A Touch of Arabia

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Beena Soni, Designer

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From an expatriate make-up artist to being the first Indian Jalabiya designer in the UAE, Beena Soni has not let her lack of formal training in the business keep her from being the queen bee of Haute Couture Jalabiyas. Yasmeen Maqbool weaves her story

Enter Beenas, an haute couture boutique in Jalabiyas on Jamal Abdul Naaser Street, Sharjah, and the smell of Oud mingled with Arabic music envelopes you. Your senses drown in a sea of bright rustic colours in long, flowing drapes and sleeves, embellished with gold trimmings, Swarovski crystals, traditional Emirati embroidery – talli work, zardosi, zari, aari work, appliques, sequin and pearls. Jalabiyas for Beena are synonyms to femininity, beauty and grace. Beena believes, “They are the outfits for the future as they can be extremely fashionable, very individualistic and full of identity and tradition.”

CHANGING CANVAS

Beena Soni, considered among the first Indian Jalabiya designer in the UAE, has ventured in different realms of the design world. She has been an artist always but her canvas and palette have changed from working at facial make-up to today designing haute couture jalabiyas for sheikhas of the royal family from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. For Beena, working with the local women is a comfortable choice, and she has intricately woven a long thread of success.

She stands in a league of her own with her niche cut and tailoring that render her outfit a unique western touch with ethnic renaissance. Her choice of colours infused with diverse fabrics as chiffon, satin, cotton, linen, lace, muslin, Indian raw silk and even PVC, intricate workmanship and unconventional cuts revive old technique with modernity.

CHANGING TRENDS

Beena is an observer, and her analysis fingers at a 180 degree change in trend. “Change is imminent,” she asserts. But as trends change so does fashion and she takes full advantage of the designer in her. She understands that it is the day to day lifestyle and living that influences this change. ‘When you wear what you are comfortable in, you are able to function better’, is the guiding line that helps her sketch her ever-evolving collection. She lends an eager ear to her customers’ feed-back and takes inspiration for her new line.

She feels the pulse of what’s in fashion. “Pastels is the trend today,” she understands. For Eida-Adhha (the big Eid) my collection will entail jalabiyas in pastel hues with gold embroidery. Every collection she designs is a hybrid between the Arab culture and Indian workmanship, with a modern cut.

A JEWEL IN HER CROWN

Innovation is the key to challenging and competing with your best. She tells of a jalabiya she had designed for a bride from Abu Dhabi that was laden with 10.5 kg of gold and cost half a million dirhams. This has been perhaps the most expensive jalabiya to date which was a prospective entry for the Guinness World Record in the year 2010.

“If I’ll do something, I’ll do it the best,” says Beena with a spark of confidence. Meeting her eyes, one can immediately get more than just a glimpse of her persona. She is simple, but smart; she is a shy Gujarati in soul, but a confident and a daring woman in spirit.

It is perhaps this simplicity and humility that has helped her go ways, treading on a self-professed path enroute to unattainable heights. The only two people, who have had a hand in her success today, are her parents, she credits. “My father, Dalsukh Rai Soni, a gold merchandiser designed magnificent gold sets,” and whose design books are to date a source of inspiration for her. “And my mother, Pushpa R Soni, had an excellent hand at embroidery and stitching,” she recalls.

What’s more, her interaction with people has helped her become a linguist. With ease she now talks in Arabic, Irani, Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi and English. “Life is a school and you can learn almost anything through your observation,” she reaffirms.

DUBAI GOVERNMENT ROCKS

Today’s talent is fortunate in receiving uncompromised encouragement from the government of Dubai. “They inspire enthusiasm in new talent and reassure them support in every respect,” Beena states. This is the building block of a progressive nation, and the UAE is a model.

Nonetheless, she understands, this invigorates competition in business. “I cherish competition, as it establishes my place in the market as a well-positioned designer who has a loyal following and distant reach,” she smiles.

This self-assurance has led her to not sell her designs at sale or discounted prices ever, “It’s only when you are confident of your product do you set a price for it and know that this is its price point. You will not settle for less.”

EVER-EVOLVING

Beena though having established as an Indian Jalabiya designer in the Gulf, now enthuses the Indian market with her fusions. With a store in Mumbai, India, Beena has been dressing consul generals’ wives, foreign delegates and their guests in her designs. “My customer’s demand to wear my designs even when at a vacation, opened doors for me to enter the Indian market three years ago,” she explains.

But this hasn’t deterred her from venturing into ever- evolving roles. She keeps busy assisting entrepreneurs seeking to venture into the fashion world, giving guidelines to set up businesses and learn nuances of setting up a franchise too.

Yet another innovative idea Beena has ventured in is with Laila M Belselah, an Emirati entrepreneur in customized gift- packing. Together they design gift-wrapping boxes in which tailor-made singular gift-pack is designed for sheikhas. What is unique about this endeavor, is that it is a never-before treaded path. It involves customizing each box with details as: The customer’s name on the jalabiya, hanger, complete details of quality of fabric: Weight in grams of the fabric, colour description of the thread, total weight of the dress, description of the embroidery/weave on it.

If you want a visual treat of her creations keep track of your TV sets, as Beena is popular with shows at Dubai TV and Abu Dhabi TV anchors. You will see before you a designer with her creations that are both inspirational and urging applause.

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