How These Middle Eastern Influencers Stay True To Their Roots Wherever They Go

Nathalie Fanj, Lana El Sahely, Karen Wazen
Jason Lloyd Evans
Step aside French nonchalance: The Middle East’s style set are staging a Paris takeover with their own prescription of deliberate dressing

BAZAAR goes behind the scenes in Paris with the coterie of Middle Eastern influencers whose tri-annual Paris Fashion Week pilgrimage sees them paving the city streets with their own style gold. They’re re-writing the rulebook, and asserting their own unabashed love for fashion and the Middle East’s design talent on a city known for it’s pared-back chic.

In the past decade, Parisienne chic is an aesthetic we’ve obsessed over. We’ve consumed it through Isabel Marant’s nonchalant designs and digested it courtesy of tomes by Caroline de Maigret and Inès de la Fressange. We’ve envisaged bottling it while learning how to formulate it, insouciantly shrugging off the idea of using hair conditioner (and brushes), eschewing catwalk trends in favour of a louche shirt, plain cashmere jumper and a pair of deliberately imperfect jeans, the list goes on. But is dishevelled really decadent? While the French are famed for looking effortless, the Middle East champion putting the effort in. Our style set favour larger-than-life-accessories, swathes of colour and bringing Arabia’s iconic design aesthetic to the streets of Paree.

Meet three of the region's fashion disrupters, away from home but still feeling at home, on the streets of Paris.

Nathalie Fanj
31, Lebanese

“Elegance is a key element for all Middle Eastern women, and I make sure to look elegant no matter how casual or edgy my look is,” Natalie says. Her unwavering and defined sense of style has enabled her to carve out a niche as one of the region’s most in-demand tastemakers. And as you would expect from such a style maverick, her Paris Fashion Week wardrobe is as thoughtfully curated as her Instagram feed. Which, by the way, happens to have enticed a cult following of no less than 343,000.

“Paris is the right place to express myself and get creative,” she tells us. Nathalie also admits that her style seems to get more “daring” when she’s there. And while the international brands beckon, there’s still no place like home when it comes to fashion. “I believe the designers in our region are so talented, I frequently wear their designs. It makes me proud to represent.” Staying true to herself she admits, “It is really important to choose brands you can relate to.” For Nathalie that includes the confident, contemporary and unique design aesthetic of Dubai-based, Lama Jouni.

Lana El Sahely
28, Lebanese

For internationally renowned Lana El Sahely, who has been covering Paris Fashion Week for “eight years now,” dressing successfully for the occasion is co-dependent on the preparation.“I always plan fittings in Paris for brands,” she begins. “But I also always pack several pieces from the Middle Eastern brands that I work with because for me this makes up such a large percentage of my closet.” Lana often works on exclusive pieces with designers from the region. “It’s part of my identity, too,” she says.

“I think it’s a way of differentiating yourself, there’s nothing better than mixing local, regional and international designers.” Her go-to Middle Eastern brand? Roberi & Fraud. “It’s such a success story. The designers have created a real moment – their pieces are so much fun and add an edge to any look.” While she appreciates how “classic” French women are in their approach to dressing she admits her style is constantly evolving to absorb the latest sartorial must-haves, and Paris is her favourite place to dress up. “My style is always adapting to the latest trends and Fashion Week is the right place for me to express myself and get creative when styling my outfits.”

Karen Wazen
31, Lebanese

Karen wears: Jacket, Dhs1,600, trousers; Dhs987, both Lama Jouni. Bag, Dhs3,710, Nathalie Trad. Sunglasses, Dhs918, Roberi & Fraud, Shoes, Karen’s own

“During fashion week my style is definitely more luxury,” Karen begins. The founder of the insightful lifestyle blog, Karen’s Choice, she describes her style as “more sophisticated and maybe a bit more glamorous” than her fellow French influencers, putting it down to “Arab culture.” While a lot of the outfits she wears are from the brands whose shows she attends, Karen feels passionate about supporting regional talent and preserving her sense of self in the process. With so many designers vying to dress her for, Karen retains her integrity by only wearing what she is truly comfortable in. Of course, that instinctively involves a roster of Middle Eastern designers.

“I’m just me, I don’t change wherever I go. I work so closely with the Middle East showrooms – I support the brands but I also feel like they support me too. I’ve been wearing Madiyah [Al Sharqi] for a long time. It’s a close relationship, and she’ll customise pieces for me. It’s not just a work relationship, we’re friends.” On challenging international perceptions of a modern Middle Eastern women, she says, “I get really happy when people find out that I’m Middle Eastern, they usually have the idea that Arab women don’t dress like them, so I’m happy when they’re pleasantly surprised by my style, the way I speak and my culture. It makes me super proud.

Photography by Jason Lloyd Evans

From the November 2018 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia


Press play to step inside Karen Wazen's luxurious Dubai home.

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Nathalie Fanj, Lana El Sahely, Karen Wazen
Jason Lloyd Evans