Bohemian Rhapsody

Published in Villa 88 magazine, Autumn issue 2016

Emirati fashion designer, LATIFA AL GURG weaves her love for travel to far-flung abodes and diverse cultures into her collections, specially for the jet-setting Arab woman, writesPRIYANKAPRADHAN

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From China to Antartica and from Denmark to London, Latifa Al Gurg’s designs tell stories of her journey across the world. The engineer-turned-fashion designer’s own Scandinivian-Emirati background is sometimes reflected in her label, Twisted Roots – a name that resonates with her mixed heritage and outlook on travel.

But she’s not your average Instagram filter- friendly traveler, as her passion for travel goes well beyond just sight-seeing and taking pictures. Al Gurg applies her deep love for architecture and design and an unrelenting thirst for research on history to her travels and eventually, into her collections.

“Culture and tradition is something very important to me. I’ve always liked to read about the history and evolution of costumes across the world. I approach fashion from an intellectual perspective and I’m trying to bring that into my collections,” she says.

“For example, I’ve always loved everything about China- the architecture, the culture and fabrics so I’ve created an adaptation of the iconic Chinese roofs into the shoulder details of some of my pieces and also created a reference to the incredible terracotta warriors into some of my other pieces from my Green Tea collection,” she adds.

Her love for in-depth research was what led her to launch her own label, when she realized that there’s a gap in the local market for modest clothing for Arab women.

“As a family, we travel a lot. When I travel, I dress modestly even though I don’t wear an abaya so I kept struggling to find appropriate clothing for my travels. I wondered why there were no brands that do this because it’s quite a tedious task to put everything together. So I decided to research this further and realized there’s definitely an opportunity here.”

Born out of this need for a one-stop shop for the jet- setting Arab woman, Twisted Roots caters to quality- conscious modest dressers who appreciate fine craftsmanship.

“Most of our fabrics are custom dyed for us and our silks are woven especially for us- we work with the mills to develop this from scratch,” she says, “Even in the making of a simple shirt for example, sometimes the fabric is sourced from turkey, the buttons from Italy, thread from Taiwan and we bring it all together at our atelier in Dubai.”

“We put a lot of e ort and attention to detail so that the final product is something that a customer would cherish for life- it’s meant to be something that stays with you for a very long time, not just for a season or two,” she adds.

While her first collection was a tribute to her own mixed culture with the silks and embroidery being very typically Emirati and the color palette being predominantly Danish, her latest collection is inspired by the sights, colors and textures of London- greys, blues and structured tailoring that reference the architecture – an aesthetic she hopes will appeal to the local cognoscenti.

“I think as Arabs, we travel more widely and tend to absorb more cultures – curious and interested, open to explore. So the Middle Eastern customer is so much more aware of quality, craftsmanship and our worldview is so broad. This makes the customer tough to please but also, a pleasure to work with. We are also a part of the shopping culture across the world and that makes the Arab customer so unique because we bring back and wear what we’ve experienced,” says Al Gurg.

Going forward, Al Gurg is keen on exploring new journeys for Twisted Roots, well beyond the UAE. As she puts it, “The journey is what makes the story worthwhile. It’s all about evolving and learning – in entrepreneurship, in travel and in life itself!”

“We put a lot of e ort and attention to detail so that the final product is something that a customer would cherish for life- it’s meant to be something that stays with you for a very long time, not just for a season or two,” she adds.

While her first collection was a tribute to her own mixed culture with the silks and embroidery being very typically Emirati and the color palette being predominantly Danish, her latest collection is inspired by the sights, colors and textures of London- greys, blues and structured tailoring that reference the architecture – an aesthetic she hopes will appeal to the local cognoscenti.

“I think as Arabs, we travel more widely and tend to absorb more cultures – curious and interested, open to explore. So the Middle Eastern customer is so much more aware of quality, craftsmanship and our worldview is so broad. This makes the customer tough to please but also, a pleasure to work with. We are also a part of the shopping culture across the world and that makes the Arab customer so unique because we bring back and wear what we’ve experienced,” says Al Gurg.

