In Libya, 1969, under the reign of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Princess Alia Al-Senussi’s family was deposed from the throne, and forced into exile far from their motherland. Which is how Alia found herself many years later – via Cairo, America and Switzerland – calling London home. It is in the English capital that she has made a name for herself as one of the art world’s most knowledgable and well-connected advocates of Middle Eastern art. In her 32 years, she has already worked with an array of institutions from Frieze London to The Tate, she founded the board of patrons at Art Dubai, is a member of the Institute of Contemporary Arts council in London, and has hosted talks on Middle Eastern artists at Art Basel. To call Alia a highly-sought after industry expert would be an accurate nomenclature.
With her personal and professional interests “inextricably intertwined”, it makes sense that Alia’s style has, over the years, evolved to “represent the person I want to be and also the person I am in the art world.” What this means for a daily aesthetic, is structured “flattering dresses with
a hint of sexiness that are great for day and night” from Roland Mouret and Dolce & Gabbana – the perfect foil for the self-confessed “curvy, art fair-going girl”. Alia’s wardrobe weapons of choice are carefully curated from FarFetch, “For its perfect coming together of fashion and art”, A’maree’s in Newport Beach, Maxfield in LA, The Webster in Miami, Browns in London, and Joyce in Hong Kong.
With family still spread all over the world – her mother Cindy lives in California, whilst her father Idris is based in Rome – circumnavigating the globe also allows Alia to uncover “all the special shops that are those secret nooks of local culture and style, such as Sabine and Homegrown Market in Jeddah, where you can find the most beautiful coloured abayas.”
Continuing this cross-cultural education, Alia admits that she’s never felt more “beautiful or confident” than when wearing an Indian sari. “I feel so connected to India, to its culture and its clothes. My mother, an American from a small town in Minnesota, has the same feeling with Egypt and Arab culture. For me, I think I must have been Indian in a past life!”
It’s the contents of Alia’s jewellery box, however, that she holds dearest, due to the back stories of each individual piece. In particular, she cites an “all Americana” turquoise squash blossom necklace from her maternal grandmother that she loves to “mix with my Arabic bangles to bring my identity all together”; a family signet ring that is a “symbol of my family’s history and their suffering, as well as the incredible moment in 2012 when Libya freed itself from the shackles of the past”; and her latest obsession, a rose gold and diamond necklace from Saudi jeweller, Yataghan. “The pendant is an ‘ain’, which is the first letter of my name in Arabic and was given to me as an early birthday present by two old university friends on my first day in Jeddah.”
Seamlessly blending cultures and creativity, from the East to the West, it’s clear that for Alia, life truly imitates art.
Photography: Victoria Adamson. Words: Emily Baxter. Hair: Magdalena Tucholska. Make-up: Marta Gacka. Location: Asylum London