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Inverness teen almost banned from Abu Dhabi fashion show for rainbow design


An Inverness teenager was threatened with disqualification just 15 minutes before taking to the stage in an Abu Dhabi fashion show after officials deemed her use of rainbows culturally inappropriate.

Orla Ni Eadhra, formally of Inverness Royal Academy, travelled to the Middle East earlier this month to compete in the final of the 2022 Junk Kouture fashion show.

The international competition challenges high school students to design, upcycle and create high-end designs from recycled products.

The 18-year-old was one of 60 to take to the runway with her creation Jump for Joy, a dress designed from sweetie wrappers, and an old trampoline.

Orla Ni Eadhra said she chose to incorporate rainbow colours for no other reason but to create a contrast. Image: Orla Ni Eadhra.

However, she almost didn’t get there, after less than 20 minutes before going on stage officials threatened to block her from competing due to the inclusion of rainbows on both her dress and make-up.

Rainbows are considered to be a symbol of support for the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and same-sex adoption in the United Arab Emirates is considered illegal.

Miss Ni Eadhra has stressed there was no political motivation to her design.

Shock at disqualification threat

The teen said she was shocked when government officials attempted to disqualify her from the competition.

She said: “I think my teacher and my teammate were more shocked than I. I just thought ‘Oh well, of course, something bad was going to happen.’

“We had about 15 minutes before we had to all get out of the changing room.  Just before my teacher left, she got called out by one of the people and I thought this is either going to be really good or really bad.

The young creator from Inverness spoke of how she was forced to come up with a brand new design for her corset if she wanted to compete in the final. Image: Orla Ni Eadhra.

“She came back in with tears in her eyes and said ‘You have to change your outfit or you’re not allowed to go on.’

With little time to think, she and her team sprung into action, creating a whole new design for her corset.

“We had lots of ideas and just a few minutes of thinking time,” she added.

“I had one box of extra Quality Street wrappers with me, a really small box that I almost didn’t bring. I almost left it at home and in the hotel room, thinking I wouldn’t need it so I was really thankful for that.

“In the end, we laid out all the sweet wrappers we could get from that tub which wasn’t really a lot and then sellotaped them all together to make a massive sheet of mixed colours.”

The Inverness teenager was not the only competitor to face backlash due to the country’s anti-LGBT laws.

CJ King and Jazzlyn Vargas from New Jersey in the United States were disqualified from competing just hours before they were due to take to the stage.

The rainbow design went right round the dress.

Their creation, titled The Nightingale, was flagged by authorities for not being culturally appropriate as King, a boy, was wearing the dress.

The incident led to a review of the event, to determine which designs were considered appropriate for the stage.

An investigation has now been launched by Junk Kouture to understand the events leading up to the last-minute decision

No political motivation with rainbow design

Despite the ordeal, the teen took to the stage, and won the London designer of the year award.

Miss Ni Eadhra said she never intended for her “innocent” design to cause such controversy.

She said: “I just thought a rainbow goes really well with black so I made a contrast.”

Congratulations Orla! 🤩🎉🏆Orla Ni Eadhra received the award for City Designer of the Year for London at the World Final…

Posted by Inverness Royal Academy on Thursday, 12 January 2023

She admits all the changes left her struggling to see the creation as her own.

Miss Ni Eadhra added: “I was lucky to have won the award but the thing is, the judging was done the day before, well most of it, so they had seen my dress before, in its original state.

“All the videos of me performing and accepting the award, it’s in a dress that was not really what I intended to show.

“I felt I got an award for a different thing than what I was presenting. I felt like I was walking in someone else’s creation, it wasn’t really mine.”

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[Inverness teen almost banned from Abu Dhabi fashion show for rainbow design]

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