Most Arab women strongly go by the fashion rule that it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. So it comes as no surprise that the long evening gown is not much as a special occasion piece, as it is a must-have in their wardrobes. Design-wise too, this region is traditionally known for couture, ready-for-the-red-carpet designs rather than ready-to-wear. No important red carpet occasion is complete without a celebrity stepping out in a design from one this region’s leading couture labels. “Luxury is in our DNA,” says Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad, a regular at Paris Couture Week. The long gown also fits with the modest dressing ethos of the region. Arabs love all things glamorous and make no apology about this penchant, and women from this region are known to be among the world’s biggest buyers of couture.
Of course that has changed now – the pandemic has pressed the reset button on everything. Most designers are aware that everyone is being cautious about spending and outings, and eveningwear is not top priority, even for Arab women. As former Fashion Trust Arabia prize winner in the eveningwear category Krikor Jabotian says, “I personally believe that my couture line in 2021 will be slightly toned down, as events have become smaller. The drama and meticulous work will always remain, still bringing a dream to life, creating the right dress for the right occasion.” The Elie Saab alumni is known for his exquisitely embroidered pieces that have a feeling of romance, and he believes eveningwear made in this region will not lose any of its beauty even as it adapts to the new normal. “Simplicity and luxury go hand in hand, and one does not eliminate the other.” Less can be more, even when it comes to evening gowns.
Australian-British label Ralph & Russo is known for its dreamy ballgowns and has a loyal following in the region. The label opened its first flagship store in the region at The Dubai Mall just over 18 months ago. Says the brand’s creative director and co-founder, Tamara Ralph, “We haven’t seen a change in demand this past year, more a change in what our clients are coming to us for. We’re dressing them more and more for every occasion of their lives, not just for when they need occasion wear for a special event.” The label has offered bespoke experiences to clients ensuring their sales were not too affected by the pandemic. “With many of our clients we’re still offering in-person fittings, but from the safety of our client’s personal homes. We’re hosting design consultations and appointments, but instead of holding these in person, we’re hosting our clients virtually with sketches and swatches that we’ve physically posted to them to review,” says Ralph.
Of course eveningwear has had to learn how to be glamorous yet sensitive to the times we live in. Murad has been increasing his daywear representation for several seasons. “A lot of our clients started going for more simple looks to fit their occasion. We have therefore adapted some designs to cater to that new market needs,” says the designer. As we move into a “new normal,” it is only natural that women (especially from this region) will want to treat themselves. And there really is no better indulgence than dressing up.