As featured in MOJEH Issue 25, we sat down with Fujairah-born Emirati princess Sheikha Madiyah Al Sharqi to find out why fusing a touch of Parisian flair with Middle Eastern taste has become the signature aesthetic of her designs.
By Susan Devaney
‘Nine out of ten times, no one is going to know what a Middle Eastern woman wants to wear better than a Middle Eastern woman’, she tells me. With her collections being stocked by multiple luxury boutiques across the UAE, it would appear that as a Middle Eastern woman, designer and the daughter of the Ruler of Fujairah, HH Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, Madiyah knows what women want.
Having trained at the prestigious ESMOD University in Dubai – their school in Paris can cite acclaimed haute couturiers Franck Sorbier and Alexandre Vauthier as its notable alumni – her education has been of the highest calibre. This influence can be seen across every aspect of her designs. ‘I think I have come to realise what my aesthetic as a designer is, so I begin my creative process with my fabric selection. I travel to Paris every season to meet with my suppliers and begin the development of textiles. This is the longest process every season, the actual designing process becomes a lot smoother when you have a strong fabric and colour palette to work with’, she explains. This strong fabric selection can be seen from her polished tailoring, sophisticated sheers and luxurious lace – you immediately want to touch the texture. Going back to Paris time after time appears to be integral to Madiyah’s seasonal vision.
With a design aesthetic that constitutes primarily of sequin, lace and minimalistic tailoring, a touch of the Parisian flair is consistently present with every collection. However, her time spent interning with Lebanese designer Abed Mahfouz is equally apparent too. ‘I show my collection to buyers and editors in an intimate setting in Paris every season. I have been doing so since my second season, and I have learnt a lot of lessons from it. I will have editors and buyers coming to the showroom between big international shows and presentations, meaning the way they view and critique the collection is parallel to the fashion powerhouses’, she explains. In an array of polite pastel shades and super sharp tailoring, Madiyah’s fabric choices shape her designs. ‘I like to juxtapose the hard and soft to represent the different aspects of a woman. I mix lace with gingham, chiffon with leather, jacquard and fur because the fabric stories are quite present. I like to keep the silhouettes quite minimal and tailored to really let the fabrics shine,’ she explains.
It takes precedent as it delicately envelops sleeves or frames the silhouette as it quietly trails behind. There is one fabric that Madiyah knows how to handle with über femininity: lace. ‘I think I naturally gravitate towards lace because it’s so beautiful, it’s something a lot of people love, and something a lot of people don’t. But I am comfortable with my decision to have it present every season,’ she says. Embedded within her spring/summer 15 collection lace flutters across design after design: from sweeping floor-length skirts to subtle trimming on jacket hems, it consistently adds gracefulness. From a muted colour palette to peach-infused tones, it’s ladylike dressing at its finest. Even with an accompaniment of loose chiffon frills, fifties’ style pleats, belted waists and regal-like trains, lace reigns supreme. This fascination and appreciation of lace, with its linage dating back to royalty – echoes the days of Marie Antoinette. As the daughter of the Ruler of Fujairah, HH Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, luxurious fabrics and couture gowns were a common occurrence growing up. ‘I remember my mother was always attending events when I was younger, she has an in-house designer and atelier, so I would watch them present sketches that turned into designs and I instantly fell in love with the design process’, she recalls. As her love for all-things-fashion grew, a career in design was firmly set in her sights.
Being part of a ruling family may have provided stability and future opportunities, but it wasn’t a fluid process following her passion to becoming a fashion designer. ‘I think most families are apprehensive about their children pursuing a career in design, especially fashion, so initially my decision was met with some resistance’, Madiyah sincerely recalls. ‘However, when my family saw it was becoming a profitable business they realised it was the right thing for me to be doing. They are very proud of my accomplishments’, she concludes. Her invaluable education has undoubtedly come from her family. Having endured this process first-hand, Madiyah advises young women in the region with similar burning desires and ambitions: ‘For any designer I would suggest studying it, there is a lot of technical aspects to design that are crucial to know. Also, never forget it is a business, try to have a full scope of the business side of the industry before diving in.’
Having mastered the Middle Eastern market by gaining an allegiance of fans across the UAE, Madiyah Al Sharqi is turning her attention to obtaining global acclaim. With her spring/summer 15 collection in tow, ‘I think we are ready to slowly branch out to a more international arena, so I am hoping the brand will gain some presence outside of the Middle East this year’, she says. It would appear this expansion is already in motion with style maven Kim Kardashian visiting her showroom in Paris in October of last year, and Brazilian supermodel model Alessandra Ambrosio being seen in some of her exquisite pieces. The importance of acquiring an international fashion following of designers, editors and celebrities is something Madiyah is all too aware of: ‘I think that isn’t in the hands of the designers to say, we are only as strong as how the publications and retailers make us. If there becomes a more seamless approach to ‘Middle Eastern’ and ‘International’ designers the sky is the limit.’