FROM FINANCE TO FASHION
We chat with Dalia El Ali, founder and designer of one of the regions favourite fashion lines.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Dalia El Ali; Fashion Designer & owner of renowned fashion brand ‘Dee by Dalia’. I am originally Palestinian / Lebanese but I grew up in Al Ain-UAE. I studied finance at American University of Beirut, worked in investment banking for 6 years, left my job to spend time with my two lovely boys. I studied fashion design at London College of Fashion. My Dee by Dalia journey started around 3 years ago, with a small project from home. Now I have my own studio in Dubai Design District D3, which specializes in pret wear.
Investment banking and then an at-home mother, how did you transition into becoming a fashion designer? Was fashion always on your mind like a goal you aimed at hitting right since you were a child, or it happened somewhere between the years?
I have always been passionate about fashion. I began dabbling as a stylist for shoots for local magazines and websites. Despite all that, I still felt that I did not reach where I wanted myself to be, so I took things to the next level. I studied fashion design at London College of Fashion and I finally did it! I started my own line of clothes “Dee by Dalia”.
It’s tough to stay on top of the modern trends and try to blend vintage into it; how do you strike that balance? As a challenge, that must excite you!
For me, finding the balance between incorporating something vintage and keeping everything modern and clean at the same time, is all part of the fun. The great thing about vintage is that everything comes back into style sooner or later, so something from 40 years ago may look as rad as something from your popular store. My favorite way to wear vintage is to look like I’m not wearing vintage at all to choose one standout element and mix it with contemporary style.
I happened to view your mood board for SS13, and it was pleasantly surprising. You have not only a wide range of ideas from Audrey to a ballerina, abstract and then some alien!
My mood boards reflects my designs, which continue to be young in spirit, yet still remains sophisticated and playful for the contemporary woman. My inspiration is from all the things I love, vintage items, butterflies and ballerinas. Each of my designs, whether it’s a 60’s skirt, girly tutu skirts, brocade shorts or ballerina top, represents me as a person.
In your Resort16 collection, you have a jumpsuit that you are shown wearing (in the image) with a grass mower? How did that happen and why that mower?
My Resort16 Collection was all about conceptual shapes and architecture. The idea was about pushing the boundaries of construction with ladylike cuts. Combining both linear and rectangle silhouettes with box shaped fabric cut outs, I think it was executed amazingly. My SS17 collection is all about revisiting the mommy & daughter trend – I’ve used versatile fabrics from organza to silk and even lace. This collection also includes our most sought after signature shirts, which are a highlight of the season.
There is definitely an element of surprise in your collection, and that’s why we chose you. Trying to carve your own style and sticking it out there needs patience; especially in terms of the commercial aspect. How do you face that challenge in you, are there times you feel, let’s just keep it low-key and play safe?
My unique style is what defines me, and have a substantial impact on my customers and audience. So the more original my style is, the
easier it would be for people relate to it and the better the chances are they would want my fashion line and products.
I like that even in your description of what you do, you use words such as ‘fun’, ‘life’, ‘playful’, it’s as if you are conveying to your audience that you must put your heart into what you wear and perhaps what you wear so much reflects your outlook and shapes it in a way? Do you feel that? How important is fashion to the real sense of a person’s overall well-being? Are they related at all or is fashion just a luxury to the means of dressing up?
I feel fashion is a way to show the world who you are and what you like in sublime way. Your entire character is reflected in the way you dress up and it definitely adds to the well being of the person because the clothes we wear send powerful signals to our peers and strangers, projecting the self image of us that we want to display.
Your relationship with S*UCE has been growing, tell us about your work with that boutique, do you develop a special clothing line for them from time to time?
So far it has been amazing journey with S*UCE, it perfectly blends with my style.
When did you come to Dubai and has it become your home forever? Will Dalia ever move abroad and settle elsewhere?
I grew up in the UAE so I consider myself part of Dubai more than anything else, it has always been Home. So I want to grow old here with my family.
Do you like to travel?
I love traveling and learning about new cultures and also because its source of inspiration.
As an expat in Dubai, I have seen myself change and the city help me discover parts of my creativity that I wasn’t aware of; did Dubai in some way define your way forward or give you answers to life?
Dubai is the place that made me realize my dreams which later I turned into reality. So it certainly moved my life ahead.
What does ‘a day in the life of Dalia’ look like?
I wake up, drop the kids to school and head over to the gym, do my one hour workout then have a shower. After that I head to work either choosing fabrics, meetings with buyers or designing. Then either my driver or I pick up the kids from school then we have lunch together. Later the kids have after school activities which I take them to, then we go back home have dinner with my husband and either I sit at home and work, or I go to social events.
Where do you see yourself in :
FIVE YEARS from now-
I think we will be more renowned internationally as we wish to be retailed in more stores around the world.
TEN YEARS from now-
I think it will become a running business that I manage as the brand and I would have strong name internationally.
You have several role models in the industry? Name one in the following three categories, and tell us why –
(1) The Icons- Lanvin ,and Victor & Roy / Love the cuts and they’re unique with a classy touch
(2) Contemporary / I keep up with cool brands and trends like Kenzo , Alexander McQueen .. I do love the casual but with a stylish twist.
(3) Mentor-Elie Saab even though he is more of an haute couture designer but am very impressed in the way he grew from the Arab region and made a huge empire all over the world. His work is so impressive and every detail put into his gowns are so unique.
Does your expertise and education in finance guide you in your work?
Certainly it has helped because designing is only half the work, the rest is sales/marketing and sourcing. I spend my major time ensuring that the product has a strong sales avenue and fine tuning my collection with regards to price and where it will sell.
Speaking of financial studying, do you have a strategy? Do you plan your business in fashion say a couple of months in advance or not at all?
You have to be definitely organized, so I not only plan couple of months ahead but couple of seasons ahead.
What has changed since you began, how has the industry and your experience so far as a designer changed you, better and/ or worse?
I have grown up more and I know now what the in’s and out’s of the industry are. Fashion is a difficult industry but I have the personality for it. It made me tougher and I am much more busy than the old days, as I am always designing in my head.
Your kids, how have they formed your personality now and does thinking of them participate in your process of developing ideas for the collection?
My kids are my everything they give me all the positivity to continue and they are so proud of me. It gives me the support to work harder and grow.
Will you ever think of venturing into ‘Home’?
I love home designing and am really into it, but am more of a buyer than a designer in this field.
What are your hobbies besides designing, anything else you absolutely love and could spend your life doing it if you could?
I love travelling and visiting local markets. One of my biggest inspirations in life is travelling and visiting historical and traditional places. In doing so, I feel I can learn from the country’s real culture.
Ralph Lauren famously said, “Every time I design clothes, I’m making a movie”. What would your famous one liner be for Dee by Dalia, which you’d love to go down in history?
“A real beauty is a woman’s internal beauty” …My designs make you look strong “