Dubai Fashion Week Sounds Like the Worst Show On Earth
Feb 20 2013
So Fashion Week is here, and if you care at all/live within a 5-mile radius of basically any club in London, you’ll know that means "free" diluted vodka served with £10 mixers, squadrons of po-faced stylists' assistants and a lot of “fashion dancing”, which is sort of a mix between a white girl wind and “coke bump on the dancefloor”.
If the idea of Fashion Week is totally alien to you, it’s really very simple: people on the Daily Mail's D-list are suddenly crowbarred into the opening pages of Grazia and squashed onto front rows all over the city, regardless of their absolute irrelevance to fashion. There’s a whole genus of people whose job it is to turn you away from parties when you’re on the guestlist, or screech “STANDING TICKETS BACK OF THE LINE” whenever you approach them.
That said, from the outside, the whole thing looks like a total scream. Which is probably why lots of other countries decide to host their own versions. It’s essentially about throwing your cultural weight around, and for Dubai – as well as Pakistan, Nigeria, Israel and other nations destined to one day feature in our Fashion Week Internationale series – it's a chance to show the world just how massively tyrannical and oppressive you aren't. For the people who run these places, “showcasing our fashion young talent” is just another way of saying: “Look how liberal we are. Look at these screen-printed democracy leggings. See?”
A press release found its way into my inbox yesterday with the tagline “Dubai to become the next global fashion capital!” Firstly, before everyone jumps on the ridicule wagon, from one perspective it totally could. My understanding is that, much like Fashion Week in general, Dubai is a very weird place. It’s sort of where failed celebrities go to die, except instead of dying they’re allowed to live in a limbo of perpetual fame, isolated from the rest of the world, while PR companies try to sell pictures of them DJing on empty beaches to websites in America. There’s so much money there that companies can afford to fly in anyone who’s willing to stay in a luxury resort in exchange for two tweets and a photo of them drinking (alcohol-free) champagne on a boat. I mean, God, I’d probably do it, wouldn’t you?
Dubai, or rather the part of Dubai society that hosts its fashion week, also exudes a kind of squeaky-clean luxury, which is relevant to both the high-end retailers who sell ostrich skin to Angelina Jolie, and the club kids who are obsessed with the “newness” of anything. It’s got one finger in Bergdorf and Goodman, and the other in last season’s Jeremy Scott show. The problem is, however much Dubai might be a good place for Western designers to make money, it's still the wrong place for them.
In the 350-word press release I received, the PR company felt compelled to proudly list “Heidi Klum, Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, Shakira, Nicole Scherzinger, Amber Rose and Nicki Minaj and Michael Cinco, who has worked with Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Sofia Vergara among others” (and breathe) as friends and fans. How do you reconcile these lists of extremely Westernised women in a place where their knees and shoulders must be covered in public, and though not technically mandatory, they’re also encouraged to wear a full hijab?
Well, there are a few ways. Firstly, this list of women is incredibly safe. Even Nicki Minaj, whose publicity agent will maintain that she’s "outspoken", has become homogenised to the point of absurdity. Between her and Katy Perry, you’ve got cynicism-free, sound-clipped “strong women” who are happy to smile and look pretty practically anywhere in the world as long as they're getting paid and there’s Red Bull.
In 2010, a woman was prosecuted for illegal alcohol consumption after reporting to Dubai police that she had been raped – if you thought that this kind of warped political agenda might deter a rapper who waxes lyrical about gender equality, you’d be wrong. Put it this way, you won't see Ariel Levy chomping chocolate covered strawberries at the Hilton Dubai any time soon.
Obviously Fashion Week isn't about Ariel Levy, but it's not about celebrities who'll turn up, sit blank-faced in the front row and leave their goody bags behind, either. It’s about the people who are too young and dumb to realise or care how stupid photos of them will look in two years' time, the people who stay up for four days straight and make-out with each other on Vine. It’s about club kids, queens with shaved heads in tiaras and topless female rappers in vintage Armani Jeans.
These people are why Fashion Week is still inspiring, and why London Fashion Week is increasingly the most energetic and extreme. You can't just create a fashion week, because whether or not you know it, you rely on these people with an unimpeded vision, the ones who really understand what and why fashion looks the way it does, because they follow it from the roots up. Oh and FYI, homosexuality is punishable by death or chemical castration in Dubai, so that must halve your guestlist queue in one fell swoop. Can you imagine Fashion Week without the fashion gays? It doesn't bear thinking about.
I just don't think you deserve your own fashion week Dubai, I'm sorry. I know you've been throwing them since 2006, but I think you should stop: you're not ready yet. Let's face it, the calibre of any "fashion" created by the spoiled sons and daughters of oil sheikhs is probably going to be pretty low. Though a lot of amazing fashion has been the result of designers exploiting shitty, oppressive social conditions (think Vivienne Westwood, or Katherine Hamnett), in Dubai I'm pretty sure that the fashion will be entirely controlled by the people with money who are shitty and oppressive. Unless, of course, Dubai Fashion Week is an annual celebration of the fabulous outfits worn by their workforce of ex-pat slaves.
There's just no space within this conservatism for genuinely exciting fashion to exist yet. It's patronising and it's fictional. I'm not saying every designer in the world needs to be provocative, they just need to be honest about their vision, and having creative freedom is pretty imperative for that.
Oh yeah, and a fashion week without cheek kissing? I don't think so.
Follow Bertie on Twitter: @bertiebrandes
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