MICHAEL AMAZONA DEL MAR “BEHIND THE VELVET ROPES- BACKBONES OF UAE’S FLOURISHING FASHION INDUSTRY “

Michael Amazona Del Mar, the backbone, the essence of some of the most luxury fashion weeks in the UAE. He started his career as a Junior model booker 18 years ago from today, at one of the first modelling agencies at that time in Dubai. Having an educational history of being an accountant by nature, and zero knowledge of how the fashion industry works, Michael quotes “working as a booker, opened doors to the fashion industry for me.”

As time went by, Michael made a name for himself as a booker and was approached by the CEO of Fashion Forward Dubai to become a part of their team because of his commendable knowledge. Soon, he was appointed as the casting director of Fashion Forward for all their 11 seasons. In the 7 years of his working at Fashion Forward, he was able to build a career for himself – bringing in regional talents from all across the globe, breaking and leveling up model standards for Fashion Weeks in Dubai. 

Being indulged into the direction of shows, this had now become a passion of Michael’s.

Curious to know what got him that name and fame? Let’s ask Michael Amazona himself! 

Q1. What made you leave the path of being an Accountant and become a Model Booker in the first place?

I have always been fascinated with Fashion. Way back when I was in college, my best friend was a model And I would always accompany her in her castings and shows.  We would both skip classes and go to her booked jobs. That point in my life I told myself I wanted to be working in this industry.

Q2. When you mentioned “working as a model booker, opened doors to the fashion industry for me.” How did you, being a model booker, help you in achieving that step?

In 2003, I started Working in Dubai in the hospitality industry, however with a stroke of luck, I tried to walk-in to work as a model booker for DIVA models in 2006, which I was gladly accepted. That time, I knew this was it for me! Over time I managed to earn my way to the top. Being promoted as the Head Booker of the Agency, I have serviced the biggest stakeholders in Dubai’s Fashion Industry from Dubai Fashion Week, Cartier, Loreal, Chalhoub and Various fashion magazines.

Q3. What was your first reaction when you received that call from the CEO of Dubai Fashion Forward? What do you think made Dubai Fashion Forward give you such a big opportunity?

In my stint as the Head Booker of Diva Models, I have made quite a name for myself in the fashion industry back then. That Naturally led me to be head hunted by the CEO and Founder of Dubai Fashion Forward, Bong Guerrero, to be part of the CORE TEAM of the organization, as the CASTING DIRECTOR. It was a huge opportunity for me, as Dubai Fashion Forward was a huge platform and it meant that I had to step up my game and prove that I could handle such a key post.  

Q4. How was your overall experience working at Dubai Fashion Forward? What are the barriers and challenges you faced while working there?

Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD) ultimately became the biggest definitive fashion platform in Dubai and the Middle East. FFWD provided a platform and a progressive direction for fashion in the region for 11 SEASONS. We had 2 shows in a year and we ran for almost 7 years. It was to date the most successful Fashion Week platforms Dubai has ever seen.  As the casting director, I had to cast over 200 models every season, and the model standards that we had to put up with had to be at par with International Standards from the Fashion weeks in Milan, Paris and New York in order to stay competitive.  And that was the main Challenge. As the supply of high-quality Models in Dubai was not enough. We had to educate the entire industry on how to control the quality of the models being flown in.  At one point, we had to fly most of our models in town in order to supply the shows. 

Q5. Do you think Being the Casting Director of Dubai Fashion Forward, has got you the recognition you deserve?

Yes and No, Yes, as it did kind of put my name there in the OPEN.  I have received a number of distinctions from Industry and Community Organizations, one was being Voted as one of the 100 Most Influential Filipinos in the GULF for 4 straight years by Illustrado Magazine.  I was also recognized by CNN Arabia and Dubai Fashion Network and the Filipino Times.

No, also in the sense that people who work at the back end of fashion shows or fashion weeks, the so-called “behind the velvet ropes” don’t get really celebrated or the recognition they truly deserve for their efforts. It is often only the designers and the models who do get recognized.  Unlike in highly advanced markets in Paris and Milan, Casting and Show Directors are really powerful and influential, they go toe to toe with the Designers Themselves.

Q7. How did Dubai Fashion Forward closing down affect your career path? How did you manage to battle it?

The Pandemic Really Hit the Fashion Industry by Storm and the eventual closure of Dubai Fashion Forward created a huge void in the market. Lucky for me It wasn’t my only source of income. I had other endeavors that allowed me to diversify my work and time.

Q8. What were those other Endeavors apart from casting Direction, and How did you manage to make your name to gain such opportunities?

