The modern socialite. An odd notion, but never before have we been so consumed with the concept of ‘celebrity’. From Kim to Kendall to Cara to Gigi, it’s an obsession that is somewhat off kilter, indoctrinated by the Kardashians and their throngs of merry (wo)men fans and followers. On social media, this little group of snap-happy socialites are now some of the most followed personalities on earth. But why exactly have we become so fascinated in the minute details of the life of a perfect stranger?
It’s an unfamiliar place to have found ourselves in. Connected but isolated, we gratify our inquisitive selves by living vicariously and voyeuristically – often voraciously, in many cases – through a little device that lives in our bags. But what is it about the rise of this new breed of dot.com celebs that keeps us scrolling? Take Haya and Sama Khadra, Palestinian twin sisters who spent their teenage years in Dubai, now study in LA and have infiltrated the notoriously fickle world of fashion – and fame. With a friendship circle that counts Rita Ora (present on Bazaar’s shoot via FaceTime) and Kylie Jenner (who they taught how to Snapchat) as their sidekicks, their filtered feed is as voyeuristic as they come. From fashion week parties to New Year’s Eve Balmain bashes, the 22-year-old expats are, from the outset, living the dream.
Which is how Bazaar’s fashion team comes to find ourselves in the middle of the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles with the beautiful sisters, Haya and Sama – or Haze and Simi, to those in the inner circle. We’ve travelled 8,300 miles to the twins’ adopted homeland to delve into the inner sanctum of their social media-fuelled world to try, as best we can, to scratch beneath the surface of this new digital age phenomenon. As it turns out, the pair rock up an hour late, but nobody minds.
It’s colder than normal, we have coffee, and there is a gas fire roaring in corner of the location van. It’s real tumbleweed territory in the wide expanse outside; you could hear a pin drop. That is until the twins arrive. Pulling up in a standard black SUV, hip hop music blasting from what sounds like a million speakers. Physically, at first glance, Sama and Haya are identical – so much so that I foresee a case of mistaken identity on set. All skittish arms and legs with the kind of movie-star hair people pay big bucks for, and with Bambi-like features that look like they could have been carved by a Renaissance painter, they are instantly likeable – oozing with the unabashed confidence that youth (and privilege) brings. Both spend an inordinate amount of time with their faces in their phone, keypad ‘chatting’ at speed in a way that means we are out of earshot about parties, bands and brands, and all the other cool things none of us have ever heard of. Like moths to a flame they flip from one topic to another, each finishing the other’s excitable, hurried sentences. They are one and the same, almost indecipherable bar for the few who pay close – very close – attention.
Following whispered talk of myriad social events and exotic-sounding trips, I ask, in a slightly annoying 34-year-old way, what it is they actually ‘do’ in between all this high-society hobnobbing. Firstly, they hate the term socialite.
“We don’t like the word socialite any more than we like fashionista,” explains Sama. “These are empty labels that have evolved from our generation of social media. For us, Instagram is simply a vessel for us to gain knowledge from, it has nothing to do with fashion.” I tell them I am somewhat confused by the murky waters that lie between building a brand and, well, being one. “It’s a little vague, I’ll admit,” explains Haya. While we are products of the social media phenomenon, all we want is to enable creatives to tell a story. We want to continue to build our 360 brand, one that merges film, fashion, music and art.”
Like a creative director, I ask? “Kind of,” chimes in Haya. “But most creative directors I know hate that term. Say an artist has an idea in their head of what they want to say but are not sure how to get their message across... Our job is to help project the message in an exciting way on a visual level.”
They both genuinely seem perplexed that people are so interested by their daily musings. “Honestly, when people tell us they are inspired by what we wear, it’s a strange thing for us to understand. It is nice, of course, but it’s not exactly what we set out to do,” explains Sama.
It was five-plus years ago that the twins first arrived on the scene. Following a trip to Paris with Harper’s Bazaar Arabia to see their first Chanel haute couture fashion show, it was a meeting with Karl Lagerfeld backstage that established their existing relationship with the kingmaker at the head of arguably the world’s most current fashion house. Skip forward to a personal invite from Karl to photograph them for his The Little Black Jacket project, a book and campaign collaboration with Harper’s Bazaar’s global fashion director Carine Roitfeld, and their style status was instantly cemented. “It was our first semester in school and we were asked to fly to Paris for 24 hours to shoot, two days before my finals, before flying straight back on the red eye to LA,” recalls Sama. “Of course, we asked for the call time to be insanely early so we could make it back in time but these things never go as planned. It was crazy... We had Sarah Jessica Parker, Georgia May Jagger and Edie Campbell in our group that day.”
“It was so stressful,” laughs Haya. “We were cutting it really fine and had to keep cancelling the cars that had been booked. Eventually they ordered motorcycles for us but we still ended up missing the flight – and our midterms. We heard later that Chanel wrote an apology letter to my school, which is pretty crazy when you think about it!”
Obviously at the time they had no idea what the impact of that one photo would be. The now somewhat iconic picture was inspired by Diane Arbus, evoking an eerie mood that Carine had wanted to emulate.
“It wasn’t until later when people would send me pictures of us on their walls that I understood what the fuss was about. I still see that book everywhere – in every book shop and hair salon. The whole thing was, and still is, such an honour,” says Sama.
From Palestine to Paris, by way of Saudi Arabia and Dubai, it strikes me as a little sad to be from a country that you’ve never set foot in. “We travel a lot so we have an innate sense of home and we are okay with that for now. While we are ethnically Palestinian, we grew up all over the place and have learned how to adapt. Home is simply where our family and friends are,” says Sama, “I don’t feel like I am ready to go [to Palestine] yet. Life will make it easy for us to visit when it’s ready. It’s just not the time now.”
Born in Saudi Arabia, they left at the age of five for the bright lights of West London, later enrolling in prestigious girls’ school, Faulkner House. “It was a typical English upbringing, all our friends were English and we loved our time there. We still have the same house now as we did then. It’s our second home these days,” says Sama.
“We moved to Dubai when we were 14 because my mum was expanding her business [The Art of Living lifestyle boutique] and collectively we were ready for a change. We were excited by a new landscape,” explains Sama. “Arriving was a bit of a shock though as it was August and so humid. We didn’t know what we had got ourselves into. Being a teenager we saw the whole place as a bit of a theme park. A sunny, vibrant place. It had a good energy back then, and we always had each other for support.”
This article appears in full in the January issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia
Words and styling: Katie Trotter. Photography: Rene and Radka. Art direction: Acacia Stichter. Hair: Eric Gabriel. Make-up: Beau Nelson. Production: Sarah Mason. Fashion assistants: Alina Alam and Hajar Agaeva.