc Jacobs, Christian Dior, Chanel, Christian Lacroix, Lanvin, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Armani, Versace, Gucci, Vera Wang, and a whole lot more. But to some who do not have the luxury of time to travel, they turn to their ever reliable fashion designers at home who can magically dress them up like Hollywood stars and royalties.
Fashion experts say the biggest buyers of haute couture today come from the Gulf — Saudis, Kuwaitis, Qataris and Emiratis who do not hesitate to spend thousands of euros or dollars for a piece of crystal-embellished dress. Traditional buyers of exclusive designer clothes include members of rich industrial or royal families and expatriates.

Here in Kuwait, women usually attend a number of weddings every year and private parties every month, creating a much bigger demand for haute couture in the market. Everyone wants to look fabulous and gorgeous and that’s the job of the fashion designer to make all beautiful things happen.
Resty Lagare, the resident Fashion Designer of Lovely Fashion, one of the biggest Haute Couture shops in Kuwait, with his two decades of fashion experience in the Middle East, in this interview, provides us an overview of the evolution of the haute couture in Kuwait, the challenges faced by the fashion industry and the future prospect of haute couture in Kuwait.

Question: How do you find your work in the fashion industry?
Answer: I find my job as a fashion designer for the past 21 years fabulous and very fulfilling yet very challenging.

Q: What are the perks of being a fashion designer?
A: It’s a marvelous job. You get to meet a lot of people, attend fashion events and you get to travel a lot aside from the other remuneration of course.

Q: Being a fashion designer for almost two decades now in Kuwait, how can you describe the evolution of fashion in Kuwait from the time you first set foot here to date?
A: As we go back in time 20 years ago, there have been some changes in the haute couture industry in Kuwait and I may say that the fashion taste of women in Kuwait has also evolved in a way through time. Decades back, women here were very much into the avant-garde.  Part of the aim of avant-garde in fashion is actually to make clothing that not only looks unusual, but works or fits in a different way to normal clothing, and the overall image and how it is combined with other parts of an overall outfit will be a big part of the image that is portrayed. It is easy for fashion designers trying to be avant-garde to go over the top, but in most cases it is far more important for the look to be striking and individual than it is for the clothing to actually be practical and something that can be worn on a regular basis.

During those days, they simply want to be different which you don’t see in the mainstream fashion. Sometimes, some of the dresses are not even that wearable and comfy. However, as time went by and with the advent of the Internet, Fashion TV, social media such as Instagram and Facebook, women in Kuwait have become more aware of the latest haute couture, what’s in and what’s out. For a long time, most of them preferred a more ostentatious type of luxury but nowadays, they want a more refined and discreet style but still with the touch of uniquely avant garde.

Q: How would you describe the haute couture business in Kuwait these days?
A: The haute couture business in Kuwait has been always thriving because women in Kuwait love to dress up. They really spend for a great piece of gown. There has been a stiff competition in Kuwait these days with the mushrooming of tailor shops and small haute couture shops. Unlike before, you practically know who your competitors are. You have to go head on with the competition by maintaining your high quality of work. Some shops may offer cheap prices but of course, women in Kuwait go for prestige. Most of the time, they have their dresses made by someone famous in the market. Some go for the most expensive. Sometimes it’s a race for the most expensive dress for a status symbol.

Q: What can you say about the fashion sense of women in Kuwait?
A: Women in Kuwait are very fashionable, eccentric and flamboyant yet classy. They have to wear something unique. They are willing to spend thousands of dinars just to make sure that they’re the only one wearing that kind dress. They don’t want someone wearing the same dress in any wedding, party or event. Money is never an issue to them as long as they have the most unique and exquisitely designed dress.

Q: What’s the latest trend now in haute couture?
A: The latest now are the skillfully made and intricately designed see-thru sleeves with embroidery, more on lace materials, tulle with artwork and embroidery. The most preferred fabrics are chiffon, tulle, lace and gazar organza. Light colours are the in thing, pastel hues, tiffany as well as stripe, black and white. And of course the mainstay, most of the time, the gowns are embellished with Swarovski crystals.

Q: What’s usually the in thing during Ramadan or Eid?
A: During Ramadan, there are no parties but only simple family get-together or visits, so they usually wear ‘Staqbal,’ the traditional dress like Daraa, simple, colourful dresses and days after the Eid, it’s the time that parties resume and the demand for haute couture becomes high.

