VILLA 88 JUNE 2016 112-page-001

A Colorful Life

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, June 2016 issue

Emirati entrepreneur FATIMA AL SHIRAWI decodes color therapy and its many shades, writes PRIYANKA PRADHAN
VILLA 88 JUNE 2016 113-page-001
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She lives, breathes and dreams in color. For Fatima Al Shirawi, hues have dictated every aspect of her life from home to work and from

her wardrobe to her inter-personal relationships. Perhaps this is why she chose to help people use colors to change their lives. “It’s been a very long and colorful journey,” says Fatima. “When I went to England to study fashion design, we had to take a class in color psychology and that’s when I was introduced to the world of color for the first time. It was an instant calling since the first day of my class and I’ve been mesmerized ever since.”

“When I came back to Dubai after my course, I realized this was something lacking in the market. People weren’t aware of how emotions could be associated with color. They didn’t know how in-depth the concept could go and how it could a ect various aspects of their lives. This was an opportunity waiting to be explored,” she says. This is how her brand The Gracious F was born.

Her client profile is truly diverse — ranging from age 26 to 50, working professionals to housewives, new moms to singles looking for love and from the newly wed to the newly divorced, who come looking for help to either change or simply enhance their lives through colors. The process is fairly simple. Starting with a general questionnaire about personality and preferences, a typical consulting session involves an in-depth analysis of the client as well as several color tests against their skin, to determine which palette suits them best. This palette is further customized into a personal color kit for the client, which can be used in their wardrobes, home interiors or workspace, depending on which area of life the client wants to work on.

“You also receive a full report on personal grooming according to your personality and body type- which colors to wear, hairstyles, fragrances, fabric, jewelry and make up choices, what careers suit you—it’s a complete lifestyle package,” she adds.

While working with clients to create personalized work and private spaces, she stumbled upon an idea to create a multifunctional piece for her clients— an interior décor project and her personal labor of love. “‘The object’ came about as a result of my own di culty while working in interior design,” says Fatima. “When I analyze an individual, I aim to customize and personalize their private space to the best of my ability. In the market, I couldn’t find something to match their individual personalities so I created something that my clients could use as an art piece in their homes and also something that was multi-functional. I further personalize ‘the object’ according to the client’s color individual therapy session.”

However, it hasn’t been the easiest journey to convince the market to buy into a concept that is fairly esoteric. “In order to create awareness about color therapy, I have been working on a lot of workshops and talks to educate people, which has in turn helped potential clients understand and try it for the first time, ” she says. “There was a considerable amount of skepticism when I started out first. I found that individuals are becoming more and more open to fresh, creative concepts to improve their lives as opposed to corporates, who are more hesitant to try something new,” adds Fatima. “In such a fast-paced environment such as Dubai, stress is a big problem amongst adults and they’re ready to try something new in their lives.”

The color therapy concept applies itself to the corporate world on a larger scale. Fatima will first assess the customer profile and target group of the store and carefully categorize them into groups. “We create each section for each type of personality. We blend in colors, textures and designs together to appeal to the customer profile or target group for the store. So when the customer enters the store, they automatically gravitate towards the section that appeals to them. For example, the majority of customers from the UAE, Levant and the Mediterranean belt are autumn personalities, so we can derive general characteristics of these personalities and determine the kind of colors they’re drawn towards.”

She may have scaled up her business by several leagues since she started in 2012 but she says her biggest achievement so far is something that cannot be quantified. “The feedback that I get and the happy faces of my clients —that’s the ultimate satisfaction for me and it keeps me going. They come in with questions and concerns and leave with a happy, positive feeling and that’s something that’s irreplaceable for me. My biggest achievement is seeing my clients’ lives turn around due to the positive e ects of color therapy.”

As for future plans, Fatima will continue to build The Gracious F and expand internationally, travel and acquire skills that will further enhance her work. With a wealth of experience, years of training as well as her inherent personal charm, Fatima aims to offer the world the ultimate color experience.

Saudi Sartorialst

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, June 2016 issue.

Womenswear designer NASIBA HAFIZ talks fashion, philosophy and philanthropy to PRIYANKA PRADHAN
VILLA 88 JUNE 2016 064-page-001
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It took no less than ten years in the fashion industry for her to realize

her teenage dream. After successful stints in styling, buying and merchandising across Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, life came a full circle for womenswear

designer Nasiba Hafiz when she re-opened her sketchbook, a decade after being rejected from a top fashion school in her late teens. Now, with an arsenal of experience in the fashion industry, Jeddah-based Hafiz sharpens her pencils and her skills as designer-entrepreneur. “I learnt so much in my journey within these di erent roles,” she says. “I think I was meant to do those things and learn everything from scratch, because it helps me tremendously today.”

Nasiba has a trained eye for global and local market trends and creates collections that aim to be both, comfortable for the local climate as well as stylish. This understated and practical style aesthetic forms her signature that’s seen across all her collections. “For example, as a buyer, I learnt that every collection has a story and every aspect of a piece in that collection stems from that story—the fabrics used, the design and ultimately who it appeals to. So as a designer, when I start a collection, I always start with a story behind it and from it, come di erent aspects of design,” she adds.

