Eman Bani Hashim is poised on the end of an arm chair in her temporary London abode. She’s a vision of contemporary style decked in a minimal, white Marni dress from its S/S17 collection. “I did this,” she reveals, pointing to the buttons on the seam, “sometimes I like to customise my clothes.” In this case, she’s artfully added three buttons, and consequently more modesty, sealing the split up the side of the dress. The buttons have been hand-picked to match a subtle yellow and black drawstring at the waist, and seem perfectly Marni-esque.
At 53, the Emirati mother-of-two (who also works full time in human resources for the government sector), is reinventing herself as Mama Hepburn, a self professed ‘hip and stylish mama in her 50s, proving that age ain’t nothing but a number’. Well, that’s how her Instagram handle (@mama.hepburn) reads, as Bazaar delves deeper.
Photography by Ethan Mann
Eman wears: Dress, Marni. Corset, Zara. Shoes, Dior. Earring, Razan Alazzouni, all her own
With social media feeds consistently saturated with a combination of twenty-something, LA-inspired millennials leaving little to the imagination, and svelte Yogis pouring themselves into Lycra to present their best praying mantis, Mama Hepburn’s posts – all slick, modern and modest – are a cool breath of fresh air. Her Instagram is easy on the eye – the rolling stream of artfully directed pictures and still life set-ups are the sole vision of Eman, although the photography is in part, aided by her husband, Taha Bani Hashim, an oil industry CEO. Eman’s pseudonym, she explains, was born from her daughters.
“My daughter’s friend was always calling me ‘Mama’, and they likened my style to that of Audrey Hepburn. The way I talk, the way I look and dress. One day I was just sitting with my family,” all avid supporters of her style, “and we decided I should create an Instagram account. My daughter, Alamira Reem, came up with the name.”
Eman has two daughters, Alamira Noor, 29, the co-founder of The Dinner Club No57 and Alamira Reem, 30, an architect and urban planner. One look at her daughters and you’ll see the maternal fashion genes shine through. “They both love style but they’re totally different,” she tells Bazaar. Noor channels her mother’s aesthetic while Reem favours a more bohemian approach. “Two weeks ago I came home with a shirt from Boutique 1,” an oversized black parachute top from MM6 Maison Margiela, “which my daughter Noor loved so much. In the end, I searched high and low to find her one, too, and I surprised her with it a few days later.”
Having always loved fashion, Eman’s own mother proved an inevitable inspiration. “She used to have this coat that Audrey Hepburn wore, it was vintage, and she wore it in so many movie posters – I wish I still had it. I still have my mum’s wedding dress. It’s a little worn in places otherwise I could wear it as a gown for a party,” she says. “My mum looked like Audrey Hepburn, the way she styled her hair and the way she dressed.” Eman claims her mother was never driven by fashion, but her elegant and effortless approach to style is something that is clearly spanning the generations and igniting a little style classicism down the female line.
The synergy between Eman and her iconic alias Audrey is also clear. A Marni tunic with contrasting pockets reminiscent of the 1960s, a classic belted trench and winged sunglasses, cocoon silhouettes and headscarves tied primly under the chin. But it’s not all Audrey – Mama Hepburn somehow manages to remain faithful to tradition and Arab culture, while capturing the spirit of now. In one image, a pair of current season tassel earrings – picked up on a trip to San Francisco – add a contemporary edge to a fawn, linen kaftan by Dubai-based label, Katan.
Despite the malls of temptation and allure of big, glossy international brands, Eman has infinite loyalties with Middle Eastern brands too. “I love Katan,” she tells us. The Katan offering is a modern and minimal take on linen kaftans in restrained tones and airy silhouettes. “And pieces by Manaal Al Hammadi,” she continues. “They’re comfortable, the design isn’t too fancy, and they’re great everyday pieces. For gowns and glamour, Saudi designer Razan Alazzouni is just, wow!”
Eman wears: Dress, Marni. Abaya, Manaal Al Hammadi. Shoes, Prada. Sunglasses, Céline. Earrings, Mango, all her own
On an international playing field, although she professes to love all designers, the two that really resonate with her are Max Mara and Marni. “I love them both. For everyday casual stuff, it’s mostly Marni. For occasions, I like Max Mara. When I put on a Max Mara dress, I feel like it’s been made-to-measure, they’re cut so beautifully and just fit me so well,” she says, reminiscing about a beautiful Max Mara outfit she picked up on Rodeo Drive seven years ago.
Although she pleads ignorance is bliss where the chorus of social media stylists are concerned, saying “I don’t follow other influencers,” she does have her finger on the pulse, or rather ‘Like’ button, of hundreds of designers and boutiques. When asked about the plastic-looking skirt she’s wearing, her enthusiasm peaks. “I bought this Loiél skirt online, it just goes with everything,” she says. Despite reservations from her husband, Eman went ahead with the Dhs300 purchase, which has now completely sold out. Consequence or coincidence? We’ll let you decide.
