Sunday, November 20, 2011

Food for Thought…

Middle East Fashion’s Nouvelle Vague: Aramco World Magazine

Launched in 1949, Aramco World Magazine is one of the longest running English language publications dedicated to the Middle East and its Diaspora. Circulated amongst universities and embassies alike, the publication has long provided a much needed literary bridge between the Middle East and the West. As a child I would wait for each issue, which provided a diverse and faceted perspective on the region and its links to a larger world.

I recently had the opportunity to write a piece for Aramco World exploring a new generation of Middle Eastern designers, who are redefining the region's fashion scene today. Far from being a fashion piece it addresses issues related to education, design awareness and the challenges in establishing a credible fashion industry in the region.

You can read the piece here

From the Archives: Tehran in Vogue

In 1969 Vogue sent the photographer Henry Clarke to Iran to photograph models Marisa Berenson and Lauren Hutton amongst the historic monuments of Persepolis and Shiraz. But for Diana Vreeland, at the time Vogue’s Editor in Chief, a trip to Persia wasn’t simply about capturing the latest fashions in an exotic location, but an occasion to showcase its contemporary arts and fashion scene. Vogue first featured Iran in 1965, yet this time around the publication seemed to capture a youth quake movement which mirrored its counterparts in the West.

Vreeland’s cosmopolitan and sophisticated approach to showcasing Iran within Vogue’s pages included an interview with its Empress Farah Diba, photographed by Clarke wearing antique gold Persian jewelry and a dress “like those worn by women in the south of Persia.”

Flipping through the December 1969 issue one comes across a rare advertisement for Iran Air, promoting its flight service from London to Tehran. While it’s regular “Boutique” page (edited by a young Carrie Donovan) featured Vida Zahedi’s chic Tehran store “Number One Avenue Sanieddoleh.” 
Shahbanou Farah Diba photographed by Henri Clarke for Vogue, 1969.  

Tehran’s bright young things at “Number One Avenue Sanieddoleh,” Vogue, 1969.

Iran Air advertisement, Vogue, 1969.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

D’NA Celebrates 5 Years of Fashion Magic with a New Website & Much More…

I recently teamed up with Deena Abdulaziz to re-launch the website of her cutting edge store/gallery, D’NA, in Riyadh. The culmination of 7 months of hard work, I will be collaborating closely with the D’NA team as the site’s new editor, shaping content that, like The Polyglot, bridges East and West.
Abdulaziz is someone whom I have a great deal of respect for in the industry. In addition to blazing a trail in the business and exposing the wider fashion world to another face of the Middle East, she is also known for having a sixth sense when it comes to spotting young talent; often buying the first collections from designers who today are receiving CFDA awards.

We worked together to re-imagine the D’NA website as a virtual extension of the store. Through interviews with inspiring individuals we meet, to the behind the scenes photo-essays covering fashion week, the hope is to create a site the changes perceptions. 

Since launching in 2006, D’NA has made its mission to inspire with a cosmopolitan mix of cutting edge design and art from around the globe. To celebrate the store’s fifth anniversary we created a custom APP which will be available at the Apple store, as well as an I-Pad version of the D’NA site to be launched soon. Members will now be able to connect to the D’NA universe at home and throughout the world.

Like the store, the D’NA website will constantly evolve with news and events. The Moodboard will feature a rotating selection of images and stories on all that inspires us in the worlds of art, culture, fashion and travel. These include exclusive interviews with fashion personalities, cultural figures and inspiring travel destinations; all brought to you by our international team of guest-editors scattered around the world from Beirut to Paris and beyond.

The new virtual Lookbook offers a tantalizing glimpse at the exclusive designs we will be featuring in the store each season.

As we begin to celebrate D’NA’s 5th anniversary, we have been hard at work organizing a series of exciting in-store events, trunk shows and exhibits that will bring the fashion world to your door step.

In September the site will come alive with specially commissioned pieces that have been months in the planning.

If you enjoyed reading the Polyglot, I do hope you will take the time to visit the new DNA site and sign up for the newsletter.

You can also follow us on Facebook and twitter for updates, news and inspiring stories.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

And the front row goes too…

Amongst the usual sightings at Gaultier’s Spring 2011 couture show, that included Catherine Deneuve, Pedro Almodóvar and Princess Marie Chantal of Greece, one Middle Eastern client took the unusual step to sit front row.

Described by famed fashion illustrator Gladys Perint Palmer, as ”big mink, veil with diamanté, and the largest red croc bag,” Madame Jana Al Wazzan is one of the few visible Middle Eastern clients to have emerged on the couture scene recently (though clients from the region still constitute a large portion of couture’s customer base).