“My designs are very modern—they’re for working women, designed with a strong functional aspect,” she adds. “For example, most women here wear the abaya over their clothes so the fabrics used in my collections are very light and breathable—I use crepe, silk or blends that are apt for this climate.”

Her most recent collection showcased at Fashion Forward in Dubai this season and combined this practical sensibility with a philosophical touch. Inspired by one of the most powerful and iconic women in Egyptian history, Queen Nefertiti, and the mysteries behind the sun and the stars (which were first worshipped by Nefertiti and her husband), the collection is about the concept of duality. “I wanted to find a balance in my personal life as well as in the chaotic world,” says Nasiba. “So in my collection, you’ll see a lot of silk, monochrome, velvet, a bit of red and burnt thread in my new collection, to represent balance and duality in fabric and color as well.”

The designer is also a campaigner for responsible fashion, with the conviction that one should be aware of where and how their fashion products are made, in order to make ethical choices. For the same reason, she’s an ardent admirer of designer Stella McCartney, who is known to use vegan alternatives for leather and wool for her collections. Inspired by social responsibility, Nasiba works in collaboration with a local CSR initiative for one of her bestselling Ramadan abayas, to support underprivileged women in Saudi Arabia.

Another big inspiration for Hafiz is vintage fashion, seen in her own collection of handmade, vintage pieces made from items her mother has collected over the years and from her father’s timeless collection of ties.

“I started o with a 40s and 50s inspired collection last Ramadan and used a lot of my mother’s vintage flowers and broaches—she never threw away these things! Last season at Fashion Forward, I used my father’s ties to make skirts and tops from vintage ties. They were all handmade and were very intricate and beautiful. Every season I try to do something di erent in this aspect—either vintage or something I can create from my parents’ old things—its handcrafted, sustainable and recycled!”

Post summer, the designer will be working towards the launch of her fragrance, inspired by all things vintage such as old black and white Egyptian movies, combined with her signature style—understated, elegant and functional.

The Basel Museum Crawl

Published in Al Nawras, inflight magazine for Air Arabia, May 2016 issue.

With more than 40 museums and galleries, the Swiss city offers a delight for the curious mind. From the conventional to the quirky, Basel seems to have it all.


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Perched at the crux of France, Germany and Switzerland, the city of Basel has been the cornerstone for a fusion of cultures for centuries now. As one of the oldest cities in Switzerland, Basel’s numerous museums hold the key to a treasure trove of European heritage – from the Celts who first inhabited the banks of the Rhine in the 5th century BC, to the Romans who christened the city Basilea in 374 AD to the prosperous art, culture and transport hub we know know today. A day-long museum crawl attempts to uncover Basel’s legacy through art, music and folklore.

The Basel Kuntsmuseum (St. Alban-Graben 16, 4051 Basel, Switzerland) is a great place to start, simply because you’ll find yourself amidst the largest and oldest public art collections in the world.

It became a municipally owned museum in 1661, when Basilius Amerbach, a prominent citizen of Basel sold his private collection to the city. The museum has since housed art dating back to the 15th century, such as early drawings of the river Rhine which offer a rare insight into medieval society and culture in the region.

Apart from local and regional works, the Basel Kuntsmuseum houses original artwork from some of the biggest names in history –  from Monet and Van Gogh to Picasso and Warhol- under the same roof.

After a $112 million renovation project, the Basel Kuntsmusum opens this April with a massive expansion and three venues within the area, aiming to offer an immersive experience for the visitor.

A brisk, ten-minute walk from here along the cobblestoned backstreets will lead you uphill, into a former prison cell that currently houses the iconic Basel Museum of Music (Im Lohnhof 9, 4051 Basel, Switzerland). The fact that this medieval building will celebrate its 1000th birthday soon, is just part of the charm.

In tracing the timeline of Basel, the museum transports you into various points in the city’s history to experience the evolution of music, first hand. More than 650 instruments spanning five centuries are exhibited here and can be experienced acoustically, for an unforgettable musical journey.

Linked closely with Basel’s musical history, is the local folklore of three symbolic figures – the Wilder Mann (the savage man), Leu (the lion) and Vogel Gryff (the griffin), who were meant to guard the honor societies of Kleinbasel (the province on the western bank of the Rhine). To this date, an annual procession takes place every January, to commemorate this tradition with marching bands and celebrations along the river.

From the 16th century onwards, this tradition, referred to as the Vogel Gryff saw the use of many types of brass instruments, drums and fanfare trumpets for the first time- some of which are carefully preserved and displayed at the museum today.

Also on display are several historical keyboard instruments that were made, or played in Basel. Curiously shaped medieval-age grand pianos, ancient baroque guitars and foot-long trumpets make for a fascinating journey of Europe’s musical history.


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Downhill from the Lohnhof building, is the Barfüsserkirche Museum (Barfüsserpl. 4, 4001 Basel, Switzerland), located inside the Barfüsser Church which was renovated in 1298, after a fire.

