I arrived 30 minutes late for my interview with Rami Al Ali—Dubai’s most esteemed couturier—and I was feeling guilty. “The cab driver couldn’t find the atelier,” I offered up sheepishly. “Please don’t worry,” he said. “It is a problem for us too. There’s always a new road. Things are built so quickly in Dubai that using GPS isn’t helpful.” With the grace and good looks of a ’40s film star (think of a young Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca), the Syrian-born designer ushered me into his showroom for a chat.
How do you blend Western and Eastern aesthetics into your work? “Dubai naturally takes you in that direction because of the versatility of the town. It’s Arabic, but there is a strong Western lifestyle. It’s very global.” Do women approach fashion differently here? “Yes, women dress for women. When you dress for a man, it’s all about your character. When you dress for a woman, it’s more about your social status. The women here are harsh judges of another woman’s fashion. They see things a man wouldn’t notice.”
How did you develop the same rigorous eye as your clients’?
“I was surrounded by women when I was growing up, and I would listen to how they described or criticized other women’s outfits after they’d been to an event.”
Did you always want to be a fashion designer? “No, but I always understood the importance of clothes. The way you appear is your business card—even if you don’t acknowledge it or say you don’t belong to a fashion crowd. You still choose clothes to deliver that message.” What do your pieces telegraph about a woman? “That she’s highly educated when it comes to fashion and that she wants to be unique and different.” What design era is your favourite? “The ’40s and ’50s, because it married fashion with cinema.” What’s your fave fashion film? “High Society with Grace Kelly. For some scenes, I put the volume up so I can hear the sound of the fabric when Grace moves and you hear the organza touching the furniture. It’s beautiful.” ■
Like his gowns, Rami Al Ali radiates star power.