The high street also serves Eman with plenty of inspiration, especially where accessorising is concerned, with brands such as Zara and Mango proving reliable hotspots for more seasonal finds. “You can pick up really amazing pieces on the high street now.” She tells us, referencing the Zara fur cuff and floral jumper combination she’s been wearing. She’s keen to steer new generations away from top-to-toe designer dressing and encourage a more realistic designer-high street mix, as well as inspire confidence in her own generation. “When you reach your fifties, it’s common to gain weight and lose interest in fashion.” On the flip side, she’s quick to acknowledge that some “older women dress like teenagers.”
Eman wears: Jumper, fur cuffs and earrings, Zara. Jeans, Max Mara. Shoes, Céline, all her own
An avid follower of fashion, she is also acutely self-aware, “I want to say that, yes, you can follow trends, but don’t try and take everything. Know what suits you.” Her aim is to curate an age- and region-appropriate edit of style for all to be inspired by. She also offers personal style consultations and already hasa slew of local and international women hot on her heels for advice. “By nature, I love to help people,” she tells us. Taking and art directing her own imagery, aided by an abundance of good taste, an unwavering eye and a selfie stick, her reward is the recognition she receives from her inner circle. “I feel proud of myself and happy that the way I mix and match fashion inspires people. It’s not about being beautiful, it’s about the outfit and education of putting things together well.”
Eman doesn’t get caught up in the seasonal fashion cycle, instead staying true to her own personal style, which she describes as “simple and chic,” with an affection for pastels and soft colours. “I don’t like anything too strong.” Ironically, her style preferences are the opposite of the persona her Insta-profile emits. “I’ve become more confident with age,” she tells Bazaar, “and my style has been refined over the years. I know who I am and what works.”
Eman wears: Abaya, Manaal Al Hammadi. Shirt and skirt, Joseph. Plastic skirt, Loéil. Shoes, Dior. Earrings, H&M, all her own
Eman’s style ethos transcends into her home, too. “The house is only four colours – white and grey with natural wood elements and a little black. It’s comfortable for the eyes, a relaxing house and everything matches.” It’s no surprise, then, that her bias towards meticulous matching also applies to the upkeep of her wardrobe. “Everything is sorted in terms of items and colour. Tops are together, pants and dresses, then everything is also colour coordinated within those categories,” and work clothes are carefully separated from off-duty wear. “When I go to work I wear an abaya, andI always plan what I wear the day before. I like everything to match from head-to-toe.”
She also turns to abayas at the weekend, “I always wear one over my outfit,” while on an average day, it’s perfectly normal for Eman to have three or four outfit changes. “I would never go straight from work to a social occasion, without returning home to change first,” she insists.
When asked about her favourite item in her wardrobe, her answer takes us by surprise. It isn’t her Hermès bag or Christian Dior shoes. It isn’t her Chanel pearls or white Prada dress – although the latter ranks highly. It’s a black pinstripe Escada suit with a smattering of embroidered, pink butterflies over one shoulder. “I bought it 15 years ago,” she says, “it still feels like new.” Eman goes on to tell us about the Prada dress, it is, after all, the dress which ignited her love affair with white. “It was for Reem’s graduation. I was in transit and I bought it from Heathrow airport as I didn’t have time to shop anywhere else. That was eight years ago and I still love it now, it’s timeless.”
Eman wears: Kaftan, tunic and trousers, Katan Linen. Abaya, Manaal Al Hammadi. Shoes, Tory Burch, all her own
With trips to LA, New York, San Francisco and London on her annual agenda, Eman has her shopping technique down to a fine art – “I don’t like heavy shopping and I don’t like to fill my suitcase. I’m picky so I like to choose carefully. I never have anything specific in mind but like to see what I can find.” Eman is also a self-professed shoe addict, “I love shoes but I’m careful what I buy.” Comfort is always a prerequisite in her purchase requirements, and she describes Armani, Prada and Dior as all being “fantastic”. She also believes that when it comes to shoes, “It’s the designer that carries the woman.”
Eman’s affair with social media is flourishing in a similar fashion to her shoe addiction, after a cautious start, the pair are well on their way to marital bliss. Eman knows who she is and exactly the kind of image she wants to project, with Instagram serving as the perfect platform. Although she may not be alone in her bid to shine a light on timeless style, or modest dressing, Mama Hepburn is blazing a trail for a different generation, one she’s keen to tell you, “hasn’t passed its sell-by date.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
Photography by Ethan Mann