With an exhaustive record of Upper Rhine’s cultural history, the permanent exhibition offers original objects documenting handicraft traditions and everyday culture from Basel’s celebrated past.

Some of the most striking features of the museum exhibit are the Basel Cathedral treasure and original fragments of Basel’s dance of death or Danse Macabre, a series of murals from the 15th century, depicting the universality of death.

If the mood is somewhat morbid at this point, take a quick detour to the near-by  Puppenhausmuseum Basel (Steinenvorstadt 1, 4051 Basel, Switzerland) for a whirlwind tour of the quirky collection of dolls, miniatures and dollhouses from the turn of the 19th century.

The museum showcases unique dollhouses from the region, which are considered pieces of art for their ingenuity, craftsmanship and accuracy to scale. Originally, these dollhouses were never meant to be used for play, but commissioned by influential families to demonstrate prestige and social standing.

Some of the handmade dolls displayed here are made from clay, wood and plant fibers, which were originally used as cult objects or healing symbols. When commercial production of dolls began in the 15th century, neighboring Germany was considered to be its birthplace. Today, the museum exhibits both, traditional as well as contemporary doll-making traditions from the region and around the world.

A good way to wrap up the museum crawl is a visit to the Clock and Watch Collection, housed in the Museum of Domestic Culture (‪Elisabethenstrasse 27 / 29, Basel, Switzerland). A treat for watch aficionados, the collection offers a glimpse into the workings of unique sun dials, mechanical clocks and watches from private collections of traditional time-keepers and hobbyists from across the country.

A room at the museum is dedicated exclusively to Basel’s own watch-makers, who by 1780 had earned a reputation for their precision and skill.

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Where to stay in Basel:
The Passage Basel (Steinengraben 51, 4051 Basel)
Location is key for this contemporary styled hotel. Its proximity to the Basel SSB train terminal makes it accessible, while its 4 star amenities make it a comfortable stay.

Where to eat:
Lowenzorn (Gemsberg 2–4, Basel, Switzerland).
Try traditional Swiss cuisine, especially the sumptuous Kalbsläberli und Rösti (veal liver with grated, fried potatoes) and classic cheese fondue. You wont find an English menu here but the staff is incredibly helpful and friendly (and multilingual).

Restaurant Zum Alten Stokli (Barfüsserpl. 1, Basel, Switzerland)
Located at the head of a bustling stretch of pubs and restaurants, Stockli offers great ambience for a night out.

Confiserie Schiesser (Marketplatz 19, Basel)
Running since 1870, this quaint bakery offers light bites, homemade chocolate and unforgettable signature treats.

Avenue for creativity

Published in DestinAsian Magazine, Indonesia; April 2016.

With its recent expansion bringing
in a wealth of new galleries and more, Alserkal Avenue has cemented its reputation as Dubai’s hub for contemporary art and culture. – Priyanka Pradhan


Avenue for Creativity, published in DestinAsian Magazine,Indonesia.April 2016 issue.

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Back when Alserkal Avenue was established in 2007, taxi drivers would wonder what their Louboutin-wearing passengers were doing, coming to such a neighborhood. Smack in the middle of nowhere—or, more precisely, Dubai’s Al Quoz industrial zoneit consisted of a couple of streets of corrugated-metal ware- houses set across from dusty auto shops and rusty hardware factories. Fast forward to today, and Alserkal Avenue has evolved from that rugged, industrial landscape into an arts and culture destination pinned firmly on the map of the city—and, with its recent expansion, on that of the region too.

Created by renowned arts patron Abdelmo- nem bin Eisa Alserkal, whose family has owned the area for decades, Alserkal Avenue’s modest, brick-and-steel aesthetic is a sharp contrast to the glitzy glass skyscrapers of Dubai. The rst gallery to set up shop here was the Ayyam Gal- lery (No. 11;, showcasing new and old Middle Eastern contemporary art, soon followed by other well-known regional galleries such as Lawrie Shabibi (No. 21; lawrieshabibi .com) and Grey Noise (No. 24; As the years rolled on, places like The Fridge (No. 5;, an indie record company that organizes concert series and educational music programs, and The Jamjar (No. 74; the, which o ers workshops and a DIY painting studio for the public, joined the area, growing it into the mix that it is today: con- temporary art heavyweights alongside spunky, interactive creative spaces.

The Avenue’s recent expansion has seen it double in size to 50,000 square meters with the addition of a host of new galleries, places to eat and drink, and an OMA-designed project space that will open in September. “When we an- nounced the expansion of Alserkal Avenue, we pledged that we would use this opportunity to break new ground and stimulate new thinking,” says Alserkal, and the newcomers seem to be doing just that.

El Seed, the prolific French-Tunisian “calligraphiti” artist, installed himself in the Avenue’s first artist studio, where visitors can make appointments to come see his work known to juxtapose different languages, cultures, and identities. In another first, Swiss luxury watchmakers MB & F’s is making a splash as the only gallery of its kind in the Middle East, focused on kinetic art such as hand-crafted motorbikes, robot hands, and horology.

