Like any of the great fashion capitals, Dubai has its own distinct style. If New Yorkers favour a preppy uptown look and Parisians forgo trends in favour of eternal chic, Dubai-ites call for all-out glamour with Swarovski-encrusted stilettos, a full pavé and head-to-toe Fendi for breakfast. Right? So the cliché goes at least. To the rest of the world, we are the ultimate consumers of luxury, preened to within an inch of our Louboutins and never knowingly underspending. But fighting back against the tired line that the Middle East can only buy into opulent fashion, is a band of women who are pioneering a more understated aesthetic. They’re teaming sneakers with Saint Laurent, distressed denim with fine jewellery, and bomber jackets with heirloom watches. They’re mixing local finds with runway looks, and championing up-and-coming designers to create a unique style that might look low maintenance, but maintains a luxury price tag. A fearless group of women who are rewriting the region’s fashion rule book, regardless of age or nationality.
27, Palestinian, Founder Of The Luxury Arcade
Lina wears bomber jacket, Balenciaga. T-shirt, The Luxury Arcade. Jeans, Off-White. Shoes, Louis Vuitton. Vintage watch, Audemars Piguet. Bangle, Van Cleef & Arpels. All Lina’s own
Born and raised in the UAE, Palestinian showstopper Lina Mustafa is well placed to comment on the country’s style evolution. She has witnessed, first hand, the arrival of luxury brands and supersized malls from The Dubai Mall to The Galleria, and then watched the ensuing uprising of independent boutiques.
In fact, so inspired has she been by the rise and rise of fashion in the emirates that at the age of just 23 Lina opened her own boutique, The Luxury Arcade, in Abu Dhabi. Today she regularly tops best-dressed lists for her striking combinations of luxury and ‘street’, a look that she honed during her years spent studying at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins, before she headed back to the UAE in 2014.
Despite her prominence in the fashion crowd, when it comes to everyday dressing Lina remains refreshingly low key. “My go-to outfit is usually a pair of jeans and a plain white t-shirt,” she affirms. “And I live in boots, which I love because I’m really short so they give me an extra inch or two!” The boots are Louis Vuitton, but she teams them with a Balenciaga bomber jacket and a favourite pair of Off-White jeans, giving off an overall impression of laid-back insouciance. Admittedly, looking like the sixth Kardashian sister probably helps, but it is her attitude and the way that she holds herself that gets Lina noticed, rather than her petite proportions.
For Lina, straying away from the glitzy image so often attributed to women in the Middle East is a key component in both the way that she dresses and in the selection that she makes for her store. “I want to show women that you can still be well dressed in something casual, simply by pairing a good jacket or statement accessory with well-cut basics,” she explains. Much of her store and her wardrobe therefore consist of minimalist, usually monochrome separates that chime with her belief that less is more. “We don’t necessarily have to be overdone in a short dress and heels to look good” she summarises. Prabal Gurung, Richard Nicoll, Madiyah Al Sharqi and L’Afshar are just some of the labels that she will throw together with something a little deconstructed or oversized to achieve her perfectly undone look. Menswear also forms a major part of her wardrobe. “I love to style feminine pieces with more masculine styles. Dressing up a short dress with an oversized blazer or bomber jacket, or layering pieces together with a pair of heels is how I love to dress.”
As for the future of fashion in the region, Lina feels optimistic about the changes that are afoot. “I think we’re definitely starting to adopt a more casual, alternative style,” she muses, “and we’re starting to really appreciate the simple combination of a good pair of jeans, a plain t-shirt and a statement accessory to finish off the look.”
1. Jacket, Dhs2,909, Alexander Wang at Net-a-Porter 2. Necklace, Dhs1,835, Dylan Lex 3. Shoes, Dhs840, Mountain Cut Marble at The Luxury Arcade 4. Top, Dhs450, The Luxury Arcade
45, Syria, Visual Merchandiser For Urbanist
Sandra wears bomber jacket, Vivetta. Top, Storets. Jeans, J Brand. Shoes, Golden Goose. Jewellery, Sandra’s own. All at Urbanist.
It’s hard to believe that Sandra Hakim is the mother of a 24 year old – her blunt fringe, bold red lips and Love Moschino jacket give her the allure of somebody half her age, and given that she also has a five year old who shares her bed, she is remarkably peppy. “This is my favourite brand at the moment,” she chimes as she hugs a brightly striped LemLem kaftan. “It’s so perfect for Dubai. I might wear it to work or I might wear it on the beach – and I love that the voluminous shape hides all sorts of sins.” Over on her giant mother-of-pearl table, an antique from her native Syria, is a selection of sandals by Alameda Turquesa. With their bright pom-poms and sequins they are a far cry from the more demure styles that might be expected of a forty-something mother-of-three, but she insists that they are the obvious choice of footwear for a city where you can find yourself going from boardroom to brunch to beach at a moment’s notice. Sandra’s style could certainly never be described as ‘mumsy’.
