Eighteen of Zainab Salbi’s 46 years on this earth have been spent in war zones, helping women in areas from Bosnia to Afghanistan rebuild their lives. The founder of Women for Women International may be more accustomed to flak jackets than Tom Ford’s finest, but that’s not to say she doesn’t have an acutely honed sense of personal style. “Our clothes are to reflect and highlight what we feel inside. They cannot bring beauty if we are not feeling it within,” she says. Zainab rarely veers from a capsule wardrobe of sombre-shaded separates from Donna Karan’s Urban Zen label, which has progressive ethical roots. A sense of wider social responsibility is key to her purchasing decisions, “I only wear the big brands if they are doing something good for society and the environment,” she pledges, name-checking Gucci, Maiyet and Stella McCartney.
Last year, Zainab launched a second career, founding and fronting the Nida’a Show, an Arabic-language television talk show dedicated to Arab women, which has earned her the appellation The Oprah of the Middle East. In her new role she is an ardent supporter of regional fashion design talent, such as Aiisha Ramadan, Rabih Kayrouz and Razan Alazzouni, explaining, “We truly have amazing designers that we need to celebrate much more.”
A devotee of organic facialist Tracie Martyn’s skincare line, Zainab works out three-to-five times a week, sleeps eight-to-nine hours a night and meditates “all the time.”
She cautions against shopping when feeling insecure or relying on others’ opinions, confessing, “I end up spending more money and the results are always awful.” Instead, a laser-like focus on oneself is her key to style success. “It is never about the dress outside, it is about the self within,” she counsels. “The most stylish woman is the woman who has seen her inner beauty.”
Photography: Richard Hall. Styling: Charlotte Blair. Words: Louise Nichol. Make-up: Sarah Jane Thompson for Shiseido. Location: Palazzo Versace Dubai