Qatar Couture: Through The Eye Of A Needle
If you haven’t had a dress tailored, you haven’t been in Qatar long enough. In a three-part series, JustHere looks at an enduring figure in Qatar’s sartorial history – the tailor. In focus this week are the various high-end gown designers that inhabit the street shops and strip malls of Al Sadd.
Oft overlooked, these silent artistes have braved the combined threats of globalisation, fashion houses, a burgeoning high-street retail market, and the influx of online shopping sites to keep their businesses and dreams alive.
Stepping into Moda Bella is a sensuous experience. The walls, covered with fabric from France, Italy, Spain, and Dubai, are reminiscent of Rothko’s masterpieces – explosions of colour contained in square swatches. Exquisite fabrics, rich in texture and quality, embedded with Swarovski crystals and intricate embroidery, lay draped over gilded viewing tables.
The textile shop, one of the oldest in Qatar, boasts some of the same fabrics that have graced the runways of Valentino, Elie Saab, and Zuhair Murad. Next door, its sister atelier Moda Lady bustles with customers coming in for consultations and fittings. Its ten tailors, two designers, and ‘schack’ (embroidery) men work tirelessly to complete their orders. Across the road at Rosabella, chief designer Ramon works steadily on one of the 50 commissioned gowns for June alone. At peak season, the top couture stores oversee the design, tailoring, and embroidery of over a 100 custom pieces a month. With prices starting from QR 2500, and going into tens of thousands of riyals, the stores’ clients are predominantly affluent women.
In the details lie…
The process is lengthy and labour-intensive, with most stores requiring at least a month to produce a full gown. Women come into the atelier and consult with a designer who sketches a custom design. The creative process is capricious. “Sometimes, a design just comes to me. The way the woman is, her mannerisms, her aura, all lend themselves to the design,” says Ernesto, one of the two designers at Moda Lady; “At other times, it takes me hours of sketching and thinking to come up with even the most basic of ideas.” Once the design is drawn and the client’s approval given, their measurements are taken, and the designer refers them to a textile store with a list of the specific fabrics and lengths required for the gown. Often, if original Swarovski crystals and other ornate details are requested, the client is required to purchase it at Al Rawnaq, Women’s World, or Orange. All elements acquired, a cotton form of a gown is first made, and the client is asked to come in for a fitting. This stage is vital, as it is the last stage when alterations can be made, should the gown flow perfectly. “My mentor taught me one important lesson,” adds Ramon, “Fit is paramount; design is secondary. If the gown fits the woman perfectly, she will look radiant no matter how minimal the rest is”. ‘Schack’ men then hand-embroider the material in wooden frames. The gown is then stitched, with fusing or boning included for added support. Final touches and accessories are sewn on, and the customer is called in for a final fitting.
The gowns made reflect the wearers’ status and wealth. Fabric, colour, and detail are painstakingly chosen to tailor to the women’s figures and tastes. Designers work primarily with silk organza, ‘Armani’ taffeta, Dentelle lace, tulle, and chiffon, in soft rich colours like beige, nude, tiffany blue, cream, and grey, to create the elegance characteristic of Haute Couture. The colours requested are specific to the region, complimenting the dusky skin tone of women, while accommodating the scorching heat of the desert sun.