But the surest sign of the area’s success is the art-world power players who are moving in. While Dubai has yet to match the financial prowess of other contemporary art destinations such as New York, London, or Hong Kong, the international galleries flocking to Alserkal Avenue show that the future might be different. For example, the Avenue has just welcomed the New York–based Leila Heller Gallery,  a blue-chip gallery that’s a source for some of the most exceptional works from major 20th- century artists, Andy Warhol included.

“With the opening of many major museums and institutions in the U.A.E. in the near future, and the expanding design district and arts scene, the art world’s interest in Dubai is only increasing,” Heller explains. “And at the same time, the collector base here is growing, so it felt like the right moment to make a move here.”

“I was immediately attracted to the uniqueness of this district, where tire sellers and art galleries rub shoulders,” says Stephane Custot, whose Custot Gallery opened in mid-March. In its Paris and London locations, Custot has a legacy of fostering a dialogue between influential modern masters and international contemporary artists, and here in its gorgeous 700-square-meter Dubai outpost, it continues to do just that. In the inaugural exhibition,The World Meets Here, Robert Indiana’s textual sculptures and Marc Quinn’s giant metal seashells appear alongside hanging works from the likes of Miró and Picasso.

“The combination of Alserkal Avenue’s cheerful, diverse character and the large exhibition spaces available won me over, as I wanted to find a venue that could house large-scale sculptures and installations.” It seems that every tenant offers something different. The Jean-Paul Najar Foundation, a private nonzerofit museum, showcases the impressive American and European post-minimalist collection of the late Paris-based collector Jean-Paul Najar, set in Bauhaus-influenced architecture designed by Mario Jossa of Marcel Breuer & Associates.

On an entirely different note, Dubai-based gallery The Third Line moved here from its prior location in order to double its space (which now includes a lounge and screening room) and better support its 27 emerging contemporary artists, all of whom are Middle Eastern.

And it’s not just an appetite for art that Alserkal Avenue satisfies. Eateries have set up shop here—an outlet of Paris’s cold-pressed juicer Wild & The Moon; a soon-to-open artisan chocolatier, Atelier 68 —and fashion is making its way in too, such as the upcoming kimono boutique Chi-Ka.

In the words of its founder, “Alserkal Avenue is a home for dreamers, visionaries, and creative leaders who are looking to add to the cultural wealth of our region.” Needless to say, taxi drivers are no longer surprised by requests to come here.

The Crown Jewel

Published in Villa 88 spring 2016 issue

H.H. Sheikha Mariam Khalifa Bin Saif is carving her own niche in the jewelry world with her symbolic, contemporary designs and a touch of Emirati pride, says PRIYANKA PRADHAN

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Not everyday does one come across a modern-day princess. Even rarer is the opportunity to encounter one who’s single-handedly making a huge impact in the entrepreneurial world.

As granddaughter of UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, she comes from a royal lineage but did not shy away from stepping into the very public domain of entrepreneurship by starting her own brand, MKS Jewellery, from scratch. “We were raised to work hard and achieve high goals,” says H.H. Sheikha Mariam Khalifa Bin Saif.

“Whatever we achieve in life is from our own merit. These principles helped me a lot. I knew that, in order to succeed in such a competitive market, I needed to work hard. Nobody was going to hand me a successful business on a golden platter.”

Not surprisingly then, she delves into the day-to-day affairs of her business from designing jewelry to packaging and communicating directly with clients on orders. With four collections comprising charms, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, pendants and rings, apart from made-to-order jewelry, it’s an exciting challenge for her.

Although running her own business had never crossed her mind, her inherent love for jewelry while growing up, played a major role in finding her calling and shaping her métier as a designer-entrepreneur. She recalls how she’d love to wear some of her mother’s jewelry and has fond memories of her first few brushes with jewels—such as a white gold heart shaped pendant gifted to her in her teenage years, which she still loves.

“One of the things I love most about designing MKS Jewellery, is that a part of what I have designed would be passed down to generations forever,” She says. “I am part of someone’s story, someone’s life. A necklace bought in 2016, one day in the future, someone would remember that their great-great grandma was gifted the jewelry from a significant other. Jewelry is a piece of art that gets passed down—a wearable art that has a story.”

Her designs are at once eclectic and contemporary. In 2013, she started MKS Jewellery to share her love for unique pieces that symbolize something meaningful for her and for the wearer. “Most of my designs are symbolic,” she says. “Maybe when I designed it, I had a personal meaning in mind, but when someone else wears or gifts MKS Jewellery, they may associate a different meaning to the design.”

“For example, one of my pieces is ‘the dove’ from the Geo Collection that symbolizes love, peace and hope. Another item from the same collection is the ‘Honey Bee’. As a play on words, I like to call it the “Bee Mine” necklace, pendant and ring, but perhaps the person wearing it could relate it to work or business—it could mean ‘busy bee’, for someone who is ambitious and hard working,” she adds.

Sheikha Mariam is also influenced by royal heirloom jewelry that she has seen since she was a child. “My grandmother has a necklace created from the pearls her father and grandfather collected,” she says. “It’s really old and beautiful. It’s a special piece because it’s rare to find natural pearls that are not cultured, old pearls prior to Japanese pearl farming. There is a tremendous value in antique Emirati pearl jewelry.”