Tunisian stunner Hanaa Ben Abdesslem opens Giambattista Valli’s debute haute couture show for Fall 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Food for Thought...

When Beirut Met Jaipur…

An intriguing pop-up store brings the world to Beirut’s doorstep

Beginning June 30th Beirut, arguably one of the Middle East’s most cosmopolitan cities, will host a unique retail experiment meant to bridge cultures through art, design and fashion.

BEIRUT LOVES JAIPUR is the first in a series of pop-up stores showcasing a particular city’s design sensibilities. To be sure, the Levantine capital is no stranger to the “guerilla store” concept. Back in 2008 Comme des Garçons opened a temporary boutique within an old home in the city’s hip Ashrafieh district. Its success pointed to a hunger in the Middle East for retail concepts that think outside the box.

BEIRUT LOVES JAIPUR is the brainchild of two friends; Nour Sabbagh Chahal and Nur Kaoukji. Like many Lebanese of their generation, the two friends have studied, worked and lived abroad. Much of those polyglot experiences inform their work and view of the world around them.

Chahal is a young photographer/art director who divides her time between Beirut and Paris, where she’s worked with the likes of Harper’s Bazaar and Vanessa Bruno. It was through meeting designers, artists and creative individuals from around the globe, which first gave Chahal the idea of creating a space to expose this inspiring world to Beiruties.

Kaoukji also comes with an impressive resume. After graduating from the London College of Fashion, she snagged a coveted position as an assistant to Munnu Kasliwal at Jaipur’s legendary Gem Palace (responsible for concocting the whimsical baubles for Alexander McQueens 2008 Fall collection). The experience exposed Nur to the intricate handiwork of Indian workshops, and prompted her to launch her own clothing label (titled Noon) which makes use of India’s rich textiles and printing techniques. Today she lives between Jaipur and Beirut.

Together, the two friends have pulled their resources and connections to create a unique retail environment they describe as a “travel trunk filled with inspiring treasures.” Beirut’s world savy residents, as well as the throngs of tourists who descend on the city during the summer, can expect an eclectic mix of contemporary Indian design. These include translucent hand-blown glass candlesticks in jewel tones, Bollywood posters, and printed T-dresses from Noon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

So many projects…So little blogging

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all the positive feedback these last few weeks.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I don’t post regularly.

I have been MIA working on various projects, including a new article for a publication which I will share with you in the near future.

I’ve also teamed up with one of the Middle East’s foremost style icons (and a good friend) to launch a new project in the region and internationally. We’ve been working hard for the past six months and more will be revealed in time. It is an exciting and ambitious project that has been a dream of ours. So if you don’t see too many posts over the next few months you will know why.

In the meantime please continue to explore past stories on the site and I look forward to your comments.

The Polyglot

Damascus Chic: A Guide worth the Read

When the first travel guides were originally conceived around the 18th century, roaming the world was a luxury only the very wealthy could afford. Instead, they were mostly destined for home-bound individuals with a desire to experience exotic lands from the comfort of an armchair. Written in often flowery descriptive prose and accompanied by equally exotic illustrations, they were the equivalent of a hand-held cabinet of curiosities.

Today such books are rare to find; but if there was ever a chic travel guide this is it:
Damascus: A Travel Guide
(Editions de la Revue Phenicienne)

My dear friend Carole Corm (a talented writer and fellow polyglot) recently sent me a copy of her latest project in the mail. Teaming up with May Mamarbachi (the name behind Damascus’s first boutique hotel, Beit Al Mamlouka), the two set out to create a guide that merges old-world allure with 21st century characters.

Within this beautifully bound guide, Damascus’ hidden gems are revealed through the eyes of its worldly inhabitants (including architects, boutique owners, artists and filmmakers).

What’s fascinating about this guide is how it captures a city where history rubs shoulders with the 21st century. A 15th century Jewish merchant’s house now a boutique hotel or an Art Deco building now home to an artist’s studio. In a sense it’s a homage to a city with a long history of cultural co-mingling.

Merci Carole pour ce beau cadeau!

From the Vogue Archives: Stella in Damascus

British Vogue, May 2009
Back in 2009 British Vogue sent Stella Tennant to Damascus for a fashion story shot by Tom Craig. The result was an atmospheric spread of images that capture the allure of this ancient and cosmopolitan city. During her trip the aristo-model also kept a diary in which she noted her impressions:

“I’ve travelled all over the world as a model, I have never felt so much of a foreigner as I have here; and this trip has introduced me to this fascinating city and its people. In short, it has been the assignment of a lifetime.”

