Entrepreneur, taste maker, style icon and social media influencer... Lana El Sahely can lay claim to many titles on her burgeoning curriculum vitae. Her most important job to date, however, will soon top her CV as the role of a lifetime – that of motherhood.
Having found success through her blog L’Armoire De Lana, the Lebanese influencer tuned into her audiences further in 2016 when she cleverly re-launched as an online platform, LanaElSahely.com – which includes a magazine and e-shop. Already a household name on the influencer circuit, as well as amongst her 221,000 some followers, news of her pregnancy has brought her fans even closer – but will she ever be able to pull back?
“The baby was planned,” Lana, 28, begins. “I found out I was pregnant when I was at home in Beirut, and being able to share it with family was really special.” While Lana and her husband, Ali Awada, were overjoyed with the news, the prospect of becoming first-time parents was equally daunting, which is why Lana wanted to spend the duration of her pregnancy and her first months of motherhood, surrounded by security of family and close friends.
Despite being born in Cameroon, Lana’s family moved back to Beirut – where her parents are from – when she was 13 years old, and it was here where she met Ali. The pair married in the city, in a much-talked about and lavish ceremony in 2015, with the bride wearing a breathtaking couture dress by Elie Saab. “I love Beirut as a creative hub, it’s so rich with history and full of contrasts. You learn a lot when living here, you grow stronger as well. Everything about Beirut inspires,” she tells Bazaar. Lana also has a home in Cameroon where her husband works, “I also love my time in Cameroon, people there are the sweetest and most genuine you could ever meet. It’s green, it’s raw and it’s perfect for a healthy lifestyle. Being between both gives me a balance.”
The first trimester of Lama’s pregnancy was a roller coaster of emotions; with elation and excitement also came exhaustion and nausea. Yet despite suffering on the inside, her fashion game seemed to be stronger than ever. “My parents taught me to work hard,” she says of her resolve. “I’ve always been a straight-A student, and really worked for my achievements.” Lana still managed Paris and Milan in September, as well as Couture Week in January this year. A quick glance at her Instagram feed shows she still aced the street style gauntlet – she’s pictured in everything from Maison Valentino and Elie Saab, to Céline and Ralph & Russo. Whether enjoying an Acai breakfast bowl at the Hôtel Du Crillion, or strolling hand-in-hand with fellow influencer (and mum-of-three) Karen Wazen in the Parisian sunshine – Lana has already, perhaps unwittingly, become a pin-up for great maternity style. Even when taking a break from the fashion week circuit, she takes style in her stride, with her sartorial choices including the likes of leather pants or leggings, and easy pieces to layer during winter in Beirut. Now, she says, “I’m changing a bit as I’m growing bigger, and going for more dresses, skirts and onesies. My baby-bump took a while to show, so I didn’t have a proper bump until the second trimester,” she shrugs. She also turned to Topshop Maternity and other high-street brands, and also admits to the much loved mum-to-be trick of looping hair bands through button holes. “I used this on boyfriend jeans to keep them up. It’s a nice trick which enables you to still wear the things you love,” she tells Bazaar.
The insights into her fashionable life have, and will continue. “In the beginning the blog didn’t change as the topics that I handle are quite clear – it’s mostly fashion and beauty, but as I do a lot of lifestyle content and I share my daily life, and the way I eat and work out with my audience, so it was only natural to share my pregnancy.” Lana’s pregnancy has of course been well-documented in videos and interviews covering health, fitness and nutrition, as well as fashion. “I think it’s important as a lot of people want me to share more, and know a lot more.”
To ensure she is the best version of herself that she can be, and the best role model, Lana has rediscovered an old hobby – swimming – which she loves for the “weightlessness and peacefulness”, also ensuring she “eats extremely healthily,” too, with a focus on giving her baby “the right nutrition.” And while it’s part of her repertoire to dish out advice via her website, Lana has also received plenty. “A lot of the tips I’ve had from friends and family have revolved around creams and oils to apply to prevent stretch marks. I tried Bio Oil and Clarins, but I also used a lot of natural products, and that’s what I stuck to in the end. Oils and creams in their natural form are best. Almond oil was the one that smelt the best to me, and I always mix it with a body cream.”
An Instagram post where Lana wears nothing but a LDLxKrikor Jabotian white shirt and cradles her bump was a joint celebration – marking the 20-week milestone, and a collaboration between her LDL shop and the designer. It was also her 20-week scan which revealed the sex of the baby – a boy. And while she doesn’t like the idea of doing a ‘reveal’, she has quietly told people who’ve asked. She also insists she didn’t have a preference and says, “I was so excited as I always hear that a boy is for his mum, and also my youngest sibling [Ali,13] is a boy and we have a very strong bond.”
Her hopes and dreams for motherhood are refreshingly honest. “I really hope to be able to be a good mum, and help him get the right support and education to be able to achieve everything he wishes to be, or become, or learn. I think we live in an increasingly difficult world, but he will always be surrounded by the right people, and the ones who love him.” In the wake of the world’s current equality campaign ensuring equal rights for both men and women across various industries and cultures, Lana’s also keen for her son to have the same open-minded upbringing she was privileged to. Rather than having any life affirmations forced, her parents taught Lana and her siblings in a more organic and nurturing way. “My mother and my father never had to tell me that there is something called equality, or women’s empowerment, I like how these things are part of education in a smooth way. Hopefully my son will learn this from the lifestyle I lead, and how my husband and I are, and the way we lead our daily life. And with age comes discussion. He’ll see that I’m trying my best, just as much as his dad is, to give him a great life. I don’t believe in any aggressive way of doing things, or any extreme way. I believe in having values every day in the way you do things – it’s not enough just talking about these things, I don’t want to tell him how things should be done, it’s important that he sees how changes can be made, and the fact that I founded my own company, and I’ve done so many things on my own.”
