If you’ve scrolled through Dana Hourani’s Instagram of late, you’ll note the decidedly washed-out, vintage vibe. A VHS catalogue of chic, neither-here-nor-there stances, otherworldly gazes into the distance through a pair of either over-sized or under-sized sunglasses and a simple yet affecting script of poetic discourse or single emoji descriptions on her posts.
“On Instagram you can be whoever you want to be. There are no rules. Everyone has their own thing going on,” shrugs Dana, 30, who sits cross-legged as she chats to Bazaar, wearing highwaisted dark denim jeans with a tucked-in jet black T-shirt emblazoned with ‘FOLLE’ (French for crazy woman) in crimson red. Although not a stickler for rules, she sticks to her own standards and walks the talk she puts out through D Tales, the pithy strap to her website (Danahourani.com), which explores a solid trio of style, sound and sights.
Before arriving at this artistic crossroads, Dana was anchored by a more linear life route. A childhood spent between Sharjah (where she was born) and her native Lebanon, she studied business management at the American University of Beirut – but her true calling was always music, the indie pop and acoustic variety. Having dabbled extensively in the music scene at university, she came to Dubai in 2008 and later worked for a record label. But Dana butted heads with the rigid side of mass creativity. “Although I was set on doing something in the music industry, it was too corporate for me, it had nothing to do with actual music.” Post corporate world, she experienced a naval-gazing period of “what should I do with my life?” where she dreamily mapped out her passions and conjured up ways to monetise it, when she joined Instagram four years ago. What transpired was an organic snowballing of followers and brands falling at her feet, taking Dana by surprise that “this became a job,” she says, laughing softly. “I was so interested and infatuated with fashion and music, it all started to happen.” Her two loves were formalised by a beautifully curated (and on-brand) website – “where I even create playlists for different occasions like hosting dinners” – and her reach catapulted further. She knows, however, that the Middle East has a very different social media pull as compared to the wider world. “It’s a very saturated market and you’ve got to really stand out. You have to differentiate to stay longer in the game.”
To reach the lofty heights of someone like Chiara Ferragni (who, with 13.6 million followers, is widely regarded as the most inﬂuential fashion blogger on Instagram), Dana says, “It’s extremely difﬁcult unless you’re always travelling and gaining followers and working with international brands. While there are many great international fashion bloggers, there aren’t actually that many from the Middle East.” She puts this down to the big ﬁsh, small pond complex, but the “hub is Dubai and this city made it possible for us to be connected to the rest of the world.”
Having a quietly understated brand amidst a throng of louder, cookie-cutter proﬁles, has allowed Dana to stand out, with an effortless, rather than an extravagant, ethos. “The way I go about anything is minimal – whether that’s my brand’s look or my personal style.”
Her unmistakable blood-red bullet point for a proﬁ le picture on Instagram, which “wasn’t given much thought”, is the starter catalyst for all the intrigue that surrounds her. Although she may appear to buck the high-octane glamour aesthetic of the region, she adapts whatever the buzz of the moment is, to her vibe. “I have to be selective about what and who I choose to partner with. I always want to maintain brand integrity.” Sometimes, that approach means turning down hefty pay cheques, but her pursuit of elevated “editorial” content is what makes Dana’s personal brand credible, while seeing the work pile up in tandem.
In an overshare culture, however, social media blurs the two stories within us all: the one we tell the world and the private one we save for ourselves. Dana gingerly strides between those lines but doesn’t doesn’t lambast anyone who documents every aspect of their life. “If your business model involves your personal life and it’s what people want, then that’s what you’ve got to do. I don’t share a lot of my family, it’s strictly about fashion, music and day-to-day activities.”
Her daughter Zoe, who recently turned two, is very much aware of that lens – she’s made a few cameo appearances – and this is something Dana is constantly modulating for fear of Zoe developing a distorted view of the world. “Of course, I am really worried about it. But I hope that by the time Zoe enters her teens, social media will have evolved into something more beneﬁcial.”
Dana may be at the centre of the zeitgeist but she isn’t a slave to it – “I don’t take photos every day. Instead, I’m ﬁnding ways to evolve the brand in sync with the wider evolution of social media” – proving that both patience and prudence pack a very stylish punch.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.