Q: What’s the peak season and low season in the haute couture business in Kuwait?
A: The peak season is usually in the months of May and June before school vacation because this is the time graduation parties are held and they all have to dress up. Then the next peak season is after Ramadan. We get a big number of clients at the onset of Ramadan, they want all their dresses done because right after Ramadan, weddings and other parties are held. So our hands are full during Ramadan. The low season for us based on my experience is the month of December.

Q: What are the types of clients that you have to deal with?
A: Kuwait has the most meticulous clients. They are much into the nitty-gritty of the dress. They all want the finest details from the design, fabric, colour and accents.  Some of them come to me with a design in mind and after describing to you what they want then you do the sketch. Others bring a photo with them from some fashion magazines or Instagram and they want you to copy the design. Only a few are not that meticulous, who give you a freehand to do the design for them.  As a fashion designer, you have to know how to deal with their sense of fashion.

Q: When designing outfits for clients, what do fashion designers have to keep in mind?
A: When designing for a client, keep in mind the personality, her individuality and what suits her. For someone who has already a design in mind but if I see that it doesn’t look good on her with her body type then in all honesty, I have to tell her. I give suggestions and most of the time, they listen to me. The dress should be simple yet elegant. Flaunt what you can show and hide the part of the body that should be hidden like those flabs.The touch of class must always be there. Some come to me and they want some designer’s haute couture copied but you have to bear in mind if the materials used are available locally, if not, then you have to tell them. You have to let the person shine and not the dress. It should be the person wearing the dress and not the dress be the standout.

Q: Did the recent global crunch have any impact on the fashion industry in Kuwait and the Middle East region?
A: I don’t think so there was a significant impact because we all know that among the countries in the GCC, Kuwait felt the less impact of the global crunch and the same goes with the haute couture business. The great demand for elegant dresses has been always there and was not affected. Women in Kuwait will always spend for haute couture.  Haute couture in Kuwait has been always a lucrative business. You just have to keep on updating yourself and check what’s the latest fashion in any part of the world.

Q: What are the challenges that fashion designers in Kuwait have to face?
A: As I’ve mentioned earlier, with the growing number of tailor shops and influx of expat fashion designers in Kuwait, there has been a cutthroat competition in the market. The biggest challenge is on how you keep the loyalty of your clientele and maintain the world-class quality standard of your creations. Fashion designers should also be abreast of the latest social media tools that can help them market their creations.  They can make use of the Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and many more as part of their shop’s marketing strategies. Their designs should be visible on fashion catalogues periodically. If you want to keep up with the business, you just can’t sit in your cubicle doing all those sketches without using all the marketing tools available. Aside from word of mouth, social media can also be an effective tool.

Q: What’s your take on the issue of prolific fashion designers who serve as ghost designers of their sponsors or employers?
A: This is not a new issue anymore. This has been happening in any part of the world. Even big names in the world of haute couture have their ghost designers. Here in Kuwait, there are also a number of shops who have ghost designers who don’t deal directly with the customers. I have nothing against it but personally as a fashion designer, it would be great to be dealing with your clients face-to-face and leave them a stamp of your unique creation and not other people getting the credit for your ingenuity and creation.  I may say, it’s been a pure luck that I had never experienced it but I do understand how my fellow fashion designers feel when they are just kept in the background. From the business point of view, owners of the haute couture shop act as the main designers and carry the names of the dresses because expat designers may come and go so if they leave the country, the business goes on and clients will not be looking for that particular designer but will still go for that haute couture shop and logically the owner who acts as the resident fashion designer stays.

Q: What is the secret formula for fashion designers in Kuwait to successfully conquer the industry?
A: Work ethics is very important and of course you should have more than enough supply of creative juices. Maintain world-class quality in all your creations. Always update yourself. Attend fashion shows abroad. Be visible on fashion magazines and catalogues. Make use of the social media to your advantage.

Q: What is the prospect of the haute couture industry in Kuwait in the next five or 10 years?
A:  The haute couture industry in Kuwait has a very bright prospect in the years to come as fashion continuously evolves. The demand for high fashion will always be here in Kuwait. You just have to pay attention to details to have an exquisite, intricate yet elegant creation that can compete with other globally known haute couture designers.

By Michelle Fe Santiago
Arab Times Staff

By: Resty Lagare

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