The Million-Dirham Abaya
Julia Robson, Fashion Correspondent
Last Updated: June 28. 2008 11:46PM UAE / June 28. 2008 7:46PM GMT
He is most famous for dressing royalty, notably queens and princesses, for their wedding days. Now Bruce Oldfield, the celebrated British couturier, has designs on something equally traditional: the abaya.Last week in London, Oldfield unveiled what is thought to be the most expensive abaya ever made. Sporting bespoke Crosley diamonds on the collar and cuffs, the garment is valued at about Dh1.27 million (US$365,000).
The market for designer Islamic garments is growing, and, until now, the most expensive abaya cost about Dh364,000.
“Crosley approached me with the idea of having a collaboration and initially, I thought of making a wedding dress covered in diamonds,” Oldfield said. “Then we thought it would be a good idea to make an abaya. Why not? Every leading designer seems to doing this right now.
“This is the world’s first red carpet abaya.”
For three decades, he has been dressing legions of aristocrats, royals and jet-setting clients.
Talking from his Knightsbridge salon, where samples of his signature floor-length beaded gowns – which can weigh a staggering 70kg – sparkle under an expensive lighting system, Oldfield stresses this abaya is “only for princesses, my dear”.
“It’s very grand. I used the finest black silk, a stiff taffeta, flowing sleeves and a mandarin collar.
“The most difficult challenge for me was to create a garment which did not follow the natural curves of a woman’s shape.
“An abaya must, by definition, envelop the body rather than suggest what lies underneath – which is in complete contrast to what I do and what I’ve been trained to do as a tailor and couturier.
“Normally, I work with bodily proportions and make them better and more streamlined.”
When Oldfield set to work, he “called up a princess friend of mine in Jordan, who told me you can actually do whatever you want in terms of the abaya.
“If you were a princess wanting to make a grand entrance in Saudi Arabia or Abu Dhabi, you would be expected to wear something with a wow factor.”
The garment takes the shape of a kaftan and flows away from the hips into a train at the back.
“I thought about an abaya Maria Callas might wear: a bit of 1960s couture and va voom.”
The abaya is the highlight of the luxury Saudi Gulf Luxury Trade Fair, which takes place in London in August to help boost British exports.
Oldfield is excited when he is “talking abayas”, and about another fashion project – his first bridal couture range in 10 years.
The line features silk tulle – “I use the same silk for my linings the cheaper boys use for the main dress” – and Chantilly lace, which “look heavy, but you can dance in them”.
Oldfield has been dressing heiress brides since 1976, including Jemima Khan, her mother Lady Annabel Goldsmith, Samantha Cameron, Lady Tamara Grosvenor and Queen Rania of Jordan.
Designing wedding dressings, which accounts for about half of his work, is incredibly time consuming.
“I recently had a client from Dubai who wanted me to do her wedding dress along with outfits for her six sisters and her mother.”
The bride’s body shape, her age and the venue are each considered.
“It’s important to examine what is required of the dress. I pander to the bride; most tend to have an opinion about what they want – something totally new and fabulous that will make their friends faint. But I also tell them, in a non-patronising way, it’s their parents’ day too.”
He recalled one bride who expressed disappointment at having to keep “the same dress on all day”.
“I told her, ‘You will remember this day for the rest of your life because of it’.”
Oldfield’s royal clients have included Jordan’s Queen Noor and Queen Rania and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who he was credited with transforming from a gauche teenager to a sophisticated trendsetter in the 1980s.
He also dresses some of Hollywood’s most glamorous women, including Sienna Miller, Angelica Houston, Barbra Streisand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Melanie Griffith, Charlotte Rampling and Faye Dunaway.
And soon his designs will be seen by millions each day; he has been commissioned to redesign the McDonald’s restaurant uniform.
Oldfield’s introduction to fashion came early in life. Born in 1950, he was two days old when his birth parents placed him in a Dr Barnardo’s orphanage.
He was fostered by a dressmaker, who taught him to sew and cut fabric. After finishing school, he studied to be a teacher but switched to the renowned Central Saint Martins art college in London to study fashion.
His schooling was funded by Barnado’s, which would later provide him with a start-up loan for his business in 1975.
He is now a vice president of the children’s charity.
Oldfield agreed to design the diamond-studded abaya on the condition that a percentage of the sales would be donated to a charity for Palestinian children.
“I’m not actually that interested in fashion,” he said. “When someone says lime green is the new black for this or that season, I just want to tell him or her to get a life. I love to create shapes from luxurious fabrics that make women look even more beautiful ... whether this is a wedding dress, an opera coat, a suit or an abaya. This is my job.”
Are more abayas in the pipeline?
“I’d be happy to make them to order, especially if it will mean nipping over to Abu Dhabi for a fitting. One must have strings to one’s bow.”http://www.thenational.ae/article/20080628/PAGETHREE/925497070/1119/NEWS&profile=1119