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

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vintage Vogue:

Earlier this month Christie’s New York held an auction of rare fashion photographs from a private collection. Amongst the items was a portrait of Lisa Fonssagrives shot in Morocco by her husband Irving Penn, for Vogue in 1951. Another standout was Norman Parkinson’s “Wenda in Tunisia," 1954.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Making a Fashion Statement

Hanaa Ben Abdesslem- French Vogue March 2011
Born in Tunisia and educated in Beirut, Hanaa Ben Abdesslem quickly rose up fashion’s modeling ranks in just two seasons. Recently she was featured in the March 2011 issue of French Vogue (Carine Roitfeld’s last as Editor in Chief), in a stunning photo spread shot by Karim Sadli. As one of the few Arab faces working in the industry today, models such as Hanaa are providing a refreshing dose of diversity to the fashion and beauty worlds.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

From the Vogue Archives: The Great Escape

Tatjana Patitz captured in Egypt by Patrick Demarchelier Vogue UK April 1992

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Conversation with Fouz & Noufa Al Sabah

Recently re-launched after an ambitious makeover, Khaleejesque is considered one of the most influential Ezines to have emerged from the Gulf. The Polyglot spoke to the site’s founders about their plans to capture the region’s creative pulse.

The original idea behind Khaleejesque was to create a platform to showcase art, culture and design trends emerging from the Gulf. Do you see the site’s role expanding to include Arab countries outside the Gulf region?

Noufa: We’d love to expand further on down the road, but right now we are focusing on the Gulf. It has a lot to offer and a lot is going on, yet the word is not getting out as things aren’t as heavily promoted. That is what we aim to do.

Fouz: We do include stories, people and features about other Arab countries at the moment, since these topics naturally relate to people from the Gulf region. We’ll hopefully broaden our focus to include other Arab countries as well as soon as we expand our team.

It’s often said the internet can serve as a powerful tool to break misconceptions and bridge culture. Although your primary audience is in the Gulf, what do you hope someone in London or New York takes from the site?

Noufa: Surprisingly, we’ve noticed an increase in international visitors to Khaleejesque, especially towards articles covering culture and traditions in the region, such as our exposé on the “Dishdasha/Thoub” (Men’s traditional dress in Gulf). We’ve found that our international readers want to know more about our culture, from local eyes as opposed to Western viewers that document those things.

After being online for a couple years, why did you feel now was the right time to relaunch the website, and what are some of the things you’ve tried to accomplish with the redesign?

Fouz: We launched in June 2009 with a very basic site and initially really wanted to get going with Khaleejesque as quickly as we could. The old website was limiting us in terms of technical/creative/editorial expansion and many people were mistaking us for a blog, which is why we felt the need to update the website as soon as possible.

We wanted to enhance the Khaleejesque experience with the redesign, by making it much more easier to navigate, interact with and most importantly be visually pleasing. We always make sure we have quality content and naturally it deserves to be presented on a quality site.

Are there any challenges to running a Ezine like Khaleejesque?

Noufa: Yes, loads. Getting the right talented freelancer network is one of the hardest aspects of running an Ezine. Since we are based in Kuwait, we need people to be our eyes and ears in the other 5 countries that make up the Gulf region. Having the right people is crucial.

If you could pick one story on Khaleejesque that touched you or are most proud of what would it be?

Fouz: it’s difficult picking just one since I’m honestly proud of each story that gets published on the site, whether they’re exclusive interviews or special features. On the other hand, I’m extremely proud of our fashion editorials. It was a challenge persuading fashion stores to lend us their products at first, but by our second editorial we’ve been getting phenomenal feedback and a lot of interested designers and stores wanting to be featured in our future editorials. The fashion editorials literally take months to plan and it’s amazing to see the final result. It’s also fun to see how surprised people get when they find out that a young local team could create such professional editorials.

The world has become increasingly global, and you’re finding a larger number of people from the Middle East living and working all over the glode. Does Khaleejesque offer a place for them as well and would you include their stories in the future?

Noufa: Yes, we always like spotlighting different personalities, be they local or regional. We’ve recently featured Rana Salam, a successful Arab graphic designer working abroad and making her mark in the world of Graphic Design in the UK.

In the last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of fashion/lifestyle magazines emerge in the region, yet none of them have really created a strong enough presence but have remained niche publications. Why do think that is?

Fouz: I don’t think being a niche publication is necessarily a negative thing, since catering to a larger audience might compromise the publications vision and affect its content. However I do believe a niche publication can create a strong, wider presence if the quality of its content is outstanding and it constantly delivers something unique to the scene.
Kuwait has a long history of female activism, such as electing women to parliament, and Sheikha Hussa Al Sabah’s work promoting Arab and Islamic culture around the world. Do you see yourselves as having a role in that movement, and using your site to promote talented women from the region?

Noufa: Yes, we’ve basically created a portal that shares what’s happening in the Gulf to local, regional and international viewers. Apart from exporting and shedding light on local as well as regional talent and initiatives to a bigger audience, we’ve helped promote them further. It’s not just about sharing ideas and insight from this region; it’s about educating locals and foreigners alike on what we as a region have to offer, be it from men or women.

Is there a particular country in the Middle East that you would like to explore more?