My Latest Article in Brownbook Magazine:

For those of you who were unable to pick up the latest issue of Brown Book magazine, (the Dubai-based publication which serves as an urban guide to the region), I’ve attached my piece on Mona Khazindar, the Saudi Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Arab World Institute in Paris.

A fascinating and polyglot individual, Khazindar will co-curate the first Saudi Pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Moments worth Blogging About...

Backstage at Jean Paul Gaultier, Spring 2011 Couture: Crazy Horse performer, Psykko Tico, Farida Khelfa, Arielle Dombasle, and Tunisien Model Hana Ben Abdesslem.

It’s not often that I write in the first person, but I wanted to share with you a recent comment from a reader regarding a post on Farida Khelfa, whom I’ve always considered a fashion icon. This site has always been about a diversity of voices and a venue for connecting like minded individuals. At the same time it’s about encouraging and supporting talent from the region and it’s Diaspora, while thinking critically and changing perceptions.

I thank Emma for posting her comment because it reinforces what The Polyglot is about:

Emma has left a new comment on your post "Flashback: Farida Khelfa captured by Jean-Paul Gou...":

“I just wanted to thank you. Why? Because I am French and of Arabian descent. Well I have been adopted and raised by white people in a very white environment but I remember one thing: I was a kid and watching tv documentary about fashion and suddenly I saw her, Farida Khelfa. But it was too fast and I couldn’t catch her name. I was amazed. An Arabian woman in fashion? So it is possible to be seen as beautiful when brown? At that time and also a bit now, not a lot of Arabian women in France were shown in a positive, and glamorous light, but I remembered until now (I am 29) Khelfa's profile, her face and how classy she was. I have been searching for that picture since then but my poor knowledge in fashion (let s be honest, it is not my main interest...) and the lack of coverage in mainstream media in France made me fail in that search until now. Thank you for bringing another idea of beauty in your blog, it really helps girls like me who always had a problem with the color of our skin and our different facial features and were raised surrounded by white princesses. You probably don't care but I just needed to say it. thanks”

Dear Emma, I care very much, so Thank You!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

People in the Know: Noor Al-Sabah

Beyond the glitz and glamour of the runway shows during fashion week, lies another world seldom reported on by the press: that of the fashion buyer. In the span of a week they spend appointment-packed days running from one showroom, rented apartment, and hotel suite to the next, filling in orders for the coming season (without-hopefully- going over budget). They are also prized for their ability to gage the fashion mood of the moment; selecting items meant to lure customers into their stores 6 months from now.

This rarified group also includes a small contingency from the Middle East attending the shows. Amongst them is Noor Al-Sabah, the globetrotting head buyer and fashion director for Kuwait’s AlOthman. Established in 1956, it is arguably one of the first fashion boutiques established in the Gulf. Today this Kuwaiti fashion institution has grown into a multi-brand store with an outpost in Bahrain.

Since arriving at AlOthman, Al-Sabah has acquired a reputation amongst industry insiders in the Middle East, for her ability to spot emerging design talent before they hit the big time. So much so that she has helped transform the venerable Kuwaiti store into a fashion incubator for young talent.

Part of Al-Sabah’s success lies in her homework. An avid traveler to places as far flung as L.A., Greece and Beirut, Noor makes it a point to check out the retail scene wherever she goes. This includes paying attention to happenings at art galleries and even the way people dress on the street; all of which ultimately informs her own choices as a fashion buyer.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Food for Thought...

Sheikha Chic: When Izzy Came to Town

Isabella Blow captured by Donald McPherson in the Kuwaiti desert, December 2006

Back in 2001, Isabella Blow found herself collaborating with a young American photographer named Donald McPherson. “She was very good at making you feel important,” recalled McPherson in “Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion,” by Lauren Goldstein Crowe. The two first began working on shoots for V magazine, and went on to collaborate on various creative projects in Paris.

When Isabella was hired by Condé Nast as Tatler’s new fashion director in the fall of 2002, she brought McPherson along with her. Their first elaborate shoot together at Tatler, was a homage to Blow’s friend Manolo Blahnik.

In December of 2006, Blow, Donald McPherson and her friend Daphne Guinness went to Kuwait to photograph members of the royal family for a fashion story on designer caftans. “It was the first time the royal family had let a photographer into their homes and shoot them in their own jewels,” recalled McPherson.