During my Dubai Fashion Forward Days, I tried to dabble slowly into show directing fashion shows and I have to say, it grew on me.  I remember we used to have three halls and about 6 shows per hall every day. So, I had to ask our Designer Relationship Director if I could get some shows to direct apart from just casting the models and because of the shortage of Directors, and scheduling conflicts, I was given a few. Show Directing is a completely different perspective of the Fashion Show, it is the performance element and you have to juxtapose the collection, the models, the lights, sound and visuals altogether.  It is a huge responsibility; the show direction will make or break the eventual SHOW.

Post Pandemic, I have only been doing mostly Show Directing and Backstage Management.  This has led me to work with some amazing brands such as Michael Cinco, Amato Couture, Juicy Couture, All Saints, Hugo Boss, D&G, Chanel, and Arab Fashion Week.

 

Q9. How has your journey been directing shows and managing the backstage for big designers and brands like Michael Cinco, Amato Couture, Juicy Couture, All Saints, Hugo Boss, D&G, Chanel, Arab Fashion Week and so on?

It was always my dream to direct the fashion shows of the biggest couture designers in the Middle East and to be able to achieve them is truly another feather on my cap. Directing the Michael Cinco Couture show was one of them.  I am so proud of what Michael Cinco has achieved as a Filipino designer, and to be able to execute his vision onto his shows is nothing but challenging but equally rewarding.

On the other hand, Working with Huge International Brands such as Chanel, Hugo Boss, and Dolce and Gabbana is completely a new ball game. You have to respect the amount of work ethic the team behind each brand put in creating their Fashion Shows. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to take part in the local production for their DUBAI Shows specifically on backstage management. I learned a lot working and rubbing elbows with international models, casting directors, and show directors. It’s not all glamorous backstage though, and at some point, it is “all hell breaks loose”. But the job is to “keep it together” and at that we were able to pull off.

Q10.  We also know that you started your own events management company, Ikon Productions? How has that brought you where you are today and why do you think having something of your own was necessary?

DIVERSIFICATION is the key to Success in this day of age.  Since Dubai Fashion Forward was only running twice a year, I needed to have a source of income during the off-season. So, it was a necessity to be entrepreneurial and because I was well exposed in Events, it was just a natural fit for me to set up my own event management agency. The Dubai Market being saturated with event management companies, I needed to find a competitive niche without conflicting my interest with the role I was playing in Dubai Fashion Forward.   The challenge was to have “not just another event agency”

 

Q11. How difficult was it to juggle between directing shows and running your own events company? Did that become a big challenge for your career?

Yes of course, when you already have regular clients both in our events agency and Fashion Shows. It is always hard to keep a balance. Time Management is Key to make sure that you deliver in both endeavors and to make sure that your quality is always high in order to satisfy your clients.  The challenge of doing events is that you can’t really predict what could happen live.  What you can do is to better plan for the contingencies that could happen and set up controls to address them if they eventually turn up. 

Q12. Tell me a little bit about what IKON productions does and how it has grown to being one of the leading agencies in Dubai?

IKON Productions is one of the leading experiential marketing agencies in Dubai and the UAE that focuses on delivering unique activations in retail and residential destinations.

Our key solutions are fully customized family orientated activations, bespoke entertainment, seasonal décor, and fashion shows.  We are currently servicing all the leading Shopping Mall Groups in the UAE, namely Dubai Holding, Meraas, Al Futtaim Group, Burjuman, and Nakheel.

Q13. What toll did the pandemic take on your career, when events were shut down for almost a year?

The Pandemic was really tough for everyone in the events industry to say the least.  I had to lay off a couple of people from my events agency and as well as limit our company expenditures to a minimum to keep it afloat. Literally there were no physical events hence there were no fashion shows as well.

Q14. How have you managed to evolve and grow further post-pandemic?

Thank God, we were able to bounce back right away, But Thanks to the UAE government’s pandemic response, live events came back in no time.  The challenge now is to sustain the work that we get and make sure that we deliver so that it would translate to repeat jobs.  It has not been financially rewarding but at least we can still manage to make ends meet.  Looking ahead, we need to make sure that we market ourselves to a wider audience and try to diversify our operations so we can close more jobs.

Q15. Is there anything you would like to tell our readers, any new opportunities or advice when it comes to making your own name in the fashion industry?

Integrity is very important in this business.  When I say integrity, it means doing the right thing even if external influences are around.  The fashion industry is filled with a lot of opinionated people and in order to find your mark, you need to first find your own voice.  Once people know that you stand for what you believe in then you have earned their respect.  Lastly, it pays to be diplomatic. Nothing is ever achieved by burning bridges, especially in the fashion industry when literally everyone knows everyone.

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