Recently fêted by Blake Lively and jewellery-designer-to-the-stars Lorraine Schwartz at a glittering event to celebrate the launch of her mother-and-daughter clothing line SemSem at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Abeer Al Otaiba is fast becoming the toast of her adopted home in the US. Originally from Egypt, Abeer’s first career, as a civil engineer, brought her to the UAE in 2004, where she met and married the country’s Ambassador to America, Yousef Al Otaiba, necessitating a relocation to Washington DC and a shift in métier. Now mother to Omar, five, and Samia, three, Abeer has recently added another string to her already rather full bow. Alongside her mothering and diplomatic duties – both full time careers in themselves – Abeer conceived of and launched fashion label SemSem to reinforce the bond between mothers and daughters, and to open a pan-generational dialogue about the importance of female empowerment and giving back. Now in its second season, the brand partners with a different charitable body to support each collection.
This spring, SemSem will be sponsoring 24 women in partnership with Women For Women International’s one-year training programme. “I feel strongly that being stylish is something that comes from the inside not from what you are wearing,” Abeer says of her philanthropic approach to fashion.
A voracious online shopper, Abeer favours Saint Laurent, Alaïa, Chanel, Sonia Rykiel, Balenciaga (under Alexander Wang’s stewardship), Lanvin and Thierry Mugler. Contrast is key for her, mixing a classic Chanel jacket with leather Saint Laurent leggings or a Lanvin silk and lace top with distressed jeans by Sonia Rykiel. She loves fellow Middle Eastern designer Reem Acra for black tie events and recently debuted her own creation at a Kennedy Center event in DC, “This was the first time that I wore a gown I designed, so it was a very special moment for me,” she smiles.
With free time at a premium, Abeer reveals that when she does have a window for relaxation, “I either go boxing, play dress up with Samia or get some Jedi training from Omar.” With such a multifaceted lifestyle to cater to, Abeer’s wardrobe has to work hard across multiple arenas, but elegance underpins every outfit she steps out in. “Looking truly sexy involves knowing what to bare and what to keep under wraps,” she says, “Otherwise, where’s the mystery?”
Photography: Kate Warren. Styling: Charlotte Blair. Words: Louise Nichol. Hair: Christophe Saluzzo at Exclusive Artist Management. Make-up: Johny Saade at Exclusive Artist Management