Going forward, Al Gurg is keen on exploring new journeys for Twisted Roots, well beyond the UAE. As she puts it, “The journey is what makes the story worthwhile. It’s all about evolving and learning – in entrepreneurship, in travel and in life itself!”


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 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

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 4.45.48 PM

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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


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

afshar 1-page-001
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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.


Meet The Skeletons In Your Closet

Published in IWC Ladies Magazine Middle East, October 2015.

Interview with Posearazzi. Published in IWC Ladies Magazine Middle East

Download PDF: Interview with Posearazzi. Published in IWC Ladies Magazine Middle East

Bold. Edgy. Experimental. Fashion brand POSE/ARAZZI is showing the world how Emirati designers are going beyond abayas and traditional wear to create avant garde fusion pieces that stun. Fancy a ribcage shrug, anyone?

By Priyanka Pradhan

he two Emirati co-founders of POSE/ARAZZI are unfazed when people stop and stare. Afterall, it’s not everyday that one comes across a coat with a full- sized human skeleton print on it. But that’s what makes the sisters, Hanan and Hessa Ozair tick.

“For our SS 15 collection, inspired by anatomy, we researched each aspect of the human body: the layers of skins and tissues, shapes and structures of bones and muscles, as well as the colors of the human anatomy. Each extremity, organ and skeletal substance forms the basis of this modern collection with a strong emphasis on the silhouette of the skeleton, which is highlighted as the main focal point on the avant-garde separates. The print is featured heavily throughout the collection as the main fabric and lining of various strong and structured silhouettes,” says Hanan

Ozair, one half of the designer duo. Forms of human organs were deconstructed and re-imagined in the design process while complementing the long and mid-length jacket styles – a signature style of the brand.

This unique design aesthetic and creative independence is what makes POSE/ARAZZI stand out in the crowded fashion market. The sisters are convinced their year old brand has immense potential in the regional as well as international market. To this end, they’re focusing on creating more fusion pieces for women, combining design aspects from the East and West, while leading their own brand message through its use of shapes, fabrics and details.

According to the co-founders, “The POSE/ARAZZI woman is an elite, fashion conscious lady who refines her emotions by being brave, courageous and powerful in her social assignments through her outfits that reflect those characters. POSE/ARAZZI crafted masterpieces aim to empower those who wear the designsby allowing the individuals to embrace their own unique characters and personalities, and display them through their own style.”

Moreover, the brand offers a unique proposition to its clients- It has only five limited edition pieces of each design in a collection, to ensure that the use of exceptional fabrics, trimmings and details, as well as the creative design process.

Interview with Posearazzi. Published in IWC Ladies Magazine Middle East

Interview with Posearazzi. Published in IWC Ladies Magazine Middle East

For the new AW 15 season, this Dubai-based independent fashion label draws inspirations from art, architecture and Middle East sub cultures to create pieces that are transformative.

“One of the most regarded designs is our signature masterpiece that we introduced in our collection for A/W 14-15 that transforms from a long coat to a jump suit!

We introduced through this crafted fashionable piece, the concept of ‘Functional Fashion’ where the piece offers you multiple looks and styles with simple zipping or unzipping,” Hanan explains.
“Another courageous design we introduced recently in our SS15 collection is the new textile skeleton X-ray design that we integrated in all our collection pieces. Through the reversible pieces we introduced, different parts of the skeleton design show and this for our brand is a genuine belief in the empowered and courageous woman of POZE/ARAZZI,” she adds.

Speaking of empowered women, the two co-founders say they’d be honored to dress Qatar’s Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned & Queen Rania of Jordan, as they consider these women as style icons in the Middle East who’ve been style ambassadors from the region, to the world.

Even their designs are inspired by a very global design aesthetic, from the likes of Lanvin, Oscar de la Rental, Maison Martin Margiela & Donna Karan, who according to the sisters blend simplicity of lines and forms with luxury, through materials and techniques in their designs.