This was the inspiration behind designing the Al-Otaiba collection for MKS Jewellery, which uses pearls from the UAE. Moreover, she produces all of her jewelry within the country, as a tribute to Emirati heritage. “We (the UAE) produce items of the highest quality, and as an entrepreneur, I find that whatever I need, the majority can be produced in the country, so why should we go abroad? I am proud of the items produced in the UAE,” she says.

“Pertaining to my brand, many people assume that we make everything outside,” she adds. “MKS Jewellery is a luxury brand, made in the UAE, incorporating other components of UAE heritage and products, such as our signature camel leather jewelry pouches, that we use for packaging.”

Sheikha Mariam also emphasizes the importance of engaging in the burgeoning local entrepreneurial community by exchanging ideas and exploring potential together. “Being an entrepreneur has given me an opportunity to meet and interact with many people and it opened up my circle of connections,” she muses. “Learning from other entrepreneurs and seeing results, both positive and negative, has taught me how to approach different areas of business.”

“It’s inspiring to see so many talented, young Emiratis are setting up their own businesses,” she says. “They are talented and have great ideas. More young people should turn these ideas into reality and I’m sure they will achieve a lot. It’s easy to sell from home on Instagram, without a shop, without going global. Opening a business like that is easy, but opening a business that people recognize, takes a lot of hard work.”

Going forward, H.H. Sheikha Mariam Khalifa Bin Saif is planning to make MKS Jewellery a globally recognized brand. Unafraid of challenges or the fear of failure, she parts on a pensive note. “Someone once asked me if I ever experienced failure, and I told her that I have never failed!” she asserts. “Even if I failed in my business, I wouldn’t consider it a failure. I would consider myself a failure if I had a dream and never pursued it, or if I gave up on a dream.”

As she winds down after a long day with her usual chai haleeb, Sheikha Mariam embodies the spirit of enjoying life’s simple pleasures, staying grounded and working hard. She truly is is one ‘busy bee’ that inspires—on the shelf and off it.

MKS Jewellery can be found at the jewelry department,Bloomingdale’s Dubai, The Dubai Mall, Abu Dhabi Dutyfree Airport and Mosaique UAE. You can also shop at the online store


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Life of L’Afshar

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, Spring ’16 issue

A homegrown Dubai label reveals how it has influenced global fashion, says PRIYANKA PRADHAN

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She’s no ingénue on the global fashion stage. In just two years since its birth, Lilian Afshar’s accessories brand, L’Afshar, is loving the spotlight in the luxury retail world. Her dragonfly bug detail box clutches have made it to the pages of fashion editorials in French Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and The New York Times Magazine, and not to mention, into the hands of editors and bloggers from New York to Singapore and from Georgia to Australia.

A look at her extensive list of global stock lists makes one wonder how this homegrown Dubai brand rose to instant fame. “Oh Instagram!” she says. “It played a huge part in creating awareness across the world and sparking interest from boutiques, fashion editors and bloggers. It just happened so organically and naturally… none of it was pre planned. But apart from exposure, it also translates into sales because a lot of boutiques contact me to stock my clutches in LA, Singapore, London—from everywhere. When I ask them how they heard about my brand, they almost always say Instagram! It leads to private sales and customizations as well.”

But what is it about her clutches that catches the eye? Perhaps her 25,000 social media followers will be happy to answer that. It could well be the materials she chooses to work with. She managed to turn industrial-use elements such as marble and glass to craft delicate box clutches and emboss them with her signature emblem.

However, it hasn’t been the easiest journey for the designer. “I had to literally force the factories into creating the clutches for me,” she explains. “I had to look for industrial product makers because the kinds of materials I was using needed heavy machinery and techniques. These factories were not used to working with things like clutches or accessories—they used the techniques for huge walls of massive slabs of uncut stones so I really had to convince them to do it.”

Even the process of creating each of these clutches is remarkably unique. The colors are in liquid form when they are mixed on an industrial sized sheet for that marble effect. The marble swirl look on the clutches are created by hand, so each clutch is unique and by default, no two clutches can be identical. As a majority of her clients are from the Middle East, she also takes special care to cater to customizations such as names in Arabic on her clutches, making them even more exclusive and personal.

“I also want to experiment with unique and colored stones, maybe a rare marble,” she says. “It’s always a challenge because factories can’t use too many colors and options are limited, but its about find a way out.”

Speaking of challenges, Afshar’s main hurdle was the lack of any business background, to run her own label. But with help from family and by continually re-inventing herself, she now enjoys her multitasking life as an entrepreneur. “I’m not just a designer now,” she emphasizes. “I take charge of the creative side but also manage day-to-day business and run the brand. No two days are alike and I love that! Some days I’m in the factory when my hair is a mess and I’m sweating, while on other days I’m at a photoshoot. If I had just one position or role, I guess I’d get bored or maybe stagnant… perhaps because I’m a Gemini.”

Next on her radar is costume jewelry, using the same industrial materials and techniques that shot her clutches to fame. Soon, she is also looking to mix leather handbags with her box clutches—another intriguing juxtaposing of forms, textures and shapes.

