Top Banner
Apr / May 2012
Getting a foot in

Writer: Alice Haine

Darmaki is a new luxurious footwear line fusing cutting edge trends and techniques that scream sensuality and femininity. That they’re made in Italy is hardly shocking. That they were designed and created by an Emirati surely is.


“I’m just a simple boy from a small village in Al Ain.” That’s what Emirati shoe designer Sultan Al Darmaki will tell you when you meet him for the first time. These days, that “simple boy” is a much-talked about designer of women's luxury shoes.

Commercial success was not something he had been expecting, when he decided to take part in the Vendome Luxury trade show during Paris Fashion Week in 2010. Al Darmaki expected to walk away without a sale. In fact, he left with orders from five different stockists.

Spurred by the positive reception of his first attempt, he launched his second collection a year later, a showcase of opulence that drew inspiration from the Ottoman Empire and received much praise from the fashion critics.

But the designer is more than the creative force behind the brand; he’s also an astute businessman. Taking on a business partner at an early stage, he manages a team which aims to make him the biggest name in the Middle East. With seven stockists now on board, including some from Ireland and the United States, he talks of bringing in an outside investor and then moving the bulk of his operations to New York. Given his determination so far, there's every chance this vision could come true.

“We are taking the Jimmy Choo road,” he laughs, “but let’s see if I’m the next Tamara Mellon.”

Al Darmaki’s foray into the fashion world came about by following his mother, “a lover of beautiful things”, to the fashion houses of Europe, where she would shop for the latest designs. Enthralled by the colours, fabrics and styles he saw, he began sketching designs of his own, only sharing them with his sisters because he knew that fashion, let alone shoe design, was an unconventional career for a young Emirati man.

“I kept it a secret for a very long time because of our traditions. My childhood was like being in the military. My mum had us wake up at 6 am and we had to be at school by 7:30. We’d come home at 5pm, take a shower and then have a teacher who ran us through all our studies and by 9 we were in bed.”

While this regimented approach is something he now appreciates because it taught him discipline and organisation, he says it also set the tone for his future. When a teacher encouraged him to apply to fashion school and he was accepted, he immediately sat down and told his parents about his dreams.

“It’s not like they were against it. My family’s concern was the reaction from the community,” he says. “It’s unheard of for an Emirati to design shoes.”

Still, Al Darmaki put his dreams on hold and chose a career in marketing and PR, ending up with an Abu Dhabi-based development company, where he still works on a consultancy basis.

In December 2008, he headed to Paris to see friends. Feeling a little down, he wanted to be around other creative types. Several happened to be in fashion and after seeing his portfolio, they encouraged him to pursue shoe design.

Rejuvenated, the aspiring designer set out to raise the capital needed to fund a collection. “It would have been easy to go to my parents to ask for money but then I wouldn’t have appreciated what I have achieved so far,” he explains. “My business partner and I had several jobs and that’s how we raised the funds. Then I flew to Italy and met the shoe manufacturers of Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. I just walked into their office and said I would not leave without seeing one of the partners. Luckily they agreed to meet me, I shared my vision with them and we took it from there.”

Though now enjoying full family support, cultural considerations played a part as he planned how to brand his shoes. Putting the family name on the sole would not be appropriate so instead, he chose the letter D. “Nobody wants to step on their own name. I am still a Bedouin, regardless of where you put me.”

The icing on Al Darmaki’s cake came last year when he was approached by Helen Persson, curator of textiles in the Asian department at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. She asked to acquire one of his Lydia stilettos – a design inspired by the burqa and the Roman Empire - to represent contemporary Middle Eastern fashion in the museum’s permanent collection.

“It was overwhelming because the V & A is one of my favourite museums and to have one of my pieces as part of their archive was just crazy,” he says, still awe-struck. “I never imagined one day I would be part of the fashion industry let alone part of one of the biggest art institutions in the world.”

Right Pane Banner1
your picks
For over half a century, Courchevel and its 600 kilometres of glistening pistes has been one of the world’s most spectacular ski resorts. Though the focus nowadays is on how it’s attracting the world’s most affluent winter vacationers, there’s a lot more to this story.
We do, as the old music hall number goes, like to be beside the seaside. But it turns out you don’t need to be by the sea to live there. Enter Crystal Lagoons, a visionary company creating manmade lagoons everywhere and anywhere.
Mark Weingard’s hotel venture, the Iniala, is more than a stylish hideaway. Part architectural playground, part art collector’s home complete with butler service and Michelin-starred chef, it’s a sensual, visually compelling and extraordinary experience.
Right Pane Banner2
Right Pane Banner4