However, despite their very international outlook and appeal, the Posearazzi designers are well rooted in their Emirati culture and are proud to represent, design and manufacture in the UAE.

They say, “We may be one of the luckiest designers being from United Arab Emirates, especially from the Emirate of Dubai. The city brings together different people and nationalities from all over the world and there’s an interaction of various cultures through which we learned to integrate the authenticity of the East through customs and traditions with the modern West. All our products are designed and made in UAE and that helps to reflect a positive image and reputation of our brand. Our innovative and avant-garde products are made in UAE and we take immense pride in it.”

The two designers also realize the challenges ahead of them as entrepreneurs, especially in a creative market.

Hanan says, “Perhaps the most difficult thing we face as design entrepreneurs is the limitation in production capacity and the difficulty of implementing some of the designs. We are trying to overcome these challenges by acquiring information and knowledge from the expert people around us in addition to availing courses to enrich our knowledge and background in this area.”

On a parting note, she adds, “My advice to upcoming women entrepreneurs is be confident in yourselves and your work, believe in your capabilities of overcoming all the challenges you will face because nothing is impossible – the word itself says I’m possible!”

With Love From Dubai- Published in Conde Nast Traveller India (Aug-Sept 2015)

With Love from Dubai

Published in Conde Nast Traveller August- September 2015

Shiny malls are all very well but what about when you want to shop like a local? Priyanka Pradhan reveals some of the best regional brands.

With Love From Dubai- Published in Conde Nast Traveller India (Aug-Sept 2015)

Download PDF: With Love From Dubai- Published in Conde Nast Traveller India (Aug-Sept 2015)

When endless excursions to a daunting network of malls unearth the same souvenirs, done-to-death brands and boring keepsakes, it may be time to dig deeper. On your next trip to Dubai, take your pick from the UAE’s homegrown brands and products that are inspired by local culture, yet have a markedly global appeal. More than 202 nationalities make up the multicultural milieu of the UAE so expect a heady cocktail of influences on brands that are ‘Made in the UAE’. From Azabaijan to Africa and from travel to confectionery, the UAE is inspired by the entire world – and these ‘glocal’ wares make for memorable and meaningful take-aways, both for yourself and as gifts.

Inspired by the vivid colors of her favorite French confectionery, Lebanese-born founder Rima Khoreibi set up this cosmetics brand that is colorful in both, product and packaging.
Micaroon’s range of products including lipsticks, blush ons, accessories and body butter are named after popular local icons such as the Burj Khalifa and Arabic words like Ashq.

Bambah Boutique:
Dubai’s first and only high-end vintage boutique, Bambah sources one-off pieces from across the world. The boutique stocks period clothing and trinkets and owner Maha Abdul Rasheed’s own  ready to wear collection, which is a throwback to 50s’ glamour.

Nadine Kanso

Both as a photographer and jewelry designer, Nadine Kanso explores ideas of Arab identity and culture. Her jewelry collection, ‘Bil Arabi’ (which means, Ín Arabic’) collection takes inspiration from the Arabic alphabet  with words and phrases incorporated into 18 carat gold, and embellished with precious and semi-precious stones. In her second collection, Nadine K complements Bil Arabi with limited edition home accents, clothing and art.

House of nomad
The name of this contemporary fashion label is a nod to the original inhabitants of Dubai, who travelled from one temporary desert dwelling to another.  Co founders, Qatari Ahmed El-Sayed & Emirati Saleh Al-Banna typically use a single color for each collection creating sleek collections for men and women including sweaters, skirts and jackets but the main focus is on luxe sportswear.

Saray Couture turbans

This Dubai-based independent label, Saray’s handmade turbans and accessories are influenced by the Arab world’s heritage as well as western vintage style. The Azerbaijani founders of Saray draw inspiration from women who style their ensembles with regal turbans – Sheikha Mozah HH Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned of Qatar, late Elizabeth Tailor and Barbara Streisand have all been fans of headwear.