Not known for traveling light, Blow often brought along numerous pieces of luggage, including a number of hatboxes. “We were in Terminal 4 at Heathrow. I’m not someone who fades into the background, either, but Izzy looked like a highwayman, in a cape and tricorn,” recalled Daphne Guinness of the trip they made together to Kuwait.

The idea for the photo shoot was born after Isabella had met Majed Al-Sabah backstage at a Valentino show. At the time Al-Sabah had just opened the first Villa Moda store on the outskirts of Kuwait City, and the two became fast friends. Blow made Al-Sabah a contributing editor at Tatler, and when she heard that he had commissioned Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Pucci to create a line of caftans for Villa Moda, she decided to shoot the collection in Kuwait for the magazine. The result was a series of stunning images that captured a moment in time.

Recalling Villa Moda Damascus

Widely responsible for putting Kuwait on the fashion map, Villa Moda recently began shuttering its locations across the Middle East. This week the Polyglot looks back on one of its most stunning outposts.

In March of 2006 Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah unveiled what could best be described as his most unique and luxurious Villa Moda outpost to date. Nestled in the heart of Damascus’s old souk, this stunning fashion emporium was housed in a former 17th Century Caravan-Sarai. Al-Sabah poured millions into its restoration, covering its courtyard with a glass ceiling from which hung a monumental crystal chandelier the color of rubies.

In contrast to its much larger outposts in Kuwait, Dubai and Bahrain, Villa Moda Damascus offered a more intimate venue, where one could browse through an eclectic selection of designer brands, displayed together with Syrian antiques, silver jewelry and lustrous silks sourced by Al Sabah himself.

No expense was spared on details, commissioning Syrian artisans to create display cases and tables in exquisitely carved wood, inlayed with mother of pearl; many of which could also be purchased. In this setting worthy of a Thousand and One Arabian Nights, patrons could browse through the latest offerings from Prada, Saint Laurent and Lanvin, displayed alongside furniture designed by Marc Newson, Capellini, Marcel Wanders and Frank Gehry.

To launch the new store Al-Sabah invited an international group of designers and influential editors from Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Wallpaper, who descended on Damascus for a glittering party at the new store, followed by a dinner in a historic Damascus residence. Some of the Kuwaiti guests in attendance wore Prada caftans designed exclusively for Villa Moda.

Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah’s innovative approach to retailing included commissioning Lebanese graphic designer Rana Salam and New York-based Egyptian photographer Nabil Youssef to create Villa Moda’s ad campaigns.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Food for Thought...

Meet Dana Al-Khalifa

As the cosmopolitan and fashion savvy name behind cult blog The Overdressed, Bahrain-based Dana Al-Khalifa, has carved out a niche for herself with inspiring fashion shoots that capture her sartorial mood of the moment. Just back from a trip to Paris and Florence, Al-Khalifa spoke to The Polyglot about growing up with a fashion icon, her love of vintage, and why she’s Erdem’s biggest fan.

Portrait of a blogger: Dana Al-Khalifa on location in Florence, Italy

How did the idea behind your blog come about?

I started my website in December 2009. In the few months before launching the site my cousin was with me while I was packing for a summer vacation, and she begged me to photograph every single outfit. I did, and from there the idea of was born.

Fluent in fashion history, Dana not only acquires rare vintage pieces, but also updates items from her mother’s fashionable closet. Left: An haute couture gown by Christian Dior, 1955. Right: Her mother’s black sequined emerald green evening dress, with distinctive “Balenciaga” rounded sleeves. Images by Plhong Flores.

Who are your fashion icons?

I grew up surrounded by people with a strong sense of style. When my father and grandfather would visit me in London, my friends would comment on how they looked every bit the English gentlemen in their tailored suits.

But for me the ultimate fashion icons have always been my mother and grandmother, who have impeccable taste when it comes to jewelry and handbags. I still remember how my classmates couldn’t wait to see what my mother was wearing when she would pick me up from school. I still raid her closet for amazing pieces from the 80’s and 90’s (as well as more recent acquisitions). I once found an amazing black sequined emerald green dress I remember her wearing years ago to a wedding, and had it altered to fit me. I received some great compliments the day I wore it out!

What would be your ultimate fashion dream?

Some day I would love to be fitted for an haute couture gown. I would probably live in it for that matter! I am actually very fortunate to own a 1955 Dior haute couture dress from Although it wasn’t fitted on me it does fit perfectly! On a trip to Paris with my sister, I showed her the legendary mirrored staircase at Chanel’s Rue Cambon salon. I remember the security guard telling us that the area was restricted to private clients only. I told him to give me a few years…I’d be back!!!

Who do you think has had a lasting impact on fashion?