In the early nineties, Sandra studied Fashion Design at the Paris American Academy – “In those days, there was only one course – Fashion Design. No Fashion Marketing, Fashion Merchandising, Fashion Journalism – just Fashion Design!” – but it wasn’t until 2015 that she took up the reigns at Urbanist. One of the very first concept stores to open in Boxpark, the boutique is a mini-celebration of the Middle East, offering traditional handicrafts and furniture alongside up-and-coming regional designers and more established international brands.
Currently, Sandra is coveting anything by WAW and Aya Khair, but she is also enamoured by Storets, which Urbanist stocks exclusively in the UAE, as well as Vivetta. Seeking out lesser-known designers, especially ones from the region, feels like her duty, in part because of the boutique, but mostly because she wants to support fledging talent from the Middle East, whose heritage speaks to her on a personal level.
For Sandra, dressing on a daily basis is a two-part process. Firstly, she has to be comfortable. “Mums have to be practical,” she asserts, “so for me it’s always flats in the day, never heels.” Secondly, she has to love what she wears. “Other people’s opinions really don’t matter to me. I just like to throw everything together and see what I come up with. But I do always like to mix things up within one outfit, so whether it is mixing colours or mixing designers, I don’t buy into one look.” So it might be a shirting dress by Vivetta that she teams with a vintage Rolex, or a Sonia by Sonia Rykiel top worn with Cartier accessories and a pair of J Brand cut-off shorts. No two days are ever the same and so it follows that no two outfits are ever the same either. “My style is constantly evolving, based on what’s trending and what is fashionable at any given moment, but ultimately I just wear what I feel like.”
1. T-shirt, Dhs705, Vivetta at Urbanist 2. Bag, Dhs3,650, Anya Hindmarch 3. Shoes, Dhs1,600
Golden Goose 4. Rings, Dhs5,450, Pomellato
45, French, Co-Owner Of Comptoir 102
Emma wears top, Raquel Allegra. Vest, Roseanna. Jeans, Mother. Shoes, Golden Goose. Sunglasses, Ray-ban. Bracelets, Mathilde Danglade and Pascale Monvoison. Rings, Monsieur Paris, Gilbert Gilbert Bijoux, Ileana Makri, Ines & Brooke Gregson
It would be impossible to talk about regional fashion without mentioning Emma Sawko. The petite Parisian is the very essence of low key luxury, living and breathing understated glamour and helping others to achieve her enviable style through her boutique, Comptoir 102, in Jumeirah. Now a key landmark on Dubai’s retail map, the store was launched in 2012 and stocks fashion by Golden Goose, Raquel Allegra and Jérôme Dreyfuss among others, with furniture by Caravane, India Mahdavi and Kafka Goes Pink.
On any given day, Emma can be found doing a stocktake in Isabel Marant skinnies, Vivienne Westwood Pirate boots and a Balmain jacket, her tousled pixie crop the antithesis of Dubai’s signature blowdry. Trinkets by Brooke Gregson and Choux a la Crème vye for space on her dainty wrists as she sips on a Matcha latte. But although she is now a key figure on the local scene, it took Emma a while to integrate. When she initially arrived in the UAE in 2011, she stood out from the rest of the boutique owners with her rock-chic appearance and was taken aback by the lack of street style to be found. “In Paris and New York, style starts in the street and fashion follows, but it is less the case here. When we started Comptoir 102, that was the idea – to bring a different sense of fashion to the city,” she recalls. Given that Bloomingdale’s had only dared venture out here a year before, it was an ambitious task. But tempting shoppers out of Fashion Avenue and onto Beach Road proved easier than might have been expected and before long the concept store was the destination for those who know their Delphine Delafon from their Dolce & Gabbana.
Since she first set foot in the Middle East, Emma has noticed a distinct shift in the attitudes of local shoppers. “Until a few years ago, it was all about big names, luxury fashion, branded bags,” she remarks. “But tastes have changed and matured and women are now bolder in their choices, daring to go towards less ostentatious, more confidential brands and really developing their unique style. It has been very refreshing to witness.” As for her own style, it has barely changed since she was in her early twenties, although she does admit that she has been experimenting with more skirts and sandals since moving to sunnier climes. “I can’t live without jeans and sneakers, but I like to have something more feminine to balance the look. I love Raquel Allegra for that. The fabrics are so delicate, almost fragile,” she explains as she wafts past in a top from the designer’s latest collection. “These are brands that I buy for the shop and this is what I wear – I couldn’t honestly buy something I don’t love.” Recently voted as one of the top 70 most influential women in France, Emma’s presence is clearly being felt in the Middle East, judging by the number of Isabel Marant bombers on show at the Comptoir 102 café during our Bazaar shoot. If anyone can tempt us away from our Saint Laurent tux, it has to be Emma.
1. Jacket, Dhs1,600, Etoile Isabel Marant at Net-a-Porter 2. Bag, Dhs2,900, Delphine Delafon at Comptoir 102 3. Shoes, Dhs1,500, Golden Goose at Comptoir 102 4. Dress, Dhs1,057 Raquel Allegra
Read the full feature in the February issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia, available on iPad and in-store now.