In their fusion wear collection, Emirati sisters, Hanan and Hessa Ozair, combine local sensibilities and western design. Think abaya-style trench coats and rib cage shrugs. The sisters draw inspiration from art, architecture and sub cultures in the Arab world to produce only five limited-edition pieces of each design.

RAK pearls
The UAE has been producing fine pearls for over 7000 years, from a time when free divers would jump off specially made boats with nothing but turtle-shell nose-clips to find pearl oysters. Natural pearls were amongst the country’s biggest exports until the discovery of oil in the 1940s. Now, the industry is seeing a revival thanks to the efforts from RAK pearls Holding, which harvests around 40,000 pearls annually offering treasures from the Arabian Gulf, that are truly unique to the UAE.

Choose from natural Blue Baroque Keshi pearls, the very rare black pearls or the high-quality, iridescent cultivated variety of pearls seen at jewelry brands such as Mouwad.

Neemah Fragrance
Kuwaiti perfumer, Mohammad Neemah’s inspiration comes from his travels abroad but his sensibilities are deeply rooted in the Arab world- a characteristic that comes across in all his fragrances.

Some of his bestselling fragrances include ‘Laya’, meaning ‘Lady’, which is inspired by the orient and ‘Chateau Rouge’, which is inspired by stories of a free-spirited Arabian princess. Popular amongst Middle East cognoscenti, Neemah’s fragrances for men and women are also custom made for those who like to personalize their scent or the packaging.

Mastiha Shop – Dubai
Mastiha, a natural and rare tree resin that is native to the Mediterranean region and grows on the Greek island of Chios. It was documented as one of the first natural cooking spices and is a key ingredient in everything from coffee to medicines.

At the shop, you can happily while away a few hours choosing from a variety of mastiha flavored candies, cosmetics, shakes, massage and bath oils.

Al Khazanah
Camel leather is already known for its character and texture, but Al Khazahnah tannery based in Abu Dhabi aims to take it a few notches up by establishing it globally on par with luxury calf leather. The tannery designs its own handbags, wallets, briefcases, travel bags and accessories in different types of camel leather, including an easily biodegradable variety produced specially by them.
Al Nassma camel milk chocolates
The premium chocolate brand offers the first and finest camel milk chocolate, made in Dubai. Al Nassma describes its chocolates as not overtly sweet, with a hint of caramel and honey along with a mineral touch, which is characteristic of camel milk. The milk is sourced from a local farm where the camels are treated ethically and even given regular pedicures!

Dubai Perfume souk- Deira
No shopping list from Dubai can be complete without the traditional Arabic attar perfume oils from quaint little shops along the bylanes of old Dubai. Beautiful, vintage-style cut-glass containers in different shapes store concoctions of flower-based attar and the popular oud, perfume oil derived from one of the most expensive variety of wood in the world.
Many of these perfumers offer to mix and match oils and scents to customize the fragrance according to the preferences of customers, so you can get yourself a lovely bespoke scent.  A must-have for the perfume collection back home, for the unique fragrance and for well, an essence of the UAE.
Sikkat al Khail Road and Souk Deira

With Love From Dubai- Published in Conde Nast Traveller India (Aug-Sept 2015)

With Love From Dubai- Published in Conde Nast Traveller India (Aug-Sept 2015)

The Vintage Couture Bazaar- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

The Vintage Couture Bazaar

Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

The Vintage Couture Bazaar
The appeal of vintage fashion lies in its heritage, rarity and ingenuity, while its exclusivity is guaranteed by a premium price point. T Emirates investigates the growing popularity of vintage fashion as an investment opportunity.

By Priyanka Pradhan

The Vintage Couture Bazaar- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

The Vintage Couture Bazaar- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

Is buying a 1940s vintage couture gown as solid an investment as purchasing a Matisse masterpiece?

Yes, if vintage couture experts are to be believed.