I would have to say it’s Cristobal Balenciaga. There’s a particular allure and seduction in the way Balenciaga designed in Spain. He was obviously inspired by its rich culture; you can see that in his designs. But there are also allusions to the Spanish aristocracy in the opulence of his pre-Civil War era work. By the time he moved to Paris, he was influenced by the New Look and began developing his iconic shapes such as the tunic dress and empire waist line.

What I love about Balenciaga is that he is a real couturier. Even after shuttering his couture house, he continued to influence a new generation of designers, such as Oscar de la Renta, Courrèges, Ungaro, Mila Schön and Hubert de Givenchy.

How did your collaboration with Atelier-Mayer come about? is a luxury vintage retailer. I met its founder, Carmen Haid, while I was living in London and was instantly attracted to her generosity in sharing her contacts and putting people together. Not to mention her unique sense of style! Carmen and I kept in touch when I moved back to Bahrain and as she’s a very inquisitive person she suggested that she come here.

Although the idea of vintage dressing is relatively new to Bahrain, we decided to introduce the line by organizing an exclusive trunk show and luncheon. While I was making calls to invite guests, I was amazed by the responses I got. Most said they “loved vintage!” It made us realize that there is an audience for it here. The trunk show was so successful that Carmen and I are making it an annual event.

You were recently featured in Harper’s Bazaar Arabia’s 2011 Best Dressed Issue, the first time an individual from Bahrain has received such an honor. Was it a surprise when you were asked?

It was definitely flattering, but I think the industry simply doesn’t know much about Bahrain’s fashion scene, compared to what’s going on in Kuwait or Dubai, which is why it’s been relatively untapped for so long. I know some very quirky, creative girls who really shock and others who are so polished and immaculate in the way they dress. There is no doubt that we have some serious fashion templates here. Weddings are the perfect venue for women to go all out. It’s like attending the Oscars a thousand times a year, and the fun part is seeing who will be wearing what.

Do you see your blog as a platform to support talent from the region?

Absolutely! I believe in supporting anything I love and believe in. One individual whose work I’ve championed is the Saudi designer Razan Alazzouni. I first saw some samples she had made a few years ago. It wasn’t part of a collection, but it was so unique that I purchased a few pieces. What I love about her work is that it’s beautifully made and feminine without falling into the mainstream. Since then her collections have grown from season to season, and so has my support for her.

You are a huge fan of Erdem’s clothes, what do you find so alluring about his work?

Femininity and color! We lost so much of it with grunge and punk in the 90s and the Juicy Couture trend of 10 years ago. The fact that Erdem makes clothes that are cut so seductively (with a sense of prudishness) attracted me to his work. He’s also a magician when it comes to prints, creating lush 3D affects that leap off his clothes. Wearing an Erdem dress is like being in a fairytale, and I’m in love with each piece I own.

Why do you think online shopping sites such as Net-a-Porter have taken off in the region?

The allure is that you don’t have to deal with a sales person! For someone who hates shopping, Net-a-Porter is the greatest thing on earth! I have no patience for department stores and for sales people telling me they’ll check in the stock room and disappear for half an hour. Online shopping is to the point; when I need something I buy it, otherwise browsing in stores kills me!

Why do you think haute couture is so alluring to a new generation?

Recently, I visited the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit, “La Revolution de la Mode,” at the Fondation Pierre Berge, which explored the designer’s ready-to-wear Rive Gauche collections. There was an interview being screened of a young Saint Laurent talking about making fashion accessible to women. It was an era that was supposed to mark a departure from haute couture, by making high fashion more accessible to women through prêt-a-porter. Yet 40 years later we live at a time when the market is so saturated with designer labels that we’ve lost the true meaning of luxury. As a reaction to this dumbing-down of luxury, there is a new generation today that craves something unique and hand crafted. Call it couture or made-to-measure, people want something new.

Do you get a lot of inspiration from traveling?

I love to travel. Seeing and exploring new places gives me a real thrill and sense of adventure. I also find traveling to be very humbling and inspirational, because you get to experience cultures other than your own and grow at the same time. I love old European cities and can’t wait to explore South America and the Far East.

I have to say my favorite place on earth is Forte dei Marmi, a picturesque seaside town on the northern coast of Italy. My family has been going there every summer since 1987. The town takes its name from the fortress that rises in the middle of its main square, and each Wednesday there is an outdoor market where you can find amazing well made Italian pieces at a steal. I’m not sure whether it’s just nostalgia or a good family summer vacation, I just know that being there makes me very happy.

All images courtesy of

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS