Out of public eye, Arab women power haute couture

Wed Oct 5, 2011 11:03am EDT
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By Astrid Wendlandt and Martina Fuchs

PARIS/DUBAI (Reuters) - They are rarely spotted on the front row of a fashion show and favor discretion when placing orders, yet women from the Middle East have become the world's biggest buyers of high fashion.

The trend may surprise given that many Arab women, particularly in the Gulf region, are traditionally kept under wraps.

But their social calendar, which usually consists of 15-20 weddings a year and private parties every month, creates much bigger demand for couture than the occasional charity ball and high society party in Europe and in North America.

And wearing the same dress twice is not an option.

Traditional buyers of exclusive designer clothes tend to include members of rich industrial or royal families and expatriates.

The biggest buyers of haute couture today center around the Gulf -- Saudis, Kuwaitis, Qataris and nationals of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who do not hesitate to spend 50,000 euros on a low-cleavage lame for an event where no men will be present.

"All the royal families of the Middle East are our customers," Catherine Riviere, head of haute couture at Christian Dior, told Reuters at the brand's show at Paris Fashion Week which ends on Wednesday.

Middle Eastern customers have also recently shown growing support for Lebanese designers such as Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad.   Continued...

<p>A model wears a creation by Gardem during the Fall/Winter 2008/09 show during Abu Dhabi Fashion Week at Emirates Palace in this March 18, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh/Files</p>