I’ve grown with fashion in Dubai: How Kevin Oliver is bringing theatrical magic to the city’s buzzing fashion scene



Playwright. Theatre director. Teacher. Fashion choreographer. Musician.

It’s impossible to pin Kevin Oliver to one creative pursuit or label, though he’s perhaps best known for helming some of Dubai’s most memorable student-led musicals, which, growing up in the city, you were lucky to have experienced or been a part of.

Oliver, who is of Indian origin and arrived in Dubai in the mid-1980s from Bengaluru, threw his creative might into stunning shows like ‘Starlight Express’, ‘Saturday Night Fever’, ‘The Lost’ and ‘Shakuntala’, inspiring young talent and impressing diverse audiences.

But there’s more to his repertoire than three decades of acclaimed theatrical productions. Oliver also has a long-standing interest in fashion, a passion which drove him to work his way up in Dubai’s fashion scene as a choreographer and creative director.

Constantly buzzing with energy and ideas, Oliver has a knack for engaging his audience, whether it’s hundreds at one of his famed musicals, a bunch of discerning fashionistas sizing up a catwalk show, or even a slightly jaded writer hunting for inspiration. Sitting across this livewire in a crowded coffee shop in Dubai and watching the animated tale of his journey in the city’s fashion scene unfold, I couldn’t help but embrace his ‘carpe diem’ vibe.

Oliver is all praise for a recent gig at London Fashion Week, where he choreographed private shows for “brilliant Dubai-based fashion house Atelier Zuhra around the most beautiful locations in London.”

But while he acknowledges the allure and commercial might of fashion destinations like London, Milan and Paris, he feels there’s no place like Dubai, where the quality of fashion events remains impeccable.

“Dubai has spoiled me! I’ve done Fashion Weeks in London, Toronto, Moscow, India and Colombo; there is nothing to touch the production standards we reach here. Even our models are on a completely different level.”

Aside from flawless production values, Oliver feels storytelling and music, even a bit of drama, are also what define a unique fashion show. “Different is my middle name,” he says with a laugh.

Oliver was brimming with similar confidence and groundbreaking ideas even before Dubai morphed into the bustling, style-savvy metropolis it is today. But did anyone take him seriously at the time?

“I feel like I have been here forever,” he says, recalling when the Dubai World Trade Centre would tower over everything else on Sheikh Zayed Road. “I’ve grown with fashion in Dubai! But, when I started out, no one wanted to use me. I was this boy from India who people would look at and wonder: What does he know about fashion? Would he know anything about music, lighting, the ramp and how models should walk?”

“It was a really difficult time to break into the fashion market,” he admits, revealing that one of his first shows was a free one; he refers (in gently mocking tones) to the venue as an “appalling restaurant” in a club. “I cringe when I think of what I did for this show, but everyone has to start somewhere.”


Fortunately for Oliver, better opportunities were just around the corner.

“I was very lucky in the 1990s to come across a Lebanese couple, the Boutroses, who were running exhibitions at the Dubai World Trade Centre. One of the biggest ones was called ‘Woman’, an annual event which had a fashion area showcasing creations from the best designers of the time. This is where I actually started (my career), meeting designers and design houses, then growing with them. They appreciated the passion with which I worked, and my theatre and music background was definitely a plus.”

Oliver feels “every fashion show should have a plotline” or theme, with which music, choreography and direction can blend seamlessly to create a memorable event.

This level of creative visualization and attention to detail eventually attracted work from talented UAE-based designers like Amato, Michael Cinco, Ezra, Rami Ali and Saher Dia. “They are all expats but have been working in Dubai for years and doing very well in the market,” he says.

It was just a matter of time before offers from international labels began to pop up as well. Oliver says he went from explaining where Dubai is on the map to people abroad, to witnessing the city’s spectacular growth, a phenomenon that was obviously a huge boost to the fashion industry.

“Every conceivable building popped up on Sheikh Zayed Road, taking over the skyline of Dubai, which became this fabulous city. Halls and ballrooms were bigger, and that encouraged us to plan bigger shows. So, as Dubai grew, got more famous and attracted more designers, my workload also increased.”

He recalls the thrill of working with Dolce & Gabbana on a show in The Dubai Mall for the launch of the brand’s showroom. “I think I was the only Indian guy choreographing,” he says with a laugh. “The rest were brought down from Paris. Over a hundred models and their stylists were also flown over; I think it was one of the biggest shows ever held in The Dubai Mall.”

Rihanna’s makeup line launch, the Valentino showcase in Abu Dhabi, mall shows for DKNY, Kate Spade, Kenneth Cole and many other prominent events are all part of Oliver’s extensive repertoire. He remains grateful for his “amazing journey” in Dubai’s ever-evolving fashion scene, that opened up avenues to work with the biggest designers in the world.

“I don’t think I would have ever had these opportunities elsewhere,” he says, adding, “I did immigrate to Canada some years ago, but I ran back to Dubai! I just couldn’t find the kind of work or the level of work that I do in Dubai.”


As Oliver’s international workload increased, the local fashion scene also continued to get busier.

Post his involvement with Dubai Fashion Week, Fashion Forward and Arab Fashion Week among several other projects, Oliver felt inspired to launch something on his own. A conversation with two friends led to the inception of the platform It’s All In A Day, a new take on the traditional ‘fashion week’ concept.

“It’s All In A Day, which showcases the work of five or six designers, is a mixture of three of my strengths – theatre, with lighting and special effects, and music, because I believe it’s the essence of fashion. When you’re sitting in a darkened auditorium, waiting for the first model to appear, your sense of sound should be moved first. We want to take you on a journey in fashion and in music. Our third season is coming up this November.”

As someone who started playing the piano at four years old, music has been an integral part of Oliver’s existence. “Music is my soul, and the ability to mix it now in the way I want to, with fashion, is the ultimate feeling.”

Another project Oliver is looking forward to is Miss Universe India UAE 2024, to be held this June. “As Creative Director, I hope it works the way I’m visualizing it. I would love the crowd – not just the judges – to get to know the girls. Also, it’s all about India, so I’m very excited. This is a bit of a give-back to the country.”

He’s also working on a “breakthrough show” in Jaipur, India, for a jewellery designer. “She wants a completely niche show, utilizing a location that kind of weaves around the designs. It would be very theatrical, but something really special.”

With multiple projects on his plate and plans in his head, what does the seemingly ageless Oliver have to say – in parting – about Dubai, a city that has inspired and encouraged him for decades?

“Dubai is growing and growing. I don’t see myself doing anything like this in any other part of the world.” – Enid Parker is a writer based in Dubai.


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