Paris Couture Week starts on July 5, and it’s a platform in which Arab designers have become a fashion force. Slated to present at this summer’s edition are Maison Rabih Kayrouz, Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab and Georges Hobeika. There is no question that this is a region that loves its couture and enjoys high-quality crafted garments, but for younger designers the overheads and price points of couture may be prohibitive, especially in these unprecedented times. It has also affected fashion consumers, who even at the top end of the pyramid are more value-driven. Which is why many Middle Eastern designers are now looking at demi-couture, a middle ground between couture and ready-to-wear. Demi-couture has been growing in popularity for a decade, with designers like Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Lebanon’s Rabih Kayrouz being pioneers of the demi-couture movement.
Beirut-based designer Hussein Bazaza (who worked at Maison Rabih Kayrouz before launching his own label) has always married the accessibility of ready-to-wear with a finesse of couture. Known for fabric manipulations and artisanal savoir-faire, he says: “Some are claiming the rise to have happened in the past couple of years, with the pandemic and economic crisis being the key factors, but our brand has been into demi-couture since the very start of its journey in 2014.” He says that he took this approach from a business perspective. “Couture honors time and craftsmanship, whereas demi, with today’s technologies and equipment, does not, but that is not to say that the quality falters.” Bazaza believes it’s the most au courant style of clothing for a high fashion label, especially given that “seasonless” is now the new buzzword of fashion. “Couture is seasonal: a couture piece might be a one-time wear, while demi-couture can be loved for a longer time.”
Kuwait-based Bazza Alzouman has always been about bespoke special occasion pieces – she creates gowns that are made for the red carpet, but during the pandemic she transitioned into ready-to-wear. She believes demi-couture has a sweet spot that will work well in the post-pandemic era. “I think there is a lot of untapped potential for demi-couture, but it’s more about finding the best way for distribution because the demand is there, and the design is also there. I think customization in general will grow in a post-pandemic world, as people’s need for differentiation grows, and the key is to make it work on a practical supply chain level.”
Yasmin Al Mulla, creative director of Dubai-based ready-to-wear label YNM, shares this view. During the pandemic, the label started creating abayas with bespoke details for the first time. “After what we’ve been through in the last year, we feel the need to invest in something special, without the excessive price tag of haute couture.” She feels that her own label YNM may delve into demi-couture soon.
With both couture and ready-to-wear labels looking at demi-couture, this region’s love of embroidery and embellishments only seems to have grown stronger. As Alzouman says, “In general Arab designers and consumers do look for more extravagant pieces, more complex designs, and are willing to pay a premium for these things.” Expect more designers to become part of the demi-couture movement as we move into the “new normal.”