What do you get when you mix a passionate and creative Emirati Designer with shoes? A show-stopping array of footwear and a global brand that's taking the fashion world by storm. Sultan Al-Darmaki is an enthusiastic and passionate designer who has reinterpreted the art of shoe design by daring to marry a combination of luxurious and rare raw materials in each design. His vision embraces women of all generations and his designs span a wide range of emotions reflecting witty finishes, glamorous impact and classical lines. Already being snatched up by fashionistas, being acquired by a top-notch Art&Design Museum as part of their permanent fashion collection, and splashed all over the headlines; we knew we had get an exclusive interview with Sultan Al-Darmaki and discuss his love for shoes, his designs and his success so far.
Tell us about yourself; have you always been interested in fashion?
Appreciating art and beauty was an integral part of my upbringing, and fashion has always been a fascinating aspect of art that my siblings and I were taught to appreciate from a very young age. I have been sketching womens' wear and shoes since I was probably 12 years old, but I never anticipated that it would be an industry that I would be involved with at this level. Not until two years ago, when I strongly felt that fashion design is my calling, and that it was the perfect time to follow my dream.
How did you get about the idea of creating DARMAKI?
Designing has always been a magical sanctuary and creative journey which I truly enjoy and this is reflected in all my designs. When I could no longer resist the creative urge to proceed with my dream, I decided to launch the brand with the one key skill I had which is designing – but to make the DARMAKI idea a reality we partnered with one of the top manufacturers in Italy who produces for the likes of D&G, Jimmy Choo and Gucci. Simply partnering with them was not enough, I knew immediately that I needed to understand the technical aspect of the craft of shoe making and that is why I spent a lot of my time in Italy to learn and understand the art of making shoes.
Why shoes? Why not clothes or accessories?
I chose designing shoes because of my admiration for the craftsmanship of shoe making and the beauty of footwear through the ages, but more importantly, for the psychology behind footwear. Every pair of shoes or each style empowers a woman with a certain personality and she can tailor her choice of footwear according to her particular mood and sensibility at any given time. To me, your footwear is a form of your self expression.
Having proclaimed my passion for beautiful footwear, I must say that I would love to develop the DARMAKI range and am considering introducing an accessories range in the future. Anything is possible.
What makes your brand so special?
DARMAKI's aesthetic is blending superior design, craftsmanship and materials in an original and unconventional style and there is a story behind each style which encapsulates the personality of the woman who wears DARMAKI – elegant, sophisticated and beautiful. This attention to detail and dedication to understanding what women desire is the key to why DARMAKI stands apart from other footwear designers. Comfort is also a main priority for us and that is not sacrificed no matter how ambitious a particular design is! For example, we hate to see a woman suffer all night and want a woman wearing our shoes to spend her evening dancing pain free! We aim to bring the true meaning of luxury to shoes – and that is achieved through meticulously handcrafting every pair to exacting standards for the DARMAKI woman and this we believe, is what makes DARMAKI unique.
Who do you cater to when designing your shoes?
I cater for a fashion forward and sensual woman, she embodies the modern woman’s confidence and femininity. She is beautiful, both timeless and adventurous in her tastes and demands excellence and exquisite attention to detail. The emphasis of my designs and how I defined what DARMAKI is about comes from a chance meeting two years ago in Abu Dhabi where I met my muse, Princess Fatima Al-Qu’aiti and her family. She epitomises the DARMAKI woman – she is an inspiring example of how Arab women can assert their inner power, and positively embrace both Middle Eastern and Western influence and opportunity.
Can you share some of the hurdles you went through as you set about to create this brand?
Creating an international brand is by no means an easy feat, it requires a lot of hard work, patience and a strong committed team. In our case we have been very blessed, as the brand has an outstanding team from Italy, the UK and the Middle East who are committed to realising the vision of the brand.
How has the response been from your family, friends and general public towards your shoes?
My family and friends have been very supportive about the brand. We at DARMAKI have always taken the public's sentiments into consideration, especially since the career I chose (designing and setting up a footwear label) is not a conventional career choice in the Middle East. However we have been fortunate that the wave of support we have received from the general public and the international press has been overwhelming and positive.
Do you think the Arab Gulf public/business community encourages fashion-feats and initiatives?
Although the Gulf public and business community are very sophisticated and savvy when it comes to fashion and exposure to fashion starts from a very young age, we are still in the process of catching up with the West in some aspects. One can't deny that they have established institutions supporting the fashion industry – whether it is the design schools or governing bodies such as the British Fashion Council in the UK. It is positive that the younger generation are aware of the required steps to put the Gulf and the Middle East on the global fashion map and we will get there at a solid concrete pace.
What's in the future for DARMAKI? Can you share some exciting news?
Since the brand's launch six months ago, we have been nominated as a global entrepreneur by the UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) programme and most recently, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has acquired one of our designs "Lydia" as part of is permanent collection alongside the great masters of shoe making history – a tremendous honour. At this point we are very much looking forward to what may be next in store for DARMAKI.
There are also a number of events we are considering to coincide with the launch of the new SS 12 collection.
How do you feel about the recent acquisition of your shoes to the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of their permanent collection?
It is overwhelming to think that having just launched my first footwear collection, an institution such as the V&A has invited me to carve a place for DARMAKI in fashion history alongside the world’s greatest designers and artists. Lydia was chosen as a museum worthy showcase piece for the archive because it truly represents the DARMAKI aesthetic of mixing contemporary design with hints of Middle Eastern influences. Needless to say, I am honoured and humbled to be the first contemporary Middle Eastern footwear designer to be represented in the V&A.
Anything you'd like to tell our readers or advice to people wanting to break out into the fashion field?
You need to have determination and be open to sheer hard work – my day starts from 8am and ends at 3am. You need to believe in yourself, your talent and your ability. There can be many set backs when you are starting up a business but the trick is to keep going, absorb the feedback and build on each and every experience.
– Khaleejesque Staff
Images courtesy of DARMAKI