‘THINGS MOVE FAST HERE’
UAE-based designer Deborah Henning was one of two designers sent by the DDFC to London Fashion Week. She talks of the opportunities Dubai has given her
Deborah Henning had an up-and-coming fashion brand in London before she packed it all in to move to Dubai with her husband. Seven years later, she’s got another brand, and life has come full circle: In February, she was one of two UAE-based fashion designers chosen by the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) and FAD Institute of Luxury and Style, a fashion school in Dubai, to show at London Fashion Week.
Deborah and Emirati designer Shaikha Amal Al Maktoum (turn the page to find out more on her), were chosen by a panel of expert judges to show their collections at Fashion Scout London, an international platform that has seen the likes of Peter Pilotto, David Koma and Felder Felder showing their collections to huge audiences before going on to even bigger catwalk shows. The DDFC and FAD together assisted with every step of the show from the organisation to presenting the collection on the day.
UK-born Deborah started at Alexander McQueen and Sass and Bide in London, and she’s known for her geometric monochrome designs; a trademark style that’s minimalistic and functional and unusual for the region. Perhaps this is what made her stand out from the crowd? We caught up with her at her office in Dubai to find out about the experience, the challenges of running a fashion label, and what’s next.
How did you come to win the prize? I was invited by DDFC to go and pitch to have my show at London Fashion Week. I had to explain what I would do and show them the collection I would present at London Fashion Week. My brand is very minimalistic with monochrome colours, so I
told them I wanted to introduce prints and embellishment for London Fashion Week to take it to the next level. I actually found out on Christmas Eve that I had been chosen.
How was that experience? Fashion Scout is a really great platform for emerging designers. The Freemasons’ Hall they have their catwalk shows in is the most incredible space, so it was all really overwhelming. I used to work in London; I think this was just the perfect entry for me to get back into the city where I started.
What has been the response like? On the day, there were a lot of interviews and people coming up to say they loved the collection. The energy is really high after the shows, but it’s once I get back to reality and orders start coming in that I’ll really be able to tell the impact the show has had.
You mentioned that you incorporated print into your designs for the first time – what made you decide to do this? I just wanted to take my designs to the next level. I have a very distinct style, but sometimes it’s nice to switch things up and make people realise there is another level to the brand. I have a vision of what I want for the brand and this is just step one of getting it there.
How do you think the DDFC has helped you expand your brand? They were unbelievable. They have a really good support network and what they are doing here at the moment is incredible and exactly what Dubai needs.
You are originally from the UK and your designs have Parisian influences. Why did you choose Dubai to start your business? I moved here because of my husband’s job seven years ago. It was really hard for me at first because I already had a brand in London that was doing really well; I’d even been featured in British Vogue. But when we moved here I had to give all that up and start from scratch. I started lecturing in some of the universities here so I could also suss out the industry. I always knew I wanted to re-start my brand again so I just took my time and did it properly.
Do you think being in Dubai has affected your brand? My set style of geometric shapes and minimalistic designs is very different for this market. It’s interesting to see how it would be perceived and so far the reaction has been great. There’s no way I would have had some of the opportunities that I’ve had here back in London. Things move so fast here, which is fantastic for me. What happens next? The aim would be to continue to show at Fashion Scout to keep up the traction, but the worry is having the funding to do it. It’s not cheap to put on a fashion show, especially one on that scale, which is why this was such a fantastic opportunity.
Would you ever show your collection here in Dubai? I’ve been approached by Fashion Forward [the biannual fashion showcase in Dubai] a number of times but it’s hard to say yes as it’s such an expense. For now I’d rather keep it for the international cities to get the biggest impact. I’d love to show in Dubai – but if you’re only going to show once a season, it has to be a business decision.
What do you think is the future of fashion in Dubai? I think location-wise Dubai is a fantastic place to be for fashion brands – you can connect to Asia for textiles and it’s really easy to have shows in Europe. It’s much less saturated than some of the other cities. Things really seem to be happening now.
What would be your message to young designers just starting out? I think you have to have a very clear vision of what you want. People don’t buy into products they buy into stories so once you have that clear vision in your head you’ll be able to sell it to others.
Deborah will be running a fashion workshop, How to Start a Fashion Label, on April 28 and 29; sign up at deborahhenning.com/course. Her collection is stocked in Harvey Nichols Dubai.
I have a very DISTINCT style, but sometimes it’s nice to switch things up and make people realise there is ANOTHER LEVEL to the brand. I have a VISION and this is just step one of getting it there