Noufa: Saudi Arabia, it has so much to offer such as its fascinating arts and culture scene. But our constant struggle to retain freelance writers from there seems to always end in vain.

Fouz: Oman has a rich heritage that I’d love to discover. The Omani culture is very vibrant, still deep-rooted within society and not widely exposed, which is why I think there are so many stories waiting to be told from there.

Finally, where do you see Khaleejesque 10 years from now?

Noufa: Bigger, better and maybe in print. Although our online presence allows us to reach a much larger audience, it’s always nice to have a hard copy of something.

Fouz: We’re always brainstorming so the possibilities are endless when it comes to the future of Khaleejesque. I’d love for Khaleejesque to be a well-respected source for Arab culture, a forerunner in the online publishing industry and a future hub for all creatives in the region.

Images courtesy of Khaleejesque

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Food for Thought...

Meet New York-Based Tunisian Designer Sulaika Zarrouk

The co-founder of chic handbag label Felix Rey, talks to The Polyglot about her multi-cultural approach to design and using her brand to preserve the environment. Do you consider yourself a citizen of the world?

I was born in New York to a Tunisian father and a Circassian/Palestinian mother, both of whom instilled in me a curiosity about the world. I traveled quite a bit as a child and attended the United Nations International School in Manhattan, where I was surrounded by kids and teachers from different countries and cultural backgrounds. We learnt about everything from global warming to the importance human rights and they instilled in us a sense of pride in our diverse backgrounds while telling us that we are all citizens of the world. It was an incredible environment to learn and grow up in. I believe the world would be a better place if all children were given this kind of exposure and sense of unity.

Does your multi-cultural background inform your personal sense of style?

Absolutely! I believe your sense of style is an expression of who you are and how you see yourself as an individual- it’s a sense of self expression. When I moved into my Manhattan apartment I decorated it with a mix of French Deco and Vintage 70’s pieces which reminded me of the furniture my parents had when I was a child. I had custom rugs made from a traditional North African geometric tile pattern, which I blew up in scale to give it a modern feel. I also love African art and the apartment is sprinkled with African sculptures, masks and my favorite piece an African ladder. I have a fetish for Middle Eastern style banquettes with lots of pillows everywhere in all sorts of patterns; ikats, animal prints and dyed antique velvets. It sounds like an acid trip but I feel like it all comes together nicely and the eclectic mix makes me feel right at home. Does that approach also influence the way you design handbags?

My first trip to Turkey blew my mind. The colors, the food, the seamless mix of the old world new. My favorite handbag collection was inspired by this trip and all the beautiful Ikat textiles I discovered there. We took the idea of a traditional ikat material woven in Uzbekistan, and reinterpreted it by blowing up the patterns and having them printed onto metal mesh. The end result was something completely new that captures 21st century luxury, while recalling a centuries-old craft at the same time.

What is one of your earliest fashion memories?

When I was a kid, we used to spend our summers in Tunisia in the picturesque village Sidi Bou-Saïd. There was not much to do in Tunisia at the time, we would go to the beach and for fun we would play dress up with handmade Tunisian textiles and Berber jewelry that would be lying around the house. We would create costumes for characters and make up our faces- I was always up for playing dress up.

Left: Zarrouk photographed in her art-filled Manhattan loft for ELLE Decore, in front of a Bernard Buffet silk screen of Paris and a William Anastasi painting. Right: Sulaika Zarrouk and Lily Band attend the Felix Rey 'Holiday 2008 Collection' Launch at the Met Bar on June 25, 2008 in London, England

When did you realize you wanted to become a designer?

I knew from a young I wanted to do something creative. My father is an artist, and I grew up surrounded by his paintings, art books, museums and artist friends. My mother is also very creative and designed and cast jewelry as a hobby. I don’t think I had much of a choice in life regarding what I wanted to do; design possessed me from a very young age. I also love to cook, but even when I read a recipe I will inevitably throw it out and let my imagination take over.

How did your handbag label Felix Rey come about?

After studying fashion at NY’s Fashion Institute of Technology and then Liberal Arts at NYU, I worked for Donna Karan in the advertising department as well as Collection Design. One day I was talking to my friend Lily Rafii Band, and we both hatched the idea of coming up with a luxurious line of sophisticated yet affordable handbags and accessories reflecting our own personal style. We established the brand in 2001 and named it Felix Rey after the doctor, whose portrait Vincent Van Gogh painted shortly after cutting off his own ear.
As co-founders of Felix Rey do you both play different roles in the company?

For any label to be successful, it’s important to have a balance between creativity and business. While I take care of the design and creative aspect of the label, Lily is more engaged with the financial and business side of things. She worked at Morgan Stanley and completed a MBA from Columbia University while we were building our business. We are able to keep the business running smoothly because we compliment each other so well.

Can you tell us one thing we may not know about Felix Rey?

As a luxury brand we believe in the importance of being environmentally conscious and giving back. We participate in a program run by, where we donated money each year towards planting new trees and reversing damage caused through shipping and manufacturing. This philosophy is even reflected in our packaging, where we use biodegradable plastic material made of corn rather than petroleum.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

From the Vogue Archives: Marrakech Express

Mario Testino captures Christy Turlington in Moorish Splendor British Vogue, February 1993