Emirati designer treats her handmade dresses like gems

When Fidda Al Marzouqi set up her luxury atelier fashion label, she had never worked in the industry before. In fact, her career was as far removed from fashion as you can get.

Having studied genetics and international public health nutri­tion in London, Ms Al Marzouqi, who is from Abu Dhabi, returned home to work as a senior health officer – a job she still does today.

But she has always loved art and design, so when she started creating and making her own clothes and receiving many compliments, she decided she might be able to make a business out of it. Eighteen months ago, Ms Al Marzouqi hired a team of master cutters, tailors and hand embroiders and began buying fabric from around the world to set up her own label in Abu Dhabi – Cabochon, named after a gemstone that is polished but not faceted. Here she reveals the challenges along the way.

Why did you name your brand Cabochon?

Because I think there is an art and a technique behind cutting dresses to make them unique. And it is about the attention to detail. They are like little gemstones. As an artist, as a designer, your pieces are like art and like gemstones to you.

What were the biggest challenges you faced launching your label?

The challenges were to find the right staff that are experienced, that would understand the untraditional way of doing things which I tend to follow. I am traditional in the sense that I appreciate history, but I like to bring in a little bit of the modern and maybe go for different kinds of cuts that are not the traditional stuff these tailors or master cutters are used to dealing with at other fashion houses. Our concept is an atelier, which means basically it is a workshop. In the workshop we create everything from beading to skirts to tops to blazers to leather jackets. We do the whole thing. The embroiders use the most exquisite beads. I draw up the patterns for them by hand and we create little leaves and flowers and attach them on and make our own patterns unique to Cabochon.

How did you find people when you didn’t work in the industry or have any contacts?

Well, it is usually word of mouth. It is interviews. People usually know people. To be honest, it took me a year to find the right staff. Now that they have been with me for about a year I have trained them to what suits me, so they have a better understanding of my taste and the kind of colours I like and the types of finish I look for. And of course I wanted to go international, so it had to be of an international standard. I am very detail-orientated. I would do things 30 times if I had to.

Are your staff tailors or designers?

There are no designers. I am the designer behind the label. They are master cutters, tailors, of course, to put the pieces together. The master cutters are the ones who cut the fabric to the shapes you need and hand embroiders.

What inspires your designs?

Architecture and history. I love the Ottoman Empire. I appreciate the Andalusian times. They have architecture and wall carvings. I use that as inspiration to create the embroidery. The embroidery is what brings up the price of the dress; the amount of craftsmanship behind that. Prices start at Dh5,000 for the Ramadan collection.

How do you manage to juggle both your full-time job and the business?

I work from 7am to 2pm, so I usually free myself up in the evenings for Cabochon. It is all about planning. It is all about putting together a pro­per schedule, preparing beforehand.

What sort of future do you see in it? Are you happy to keep doing it alongside your job in public health nutrition?

For the next couple of years I would like to continue with my workshop and continue with my day job. I am happy with both. Once Cabochon is set up properly I might even [set up a business related] to the health part of my education. It would be something to do with business like launching a [health] programme. I would like to stock my clothes in department stores. I am not keen on opening a stand-alone boutique as of yet, but I definitely want to involve myself in the international shows such as Paris Fashion Week, London Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week.

What about sales? Do you sell through Instagram or your website?

No, I don’t sell through Instagram. It is an atelier concept, so it is made to measure. It is by appointment only. A member of our team will measure the client, and they select which gown they want.

How are your sales doing?

We have had quite a few orders. The growth has been a pleasant surprise and the reaction of the public has been very encouraging.


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Gillian Duncan

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