Designers are emerging by the hundreds. Every day there is a new name on the scene, but more often than not, many of those brands fade from the stage just as fast as they appeared. Not KAGE, though. This brand is here to stay.
KAGE, a women's ready to wear brand created by childhood friends Arwa Abdelhadi and Basma Abu Ghazaleh, was launched in October 2009 to stellar reviews. The line is nothing short of beautiful. Their designs are vintage-inspired but with unique touches and embellishments. Their first collection, for instance, was a mix of vintage looking materials that were adorned with rock-and-roll metal touches.
The name was the idea of one of their friends. It's a combination of the first two letters of both their horoscopes (Basma is a Cancer and Arwa is a Gemini). They added their own twist by substituting the C for a K, and KAGE was born.
Arwa began her university life in London, Ontario in Canada but then relocated to Beirut to pursue her education in Psychology. It is as far a field of study from fashion as one can get. However, Arwa took courses in fashion at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London to indulge her inner passion. During that period, Arwa's love for fashion design developed. Later on, working as a Fashion Marketing Manager and in-house buyer for Chalhoub, a regional and local luxury brand distributor based in Dubai, she gained more exposure to her field of choice. Arwa was in charge of many high profile brands such as Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Mulberry, Bonpoint, Paul & Joe and Celine.
Basma studied at the American University of Beirut and later transferred to Northeastern University in Boston where she obtained a Bachelors of Science in Sociology and a minor in Communication Studies. After graduating, Basma took a French language course in Paris for six months then returned to Dubai, where she worked in the consumer marketing division of Asdaa, one of the UAE’s leading public relations consultancies. She later joined her family's business, Porcelain International in the UAE as the head of the marketing department, before going on to establish KAGE with Arwa.
Khaleejesque Team: Tell us about your business. Was it hard to establish?
KAGE: Towards the middle of 2009 we both decided to establish our holding company, ONE6FOUR7 TM LTD that has now resulted in KAGE. It was definitely well worth every effort!
KT: Your brand is a lovely mesh of themes. Where does your inspiration come from?
Arwa: By naturally interacting with people and places across the globe which leaves an impact and an inspirational trail to the creations… It could be something as simple as walking down the street.
Basma: From travelling mainly; to explore the charm and depth that older cities hold, the combination of old and new and the coming together of modern day luxury and old fashioned habits.
KT: What is your favorite thing about working in the fashion industry? And your least favorite?
KAGE: The best thing about the fashion industry is that trends are ever changing so the excitement factor and element of surprise is always there; making it a competitive industry, which drives us to challenge our own capabilities. We have not experienced “the worst thing about fashion” yet… However, I’m sure there are some downfalls that we will one day discover.
KT: Was it hard getting your brand into well-known shops?
KAGE: Our originality in designs, quality and price points spoke for themselves. We are ecstatic and grateful for all the positive feedback and response that we have received from the retailers on our first collection.
KT: What separates KAGE from the rest of the emerging designer brands in the industry?
KAGE: The choice of fabrics and accessories that are meshed together to create unique and innovative pieces. Also, the quality and finishing of each individual item is probably most important to us and is something that we will never compromise.
KT: Which fashion designers are you inspired by?
KAGE: There is not one specific designer that inspires us but we must mention Chanel's timeless designs, Christian Louboutin's spot on signature heel, Balmain for its comeback and Alexander Wang and Phillip Lim for their affordable luxury. Not to forget, Elie Saab’s achievements have been very inspirational for the both of us.
KT: How about your favorite accessories designers (shoes and handbags)?
KAGE: Mulberry’s timeless bags and exquisite aging leather is always a tempting choice for a seasonal handbag pick. However, no one can beat the Chanel 2.55 in all colors that has now become arm candy for everyone and is still at the top of our fave picks. For shoes, Chloe makes it on our top 3 list alongside the infamous Jimmy Choo's and Sergio Rossi and given the occasional Balenciaga, Giuseppe Zanotti and other foot bijoux designers.
KT: Can we expect an accessories line from KAGE in the near future?
KAGE: You never know what the future holds but at this point in time, our main focus is ready-to-wear which we are so passionate about.
KT: What and where are your favorite shopping destinations?
KAGE: It varies… In Dubai: Definitely at Boutique 1. In London: At quirky random boutiques. NYC: In Soho and all the renowned multi brand stores. Online on Net-a-porter.com and Boutique1.com and the list goes on.
KT: I love asking this question to designers: If you had the chance to intern with a famous fashion or accessories designer, who or where would it be?
Arwa: The house of Louis Vuitton
Basma: Karl Lagerfeld
KT: Do you have any fashion must-reads? Magazines or books?
KAGE: Currently going through a few inspirational fashion books such as The Atlas of Fashion Designers by Laura Eceiza, as well as Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazaar, 1867-1898 (Dover Pictorial Archives). However, we dare not miss our monthly glossies of W, Elle, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar – UK editions preferred.
KT: Do you read any design/art/fashion or other types of blogs?
KAGE: Of course. We follow Gala Gonzalez on amlul.com, The Sartorialist, Kate Loves Me and lots more. As well as some regional bloggers such as Pastooshian Ramblings, myfashdiary.com and, of course, Khaleejesque.com!
KT: Finally, any advice to young budding designers who have talent and aspirations?
KAGE: Talent is innate and can’t be taught so if you strongly believe and have faith in yourself, your passion will work miracles.
KAGE can be found at Boutique 1 in Dubai, Kitsch Boutique and Cream Boutique in Lebanon and Closet Candy in Kuwait.
– Alya Al-Othman for Khaleejesque. Images courtesy of KAGE.
A glimpse of the Spring collection