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The fashion scene in Bahrain, much like around the world is seeing revolutionary change with the advent of social media and online influencers, and new upstarts and industry stalwarts see this as a moment of great innovation and growth.
Bahrain, which has always uniquely blended western and eastern fashion trends due to its key position as a trade centre in international commerce, has seen a style surge in recent years. That is thanks in part to it being named one of the top countries for Indian destination weddings and playing host to several high-society marriages.
It has also attracted models from around the world, who find a blend of conservative and progressive trends coexisting and intermingling to create hybrids not found anywhere else.
Matty Benson, owner of Matty B Models Agency, hopes to leverage new technology to highlight some of these trends and give them an international platform. He said: “The market is tough and a lot of fashion designers and models welcome and value more support and promotion on a higher level. I think we are turning a corner as far as fashion and modelling and there is a lot of energy, passion and serious talent in Bahrain to bring fashion in a big way to the island. We have seen some tremendous new fashion designers appear and models in the last six months in particular.”
With this in mind, Bahrain is set to play host to Unique Arabia, a show highlighting designers from across the region and in particular three from Bahrain.
The House of Ivy, which started at a small shop in Adliya, was founded by Ivy Evaline, who has spent the last 10 years modelling after starting at the age of 17.
Her designs, targeted at the burgeoning night scene in Bahrain, aim to provide something for both conservative and progressive millennials and young professionals with a sense of style.
She collaborates with top brands in UK, Turkey and Canada such as the House of CB and then adds her own touches to the design to make them more suited for local tastes.
Her creations seem to always have at least a couple of possible styles built-in. For example, they can be worn as is for a more liberal look or coupled with an under-layer for a more conservative look. This intersectionality is second nature to the 27-year old.
Tanzania-born Ivy, who started out in hospitality after arriving in Bahrain from Kenya, chose the kingdom as the centre of her couture and modelling career because she noticed that there weren’t many African models in the country and region and she wanted to break the stereotypes that have come to be associated with beauty and fashion in the Middle East.
Similarly, Bahraini fashion designer Fatima Muhanna, founder of Impratoora Palace in Riffa, wants to reinvent the traditional idea of bridal wear by bringing touches of western designs to eastern weddings.
She has turned to social media in a time of economic difficulty in the country in an attempt to reach a wider market.
She said: “Recently, a German designer found my designs and he particularly loved my treatment of the Arab wedding dress. He said that such a design with vivid greens and the embroidered gold veil is nowhere to be found in Europe.”
Impratoora is also part of Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA)’s online database of local vendors for bridal wear that is often used by beau monde Indian families when planning their island weddings.
Fatima’s collection includes the full colour spectrum of global bridal wear from the whites of traditional western weddings to the reds and gold found in Indian matrimonial ceremonies and the greens found in Middle Eastern and Islamic weddings. Her love of design started when she was disillusioned by administrative work and wanted to be her own boss and now she hopes to expand the appeal of her culture internationally.
With a similar goal in mind, husband and wife duo Adnan and Nazia Mustafa moved their business from India to Bahrain. The couple started Vestire, a clothing brand bringing avant-garde Indian designs and well known Indian brands like Ahilaya to Bahrain.
The multi-brand store is also starting to leverage social media to expand its market across the GCC and bring dresses ranging from traditional chikankari to nouveau western-eastern evening blends.
Adnan said: “We are hoping to do more shows to build awareness on social media. Once people know we are carrying their favourite brands, the orders come in. In this climate, that’s just taking more effort.”
The three brands are hoping to get on board with the new wave of models – the hybrid high fashion and social media influencers who both walk the cat walk and talk the digital talk.
Sarah Harris, a South African model who has been in Bahrain for four years, is part of this wave. While she builds her modelling career working with Matty B Models and expands her online presence as one of the new generation of expat influencers, she is also learning the behind the scenes ropes as she helps organise events like Unique Arabia.
She added: “The fashion scene in Bahrain is at a very exciting time. With a new generation of creative young Bahrainis and expat influencers we are definitely seeing a vibrant industry emerge. In the past year alone I’ve seen incredible growth, with more and more Bahraini designers hitting the scene and embracing traditional Arabic clothing with a unique Bahrain Twist coupled with a modern adaption. It’s an amazing privilege to be able to provide these designers with the support they need to flourish. I am very passionate about the designers we have and I’m very excited to see our models walking these lines at the upcoming show.”
To find out more about the growing modelling and high fashion scene as well as the Unique Arabia fashion show, check out @mattybmodels1