Her inspirations and influences are at once minimalist, simple and bold. She admires labels such as The Row and would love to see one of her clutches in the hands of actress Jennifer Lawrence. Judging by her popularity amongst international stylists and editors, this might just happen sooner than later.

As she takes off to prepare for a more proximate dream, a bridal collection of clutches from L’afshar, one can’t help but observe her ethos as a designer— inventive, avant-garde, and transformative— precisely what her signature dragonfly-bug stands for.



Loy Krathong: A Feast For The Senses

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, Spring 2016 issue

Even as the gorgeous beaches of Thailand beckon, make another journey to explore the country’s rich cultural heritage through the festival of light.

Loy Krathong: Published in Villa 88 spring 2016 issue

Loy Krathong: Published in Villa 88 spring 2016 issue

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Hearts pounded to the beats of drums, as young Thais paraded across the streets of the historic town of Sukhothai to celebrate the festival of lights, Loy Krathong. The costumes were a feast for the eyes while the taste buds were tantalized by street food such as roasted silk worms, potato pops and grasshoppers on skewers. If there’s ever a time to experience the country’s spectacular cultural side, it is this.

The parade kicks of with much fanfare and excitement, as locals flock to see elaborate sets and costumes that represent Thai identity, pop culture, as well as characters and episodes from local folklore. Soon after the parade, more than a hundred candles are lit in little pods decorated with leaves and flowers, to be set afloat on the lake.

It’s a rare pleasure to watch the festivities in Sukhothai, the birthplace of the Loy Krathong festival, as the quaint town comes alive in a frenzy of colors and lights. Rooted in 14th century Theravada Buddhist tradition and early Thai-Lao-Shan history, the festival comes from the legend of a beautiful woman called Nang Nopphamat. She was known to attract the reigning King Ramkamhaeng’s attention, by crafting a lotus-shaped o ering with a candle and fruit carvings, and floating it downriver. Ever since, the ‘Loy Krathong’, which could be loosely translated to ‘floating basket’, has been symbolic of good luck and hope for the Thai.

The cultural journey takes one next to the city of Chiang Mai, located in the beautiful mountainous province of Thailand. Known as the cultural capital of the country, Chiang Mai plays an important role in the evolution of Loy krathong and its sister festival, the Yi Peng. Here locals gather to light paper lanterns (called khom loy) with candles and illuminate the night sky, to symbolize letting go of bad luck and misfortune—a celebration that evolved along with Loy Krathong and coincides with the days of the festival, in the Lunar calendar. When seen in tandem, the floating water baskets and lanterns in the sky o er an unforgettable visual spectacle.

The last leg of the journey is the e ervescent capital, Bangkok. Fireworks, temple fairs and festivities light up the city while major roads are blocked and reserved for the legendary Loy Krathong to parade through the city—like the one in Sukhothai but with the inimitable signature of Bangkok’s raucousness, pomp and flourish.

Loy krathong is a beautiful time to experience Thailand for a more spiritual and cultural connection with the country. The festival helps understand local culture like little else can, leaving one with fresh hopes, luck and goodwill.



The Elephant Trail

Published in Al Nawras, in-flight magazine for Air Arabia, February 2016 issue.


A close encounter with these giants in Sri Lanka- Published in Al Nawras, Inflight magazine for Air Arabia. 

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The forest is eerily still at times, especially at noon. Breaking the silence every now and then, though, is an earth-shaking thud in the far distance. There’s a nervous rustling of trees and a deep rumble that gets louder, as those thunderous footsteps get closer. Smaller animals scurry past us, clearing the pathway in anticipation.

The jungle knows; Rani’s herd is on its way to the watering hole.

Deep inside Hurulu Eco Park in Sri Lanka’s Habarana province, our small jeep safari waits patiently for the 62-year-old matriarch, Rani, to lead the way. Hands trembling from excitement and, in part, from the heart-stopping footsteps of more than 16 mammoths moving together, we wait with bated breath.

After a long interval under a canopy of leaves, we see the herd saunter towards the water, about six metres away.

Two little calves in the herd tug at their mothers’ tails and an adolescent male tries to match step with his grandmother.

The elephant family unit is tightly knit and protective grandmothers often babysit little ones while the parents are away. Here, Rani was taking charge of the young ones, gently nudging them into the water.

She surveys us from a distance. Unimpressed, she continues to perform her duties.

Ten thousand hectares of teak plantations and waterways are home to Rani and more than 12 other herds of elephants at the Eco Park, part of the Hurulu forest reserve. A 22-kilometre safari across the reserve takes us over narrow mud trails and windy hillocks that o er spectacular vistas of the forest, interrupted only by breath-taking encounters with the Lankan giants along the way.

Standing tall at 3.5 metres, Sri Lankan pachyderms are the largest of the Asian species, and tend to intimidate at rst sight. However, their interaction with other members of the herd, and even other animal species that share their home, reveals their inherent gentle nature and complex emotional range. In fact, it is believed elephants can recognise each other even after a separation of 20 years, and ‘catch up’ through touching each other’s scars.

