Saturday, April 16, 2011

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

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