In the sweltering heat of the U.A.E. desert, amidst sand dunes and dry, dusty wind, came the unlikely sparkle of crystals and designer-wear.

Swarovski’s Neo-Arabia shoot was underway, with focus being placed on eight social media mavens. It was an ideal way to make waves on the Internet – when you photograph bloggers, they are very likely to blog about it. Shot at the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara in Abu Dhabi, the photographs were also set to become a mainstream feature in the fifth edition of Swarovski’s magazine, featuring quite a collection of crystal-encrusted design, of course!

The cover of the fifth edition of Swarovski's magazine
The cover of the fifth edition of Swarovski's magazine

The handpicked lineup of bloggers included women from the Middle East and, in a proud moment, Salima Fareesta from Pakistan.

Also read: A camera, the desert and Beyonce's boots (the story of my high-end Abu Dhabi phootshoot)

Further indicative of Swarovski’s growing strength in Pakistan were two Pakistani brands that were handpicked for the project. Khaadi and Maria B. proudly held their own, rubbing shoulders with some very illustrious international counterparts like Jean Paul Gaultier and Aigner. Maria B.’s hot off the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week design, in fact, is now featured on the cover of this month’s Swarovski’s magazine, worn by Philippina blogger Mariyah Gaspacho.

Maria B's design in the Neo-Arabia shoot
Maria B's design in the Neo-Arabia shoot

“It’s certainly a high to see my designs on the cover of an international magazine,” says Maria. “The cut-worked pants, jacket and belt were selected by the Swarovski team that was present at PSFW. I didn’t even have to alter it as they told me that most bloggers fit into runway sizes.”

Did Maria’s inclusion in the shoot have anything to do with her husband Tahir Saeed being Market Manager to Swarovski in Pakistan?

Apparently not. “They just zoned in on brands that they do business with the most,” explains Maria. “We use Swarovski crystals very frequently in our bridal-wear, luxury-pret, unstitched embroidered line and lawn. We’re even about to use them as embellishment in our upcoming prêt collection. Customers appreciate the high-end quality association and the Swarovski seal that accompanies their purchases. The PSFW collection had similarly been embellished heavily with Swarovski crystals.”

Similarly, within the magazine, Dubai-based blogger Deema Al-Asadi wore a pink-and-silver Khaadi top intricately crafted with crystals, also from the PSFW runway. “They picked the outfit,” confirms designer Shamoon Sultan, who is now hoping to translate some semblance of the collection to retail racks.

“What we showed at PSFW was pure couture and would be far too expensive for the high street. We’re going to tone down the designs and make them more cost-effective.”

With a Pakistani blogger and two Pakistani brands included in the Neo-Arabia shoot, it is clear the Swarovski has faith in its nascent growth in the local market. Having launched merely in 2014, the brand has been making definite inroads, quite visible at local fashion weeks and latching on to the lucrative realms of designer lawn.

The Neo-Arabia shoot in progress
The Neo-Arabia shoot in progress

Nevertheless, it can’t be said that Swarovski is an absolute sensation yet. We are, after all, quite accustomed to bling, with a genealogy entrenched in the shimmer of gota, dabka and myriad other hand embroideries. Faced with these formidable competitors, Swarovski brings to the fore great quality, years of research and development and a brand name that exudes affluence and a high fashion vibe.

Will it remain limited to the occasional fashion week, expensive bridal-wear and luxury-pret and eye-catching fashion shoots? Or will Swarovski manage to last the long haul, complementing – if not overtaking – our vast reservoir of indigenous handwork?

Time will tell; although Neo Arabia with its multi-ethnic bloggers turned models and culturally diverse design shows promise.

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