The designer and editor opens up about her favourite labels, top tips for budding fashionistas, and balancing a busy workload…
When it comes to juggling a lot of roles, no one understands the potential for pressure better than HE Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassemi.
As a designer, businesswoman, magazine editor and ambassador, the entrepreneur has her plate more full than most.
But she’s not done there – Sheikha Hend also just added chairperson and member of the board of trustees to her CV, for Dubai’s College of Fashion and Design.
The recently launched institution (known as CFD for short) will even offer internships at the Sheikha’s own House of Hend design studio, along with lessons that aim to establish the city as a global fashion hub.
As a figure now responsible for helping nurture Middle Eastern style talent, we decided to pick Sheikha Hend’s brains about all things fashion…
Which local designers do you think are doing particularly amazing work at the moment, and why?
I truly admire Reem Acra — she is an Arab international fashion designer who is the judge for the regional version of Project Runway called Fashion Stars on Dubai One. My dear friend is truly doing it all; she also continues to showcase her ready-to-wear and bridal collections during New York Fashion Week every season.
What would be your advice to budding designers who are still a few years off from college?
For beginner designers, I would advise to stay encouraged and inspired, and if you hit a wall get around it with another approach or adjust your niche market. The key is to create what the customer wants — they can create their own designs, but unless they want to live like starving artist I advise them to study what is in demand.
Between the pessimist and the optimist who were arguing if the cup was half full or half empty, the realist is the one who picked up the cup and drank it. Failing to learning from their mistakes will result in continuous disappointment. You have to find your niche and your signature so that you may be recognisable.
Grow your reach on social media, invest in your seasonal photo shoots, and send those look books to magazines and department stores for exposure and opportunities. Invest in a pop-up shop and invite press to your event. Once you have established your branding and relationships, it is just a matter of maintaining them.
What excites you the most about the fashion industry in the UAE, and in the Middle East as a whole?
The current state of Dubai’s fashion industry is blooming. I think the Arab world has come a long way in fashion journalism and now Dubai is a hub for publication houses. The calendar is full with fashion events and consumers are more intrigued to participate in the industry and stay up to date with trends. Editors are acknowledged in the fashion capitals during Fashion Weeks with seats allocated to Middle Eastern press.
The market has a lot of potential with big fashion houses seeing opportunity for expansion and reach, like curating a line for our region — and this is just the beginning.
The internet also has played a vial role in the dissemination of fashion journalism — brands invest heavily in online advertisements and publicity through bloggers and we are seeing that investment in the region now.
However, there are two problems I see with the status quo; the first being a lack of transition for fashion students from design to distribution, and the second being that the industry has not developed a proper base for buyers. Students’ education is dedicated to design, but there needs to be a better understand of what the market demands in order for them to produce in a price point. They need to be able to make a margin of profit so they can sustain themselves as designers in the future.
How do you balance running a fashion label and magazine alongside your philanthropic and business endeavours?
I received my undergraduate degree in architecture and design. Art never leaves your blood and it has inspired the shapes and structures of the pieces I curate for House of Hend. My brand has become my artistic expression through the medium of clothing and I love creating walking pieces of art. I also like to spend my time with charitable programs, speak to students to encourage their dreams, and represent companies as their ambassador that have corporate social responsibilities.
I see the roads and my roles as intertwining. As the editor-in-chief of Velvet magazine, an Emirati woman, and the creative director of House of Hend, it is important to understand the industry from all three of these perspectives, as a journalist, a customer and a designer. I enjoy getting my creative juices flowing but I also have a great team of people that support my vision.
How exactly does CFD prepare students for launching their own lines?
CFD acts an as incubation centre for students, giving them a chance to experience fashion from its concept stages to execution, and helping them nurture their entrepreneurial efforts before they finish their studies. The students aren’t confined to learning in the classroom though — through partnerships with designers such as myself, they will see the entire process of creating a line from start to finish, conception through to sales.
The college is creating the necessary talent to sustain the region’s continued growth and title as the fashion and design innovator and hub for MENA.
What are your best tips for dressing modestly without compromising on style? What are your most worn labels? And what are your most-visited UAE shops for fashion and accessories?
In terms of dressing modestly without compromising style, I personally enjoy it because I can get creative with the fashion pieces I have. I enjoy mixing and matching, I think it’s a girl thing; we have a whole cupboard but have nothing to wear! I personally enjoy the experience of experimenting, it’s interesting — every day you can have a new look with the same closet you have but you just mix and match.
My most worn labels would be pieces from Chanel and Diesel jeans because they are timeless and never grow old. I also like top French and Italian houses and Latin American brands; I like Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Elie Saab, Fendi, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Armani, and I love Dolce and Gabbana.
My most visited local fashion stores use to be Saks Fifth Avenue, now it’s Galeries Lafayette and Bloomingdale’s because they just have everything. I like department stores because they are a one-stop shop, I don’t have time to go to a bunch of stores. When I travel, I go to Harrods and Selfridges in London and when I’m in America I like going to Bergdorf Goodman because it’s practical.
Who are your personal style icons, and why?
I personally love Sheikha Mozah Al Missned’s style because I think she’s a modest icon.