Seeing the demand and appreciation in value of vintage couture at high-profile global auction houses, more investors and fashion-conscious folks alike are trying it for size. According to research by online resource vintage textile, which aims to educate and inform enthusiasts, vintage clothing benefited investors more than any other collectible category in the period 1990-2012.

The source gives the example of a Chanel women’s suit from the 1960s, which went up from $805 (AED 2,957) to $3,220 (AED 11,827) in less than six years (quoted prices are actual realized prices at major auction houses). This works out as a 300 percent appreciation over 6 years, or 20 percent a year.

A more recent example is a Charles James evening dress that climbed from $29,900 (AED 109,826) to $49,450 (AED 181,635), yielding a 65 percent appreciation, in two years.

As in the case of art investment, the ingenuity and rarity of the collectible play a major role in determining the price tag attached to the item.

But more specifically for vintage couture, the designer, period, fashion house and story or narrative of the item are just as important.the iconic little black dress designed by Givenchy and worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s sold at Christie’s for $923,187 (AED 3,390,958) in 2006, while the estimated value was only between $98,800 (AED362,902) and $138,320 (AED 508,063).

Similarly, ‘The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor” in 2011, in the Christie’s “online-only” section, made a record $10 million (AED 36,731,000) in a series of

sales that made a total of $183.5 million (AED 673,995,473), showing the stellar demand for vintage fashion today.

According to Clare Borthwick, specialist at Christie’s vintage couture department, there’s growing mass appeal for vintage fashion, and the business is being fueled not only by seasoned connoisseurs and collectors but also by people influenced by Hollywood.

She says: “The wardrobes of film stars and generational legends often attract great attention at auction and command the highest prices due to their status as memorabilia rather than purely fashion pieces. We have, however, sold some memorable pieces of vintage fashion, including the personal collection of

Coco Chanel in 1974, as well as a 1966 YSL ‘Mondrian’ dress that fetched £30,000 (AED 163,961) and a 1939 velvet evening jacket by Schiaparelli that made £73,250 (AED 400,337) in our last vintage couture sale in 2012.”

Borthwick says they also see a lot of buyers from the Middle East, owing to significant interest in “modern vintage”, paying particular attention to luxury handbag auctions, specifically labels such as Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.

Apart from the high-profile auctions, vintage bazaars in discreet nooks and street corners of the world are also doing brisk business, but on a smaller scale.

Although the UAE is a bit behind the times, according to Dubai-based vintage boutique owner Maha Rasheed, the business is catching up, with increasing awareness of the nuances of vintage fashion in the region.

Rasheed, who runs Bambah Boutique and sources authentic vintage items from across the world from LA to Japan, says: “Perceptions are slowly changing, and

people are becoming more comfortable about wearing vintage and pre-owned items in the Middle East. If the items are impeccably restored, maintained and presented, one does not mind that the item is not brand new. Celebrities and movies have also made more people aware of vintage fashion, and there’s no taboo in buying worn pieces.”

She adds, “Even pre-owned or pre-loved items that are not vintage per se have a big market here in the Middle East, and I think it’s a good trend!”

One such “pre- owned” items’ fashion boutique owner, Dubai-based Micha Maatouk from Garderobe, says her customers are highly fashion-conscious, affluent, and know their vintage Birkins from their Kellys.

“While we do get a few good vintage pieces from 30 to 40 years ago,” she says, “we mostly deal with pre-owned luxury and designer items as young as 10-15 years. These are consumers who don’t like to be seen in the same designer dress, shoes or accessories more than once or twice and so sell their piece to us for half the price. We at Garderobe then split the profits with the consignee in a 50-50 agreement. So yes, they get to clear out their closet every season and get about half the price of the item back.”

Apart from the aesthetic value of the items and the history associated with them, the price of pre-owned fashion then becomes a key factor for her customers.