Close by, is the Kaudulla National Park, located o the Habarana-Trincomalee road within what is known as Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. A 6,656-hectare ‘elephant corridor’ runs across this park, where most of the country’s elephant population pass through – a natural migratory pattern of the Sri Lankan elephants, at certain times of year when water dries up in areas.

The corridor also runs across Minneriya National Park, nestled inside an evergreen forest, o Habarana-Polonnaruwa Road. At the heart of the park lies the ancient Minneriya tank, built in the 3rd century AD by King Mahasena, where huge ocks of painted stork and spot-billed pelicans accompany the elephants on their

grazing trips. It is not uncommon to see a gathering of more than 100 elephants at a time, cooling o and grazing together in the meadows.

For a closer and cruelty-free encounter, one can visit the Elephant Transit Home, about ve kilometres west of Udawalawe National Park. As an orphanage for abandoned, injured and rescued elephants, the home helps rehabilitate elephants and release them into the wild. Visitors can observe the elephants at feeding time but physical interaction with the animals is not permitted.

The home is also supported by international animal rights NGO Born Free Foundation, which has endorsed the orphanage for best practices of animal care.

The best way to wrap up the elephant trail is by stopping at a watering hole to watch elephants cool off. As Rani’s herd emerges from the water, we watch the jungle prepare yet again, for the regal departure.

As opposed to orphanages and private elephant farms, national parks can be a better way to see elephants as they are in their natural habitat. Below are some of the places where the animals are treated well and visitors can observe elephants at close proximity without being intrusive.

Habarana-Trincomalee Road, Habarana, Sri Lanka

Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Habarana-Polonnaruwa Road, Habarana, Sri Lanka

Ratnapura, 70190, Sri Lanka

7th Mile Post, Sevanagala, Monaragala, Uva Province, Sri Lanka

Palawan Islands, Philippines

Tropical Enclave

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, Winter 2015 issue.

El Nido Islands in the Palawan archipelago, Philippines, is attempting to woo nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers with its ‘guilt-free’ luxury eco resorts.  – Priyanka Pradhan


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The water was choppier than it looked from the 50-seater aircraft, flying low over the gently swaying palm trees on the Palawan Islands.

I was flying from Manila into El Nido luxury Eco Resorts, a cluster of privately owned islands in Palawan, in the wee hours of the morning with less than 10 Kgs of baggage and a boarding stub made of wood- a little to my bewilderment.

“We’ve replaced paper with these re-usable wooden passes to conserve the environment. Imagine how much paper is wasted as boarding passes everyday by airlines all over the world!”, said an official at the Island Transvoyager Inc. (ITI) which operates the private carrier to El Nido.

Soon after touchdown at the rather precarious –looking runway along the beach, a speedboat ferried guests to either of the four sprawling El Nido islands, nestled amongst 1,780 others, that make up the Palawan archipelago.

Now this was one bumpy ride on the waves, but distracted by the charms of the turquoise blue waters, no one seemed to mind. A pod of hornbills soared above us even as the sparkling clear waters introduced us to our seafaring companions, just below. The staccato rock face and uninhabited islets passed by silently, lending a haunting, rustic beauty to the panorama.

“We can go swimming with the whale sharks later…with plenty of sea turtles and sting ray for company,” the boatman quipped. “On my last dive I encountered a whale shark that was about 40 feet long!” he added, much to everyone’s wide-eyed excitement and his own, thinly-veiled amusement.

With a first impression like this, it was impossible not to look forward to a stay at Lagen Island resort, one of El Nido’s properties tucked away discreetly along a natural lagoon.

Out of the four island-resorts, Apulit, Miniloc, Pangulasian and Lagen, the latter is arguably one of the most beautiful. Overwater villas, a sunset pier and a shimmering infinity pool are embraced by a four-hectare tropical forest. But even more inviting is the bevy of friendly locals who welcome each guest with a traditional song, accompanied by acoustic guitars and smiling faces.

Inside the villas, prominent touches emphasize the resort’s pledge for sustainability. Renewable materials are used to construct these villas, rainwater catchment system is in place for each room, and the ‘Ten El Nidos’ guideline make an appearance across the resort’s properties to educate guests about this Environmentally Sensitive Protected Area.

The resort also supports local communities by using natural and handmade, locally- sourced products, encompassing what the folks at El Nido like to call, ‘guilt-free’ luxury.

Speaking of guilt, the resort’s decadent spa inspires a day of sloth, pushing back plans for exploring the great outdoors, to another day. With an exhaustive variety of treatments using hand-picked ingredients, exotic tropical fruits and indigenous herbs from the islands, one can’t be blamed for giving in to temptation. Oh well, blame it on the island vibe.

But there’s much to do outside the resort too. Kayaking across sleepy mangroves and secret lagoons, and snorkeling with schools of friendly Sergeant Major in the coral-rich waters takes up most of the day. For the fitter lot, there’s a trekking trail across the jungle and a steep climb on Snake Island, for sweeping views of the Bacuit Bay.