Lana’s parents also taught her to “be good and do good,” she says. “Having a peaceful relationship with the rest of the world is very important. There’s so much aggression and negativity out there, and I look at our family and we’ve never looked at the world in this way. We don’t judge others and I think it’s nice. I think the kind way we deal with other people is one of the best things they [her parents] taught us.” Lana has three siblings (Cérina, 25, Mohamed, 20, and Ali, 13) and loves being part of a close-knit family. “You know when you’re a kid and you always think that you’ll do things completely different to the way your parents did? Well, now that I’m pregnant, there are many things that I would do exactly the same,” she laughs. “My parents also taught us faith. We have very strong faith at home, and love and transparency – we were all very honest with each other. I want to have a very honest relationship with my child and I want him to be able to share things, ask my opinions and ask questions. I don’t want to be a scary parental figure. I want to be present.” With strong feelings opposing all the violence and hostility in the world Lana hopes to create a peaceful set up at home, “A place we can listen and discuss things, rather than jump to conclusions,” she says.
For someone whose life is played out online, you expect Lana to be open, but she’s also endearingly honest and for all the glamour that surrounds her lifestyle, she’s ultimately quite candid and very grounded. Like every woman, mum and mum-to-be she has her insecurities. “It’s really hard, I try and project myself in the future and everyone asks me questions about the life I want for my baby, and how I will parent. And I just find it hard. I’m scared of setting expectations, and not being able to fulfil them.”
Already torn over how she will approach social media after the birth, she says, “It’s really challenging as I’ve always shared many things with my followers, especially my daily life and my lifestyle, and of course I will keep on sharing more, but it should be fair to him and I think I’ll deal with it the same way I deal with exposing my husband.” If you scroll through Lana’s feed, you’ll see a photo of her husband Ali every six months or so. “I’m not saying that my baby is going to be that absent but it’s just that I don’t know how frequently I will be posting. It will not be every day.” She also acknowledges that, for her son, it will be “essential to focus on creating the best environment for him,” rather than how to share him with the world. “I know that people genuinely love me, and have given me support throughout this pregnancy, so I also know that I owe it to them to share a little – more than showing, sharing.” There are no plans to set up a social media account for him though, this is something she finds “ridiculous” and an “invasion of their space.”
Pregnancy has also enlightened Lana. “I know it might sound premature, but for me many things are different.” While experiencing changes in her body has reiterated what a “beautiful miracle of life” pregnancy is, she also admits to her new found admiration for mothers. “I have so much respect for every single woman who has been able to do it and continue working, and those at home taking care of all the children at the same time. It’s a very challenging phase, it’s a beautiful one, but it’s also in my opinion extremely challenging. Every day you wake up feeling different and you don’t really have control of what’s going on. I have so much admiration for the way women deal with it.” Along with her views on women, her outlook on life has also lightened. “Let’s just say that many of the things that I’d freak out about, have been put into perspective. My character is anxious but I’ve found myself caring less about many little things, especially related to social media and the blogging world. It’s so true what they say that your priorities change, whether it’s the goals you set, the people you surrounded yourself by, or even financially – I’ve changed a lot of things but it’s all happened in a very natural way. It hasn’t been me forcing a plan. This phase of my life is taking me towards another. I think it’s important to re-adjust.”
Although Lana is taking pregnancy in her stride, she has also been astutely doing her homework, as you’d expect from a straight-A student. She says she has “downloaded apps, researched, read magazines and books” to keep abreast of each trimester and what’s to follow. She reels off a few including What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and Gina Ford’s The Complete Sleep Guide and The Contented Baby, First Year. “The part where it’s overwhelming at the beginning is the part I’m trying to understand. I like the Gina Ford books the most, I like that she has a strong method when it comes to childcare and maternity,” she says. “It doesn’t mean it will work with my baby, but I’m sure there’s something out of her books I’ll be applying.” Lana has already lined up help in the form of a maternity nurse. “This is something I decided on before I was pregnant,” she admits. “I want to have the medical support at home to get the right schedule for my baby, and to learn how to handle a baby. I have no idea. You can read all the books in the world but that’s not the same as the reality.” My mother, sister and husband will be around, too. I want to be surrounded with support. It is how we are at home anyway.” She also confirms she’ll take four-to-six weeks off work too, to learn how to become and mum and bond with her baby boy.
Coming back around to style, her son’s nursery is a reflection of Lana’s personal taste and with regards to interiors, she likes simplicity. “I’m not into prints when it comes to interior design, what I wanted is something very simple with neutral colours. I want it to be very relaxing with whites, greys and blues.” When it comes to shopping, Lana focused on French brands like Petit Bateau, for “lots of cotton and things that will make him feel comfortable, and the likes of Tartine et Chocolat.” With friends constantly telling her “not to go crazy” she has tried to keep quantities under control and stick to more practical choices. Baby Dior pyjamas were her first purchase, and she cites a shop in Beirut called Cookie Dough as catering for her every whim – “it’s my favourite shop and they have everything.” Names are also being thoroughly researched, with their preference being for a strong Arabic name that can easily pronounced in all languages, which is “a challenge!” she laughs.
Just days away from the birth, Lana’s serene temperament and calm outlook will certainly stand her in good stead of the journey that is to come. With her pregnancy style already so on point, we’re certain that motherhood will be an equally captivating affair.
From April 2018 issue of Harper's Bazaar Junior
Prices approximate. Words: Elaine Lloyd-Jones. Photography: Richard Hall. Styling: Gemma Deeks. Creative direction: Anna Saveleiva. Hair: Tony El Mendelek. Make-up: Maysoon at Fady Kataya.