“The prices of these items could vary,” she says. “You could sometimes find a 30-year-old Valentino gown that originally cost easily more than AED 25,000 at less than 20 percent of the price now, but then you could also end up paying more than the original price of a designer vintage handbag that is not available any more, or has an endless wait-list at the brand’s store. I’d say the pre-owned market is increasingly becoming an important part of the vintage fashion movement.”

But because the authenticity of vintage items is difficult to assess, and they can sometimes be challenging to find or even uproariously expensive, “vintage-inspired” fashion and jewelry has come under the spotlight in a big way.

Inspired by the vintage era from the 1920s to the 1960s (by definition, items from before this period are considered “antique”, but the term “vintage” is being more loosely translated in today’s context), these fashion and jewelry pieces attempt to capture the cuts, colors, prints and essence of the vintage era for a slice of nostalgia, but without the price tag of the original vintage pieces.

Laurent Cathala, vice-president, emerging markets at Tiffany & co., says, “Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation movie, ‘The Great Gatsby’ has created strong interest and demand for 1920s-inspired jewelry.“Although Tiffany & co. does not offer vintage pieces for sale,” he says, “many of our designs are based on the original sketches and collections found in the Tiffany archives. These designs highlight the timeless beauty and unerring quality of Tiffany designs. These archival pieces also transcend fashion trends and hold great appeal for discerning customers.”

He adds, “In addition to Tiffany’s Great Gatsby and Blue Book Collections of fine and statement jewelry, we introduced this year the Ziegfeld Collection. Also inspired by the same Jazz age, it is named after New York’s legendary Ziegfeld theatre, a model of Art Deco architecture that opened in 1927. The jewelry captures the period’s elegance with freshwater cultured pearls, black onyx and sterling silver.”

Similarly, Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Jaeger-Lecoultre does not sell its original vintage timepieces, but helps verify the authenticity of rare vintage watches for its customers and also restores vintage Jaeger-Le coultre watches in its workshop in Switzerland. Certain factors of the vintage watch are then considered while evaluating the piece.

Stéphane Belmont, marketing and technical director of Manufacture Jaeger-Lecoultre, says: “In the case of an authentic vintage watch, the

watch has a story related to previous owners, a story of transmission of the piece. When a very small quantity of pieces were produced in a certain era, the offer of those vintage watches in the market is very limited today. Where the demand exceeds the supply, the price of the vintage watch goes up every year. The rarity of the watch depends on the quantity, exclusivity, quality of the movement and functioning of the watch, and its aesthetics.”

It is this quality and exclusivity that the vintage business is founded upon. In an age of global retail chains and uninspired, off-the-rack fashion, vintage couture has an undeniable appeal and immense value, as an asset.

The character of Carrie Bradshaw from the popular TV series, Sex and the City couldn’t have put it better: “I like my

investments where I can see them… hanging in my closet!”

True Grit- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

True Grit

Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine ( July August 2013)

True Grit

The glamorous Ingie Chalhoub, widely recognized as fashion’s first lady in the Middle East, is carving a successful niche in the region’s luxury retail market as head of the Etoile Group.

By Priyanka Pradhan

True Grit- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

True Grit- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

It was at a quaint art gallery in Dubai’s financial district that I first met Ingie Chalhoub. I had heard of her, of course, but what I discovered that day was that

even the chief of the luxury retail firm ‘Etoile Group’, has butterflies in her stomach before every show. I could tell that by the way she paced the floor as her designer label’s Autumn/Winter 2013-14 press preview took place at the same gallery, on a grand runway created especially for her.