If that isn’t enough to feed the adventurous spirit, a cave exploration at one of the many towering limestone formations, certainly will.

As for me, scrambling on all fours between crevices of limestone caves and finding unknown species of spiders while I was at it, was not what I expected. Even so, I found myself doing cannonball dives off low-hanging cliffs and rock surfaces. Well, there must be something in the island air to make a 32-year-old attempt this.

Fresh catch of the day is served as a picnic lunch on the white-sand beach of Entalula island, another property of El Nido. Grilled fish, a basket of mussels and jumbo prawns are meant to eaten with white rice and soy sauce, in typical Philippine style. The famous tropical mango also makes a regular appearance at meal times.

Back at Lagen resort, the poolside offers a beautiful setting overlooking the moonlit lagoon and only the sound of waves in the distance. The nights are quiet– don’t expect wild parties at the bar but look forward to sophisticated, private evenings here. The days are deliciously slow too, filled with close encounters with nature and a heady measure of adventure and romance.

Nevermind the bruised knees and matted hair. It’s the island life, afterall.

Where to stay:
El Nido Lagen Island or El Nido Pangulasian island ( Higher end)

How to get there:
Island Transvoyager Inc. operates a private carrier that ferries guests to and fro, 3 times daily from Manila to El Nido Island.
Bookings via Email to El Nido Boutique and Arts Café

There's Something About Rome: Published in villa 88 Magazine, September 2015 issue

There’s Something About Rome

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, September 2015 issue. 

A trip to Rome reveals the city’s ancient past and modern charm – Priyanka Pradhan

Download PDF: Published in villa 88 Magazine, September 2015 issue

Download PDF: Published in villa 88 Magazine, September 2015 issue

In its three thousand-year-old, glorious and tumultuous history, ‘the eternal city’ has been the cynosure of politics, power, art and architecture. A stroll across ancient Rome tells stories of megalomaniac rulers and evil conspiracies, while its spectacular monuments and intricately carvedstone gargoyles set in centuries-old grand fountains leave you spellbound.

But the Roman experience begins even before touchdown, at Fiumicino Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport. Emirates’ Business Class service from Dubai to Rome offers a great introduction to the city with a range of fine Italian wine onboard, gourmet Italian cuisine, premium amenities from Bulgari.

Once you’ve landed, you’re most likely going to see St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, Piazza Navona, Trevi fountain and other tourist attractions straight off the bat. But here are a few ideas for a more immersive and entertaining adventure in the Italian capital.

Embark on a food trail starting from Campo Di Fiori for its famous ‘Forno’ joints (bakeries and all-day breakfast bars) and the food market for giant ‘limons’ and the juiciest cherries, condiments and fresh buffalo mozzarella.

Next, walk across to the Jewish Ghetto for delicacies such as fried zucchini flower and supplì—made from recipes passed down from Jewish families since as far back as the 15th century. For lunch, stop by Tratorria Monti (Via di S. Vito, 13/A, 00185 Rome) or the whimsically named, Drunken Cow (Hosteria La Vacca M’briaca, Via Urbana 29/30, 00184 Rome) for an authentic Italian kitchen.

Romans seem touchy about their gelato so be warned about flashy, branded geleto chains across the city that are regarded as ‘rip offs’, or as pronounced by an impassioned local, “Unethical and wretched”. Instead, look for quaint little geletarias such as Fior Di Luna (Via della Lungaretta, 96, 00153 Roma) which are considered authentic and produce gelato from locally sourced ingredients.

While the classic way to see Rome may be upon a Vespa scooter, a more fun and hassle-free (and fuel free) way is onboard a Segway. Glide across the ancient monuments, fountains and cobblestone lanes, navigate the crowds and street performers at major squares and finish off the trip with a breathtaking view of the Colosseum, illuminated by hundreds of electric lambs from within.

Learning to make tiramisu from scratch, in the country of its origin definitely counts for bragging rights back home. Enroll in a class to make the popular Italian dessert over a fun afternoon and then take your masterpiece with you to enjoy at leisure—so you can have your cake and eat it too, quite literally.

Try Tiramisu Station, Via dei Fienaroli, 5, 00153 Rome.

Grafitti on the streets of Trastevere, Rome.

Graffiti on the streets of Trastevere, Rome.

Across the river Tiber, lies Rome’s bustling neighborhood, Trastevere. Historically, this neighborhood was a haven for immigrants, especially the Jewish community and Syrians, forming a sub-culture of its own. Trastevere retains much of its medieval architecture and old world charm in its winding cobblestone streets and somewhat eerie maze of narrow lanes. However, today, with innumerable boutiques, cafes, art galleries, trendy restaurants, and bars, it makes for an incredibly lively day (and night) out.

Walk into Bir & Fud (Via Benedetta, 23, 00153 Roma) for fun evening of Roman cuisine in true Trastevere style.

..But the journey isn’t over until you sample Emirates’ Business Class lounge for a luxurious experience, in keeping with the proverbial Italian ‘La dolce vita’ way of life. From being able to swap stories of Italy over the bar, to boarding directly from the Business Class lounge, Emirates  completes the Roman experience in style.