She then ascended the ramp, after a little coaxing from her team, to take a bow and pose shyly for the cameras – quite unlike the intimidating persona I had expected.“There is always great excitement but also some stress before any seasonal launch of the collection,” Ingie says. “All the preparation is tiring and energetic at the same time. I am a perfectionist and I feel extremely conscious about every single detail.”
As I also came to realize that day, the ambitious, influential and rigorously detail-oriented Ingie Chalhoub is also exceedingly charming, and truly humble.

even as she single-handedly navigates multimillion-dollar deals every other day in the fiercely competitive Middle East luxury retail market, she carries herself

with rare panache and a certain je ne sais quoi that makes her all the more intriguing.
As president and managing director of the Etoile Group, which operates more than 70 luxury boutiques in six Gulf countries, and as creative director for her eponymous designer label, she has her hands full. But 30 years ago, when she opened the first Chanel

boutique in the Middle East, she didn’t know she was making fashion retail history.
It was serendipitous that the franchise deal was finalized on her wedding day, making her big day even bigger. The groom happened to be Patrick Chalhoub, scion of one of the most established business empires in the region and son of the illustrious Michel and Widad Chalhoub. Having married into a powerful lineage of retail moguls, and with the advantages that come from being part of the influential Chalhoub family, Ingie set out to make a remarkable debut in the regional retail industry and to carve out her identity as a persuasive entrepreneur and luxury retail powerhouse in her own right.
In the years that followed, she worked hard to build credibility and earn the confidence of global luxury retailers such as Christian Dior, Tod’s, Hogan, Valentino, John Galliano, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and Christian Lacroix, and she came to be credited with making a huge contribution to the

UAE’s luxury retail segment.
But before one can call it a charmed life, Ingie says it’s been far from easy. The Gulf War in 1990 changed things irrevocably for Ingie, as her Chanel and Dior stores in Kuwait were looted during the conflict, and her business ran into the ground. But despite the devastating loss, she pushed herself to pick up the pieces and get to work as soon as the Chalhoubs moved to Dubai after the war, even with a newborn baby in tow.
After relocating, Ingie quickly became a formidable retail empire. “Challenges test your mental strength; you need to turn them to your advantage.

Let obstacles motivate you to strive even harder. I am now even more driven and determined to reach more milestones and push myself further,” she says.

The motivation to go on, she adds, came from her supportive husband and her inner resilience. She not only had the task of rebuilding her business from scratch, but now also had the additional responsibility of being a mother, and had to manage the two roles – a balance she describes as most challenging.
“I would say balancing a personal and family life with a professional one is probably one of the most difficult challenges businesswomen face. You need to be disciplined, organized and efficient with your time, and set boundaries, not just for employees and your business colleagues but even for yourself!”

But just as things were settling down, the global economy, and subsequently the Middle East economy, was hit by the tumultuous financial meltdown.

The luxury retail sector was in the eye of the storm, but the Etoile Group showed remarkable resilience at this time. The mood in the retail industry may have been very somber, but just then, in 2009, Ingie launched her own luxury designer label, Ingie Paris, a move that showed nerves of steel and sparkling self-confidence.
Inspired by French sophistication and old-world glamour, she applied her sharp business acumen and innate sense of style to create a capsule collection for the

essential “Ingie” woman, someone she envisions to be a lot like herself.
“The Ingie Paris woman is refined, modern and dynamic,” she says. “My designs cater to her multifaceted, playful nature, interests and lifestyle, from dramatic, glamorous eveningwear that she might don for a red carpet event to chic yet comfortable daywear she can wear to a museum or show off at a relaxed brasserie. That is why I think the collection appeals to women across all cultures; they understand luxury but want it interpreted in a contemporary manner that suits their

international lifestyle.”
The launch of her own label was yet another dream realized for Ingie, but, not one to rest on her laurels, she’s now hoping to expand internationally through

luxury retailers and eventually have more standalone stores. For the Etoile Group too, she says, the emphasis is on expanding horizons to focus on Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
The Ingie Chalhoub success story has been peppered with setbacks, but she has overcome the hurdles each time, due to her dedication and strong belief in herself, something she hopes will inspire other female entrepreneurs and businesswomen.
“[You need] hard work, passion and a strong vision of what you want that can never be downplayed. But there are also those things that are part of one’s character that can also help you to succeed. For me, it’s a strong eye for detail, and my creative ability. I have the ability to look at something and know immediately whether it’s right or wrong, or what needs to be changed; it’s a skill that is rare.”

She adds: “You also need to believe in yourself. We are often our own worst critics, but we need to focus on the positive, as self-belief is a key factor in order to succeed.”

Bohemian Billionaire- By Priyanka Pradhan,. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (September 2013)

Bohemian Billionaire

Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (September 2013)
Bohemian Billionaire

She may be one of the world’s youngest self-made female billionaires, but for Tory Burch, creative director and CEO of her eponymous fashion label, it has never been just about the money.

By Priyanka Pradhan

Bohemian Billionaire- By Priyanka Pradhan,. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (September 2013)

Bohemian Billionaire- By Priyanka Pradhan,. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (September 2013)

Tory Burch was just another New York socialite with a privileged upbringing and a glamorous life when she decided to venture into the luxury fashion retail business. Despite having no formal qualifications in either fashion design or business management, Burch has built a $3.5 billion women’s clothing and accessories business in less than ten years, ultimately surpassing long-established rivals such as Michael Kors and Coach in revenues.

With starting capital of $2 million, Burch established a boutique in New York with the help of her husband at the time, venture capitalist Chris Burch. By leveraging her previous work experience in the PR and marketing departments at fashion houses such as Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Loewe, along with her reputation among New York society’s upper echelons, the designer’s premiere collection sold out on the opening day of her flagship store in 2004.

“People imagine the fashion industry to bevery competitive, but I’ve found the opposite – I have had many great mentors and friends willing to help along the way. This journey is beyond anything I could have imagined, and it’s a journey we’re still on” as a business, she says. “In so many ways I feel like we are just beginning.”

Burch pioneered the concept of “affordable luxury” in 2004, retailing a “preppy-bohemian luxe” style for the masses.

“I love fashion, from Uniqlo to Celine, but at the time I felt there weren’t many options in between,” she says. “I recognized a void in the market for beautiful, well-designed pieces that didn’t cost a fortune. I knew what I was missing from my closet and thought other women might feel the same way, so I began developing the concept, which was embodied by my parents, the most impeccably stylish couple I have ever known. They remain my greatest source of inspiration but, of course, each collection has its own distinct influences; in addition to my parents, my team and I are inspired by art, music, travel and other cultures.”

This is how Burch’s $200 Reva Ballerina shoes, one of the least expensive items found in the luxury category, came to form the backbone of her multi-billion fashion business. Having expanded her retail network to more than 83 stores worldwide, while generating revenues of more than $800 million a year (2012), she has come to challenge large global fashion houses that have been in the business for decades longer.

Burch attributes her success to hard work and perseverance.

“There are no shortcuts – starting a company takes a lot of time, energy and good, old-fashioned hard work. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it if you have a unique idea that you are passionate about,” she says.

Despite coming from a financially secure background, Burch faced challenges common to all entrepreneurs. “Everything that went into building a start-up – raising capital, finding partners, hiring the right team – was a challenge,” she explains. “The two and a half years before our launch were very intense and I worked harder than I ever thought possible.”

One of Burch’s biggest tests came in 2006 with the end of her marriage to her husband and business partner. A messy legal battle followed the divorce, with Chris Burch claiming in court that his wife’s business had hindered the growth of his own fashion retail chain, ‘c.Wonder’. Tory counter-sued, claiming he had created a knockoff brand with mass- market versions of top-selling Tory Burch items. This compelled her ex-husband to resign from the board of directors of Tory Burch and sell his stake in the brand.

Never one to focus on the past, Tory Burch is currently working on her Autumn/Winter 2013- 14 collection. The self-confessed workaholic is creating a “Gustav Klimt and René Lalique-inspired free-spirited and romantic mood”.

Burch says, “We focused on the details: dragonflies and scarabs printed on dresses, as well as wrapped around the heels of shoes; metallic prints and patterns; mixed textures; and subtle volume. It all centers on the idea of 24-hour dressing – special pieces to wear from day to evening.”

Burch has also designed a limited-edition scarf especially for her Abu Dhabi store, opening this year, to woo her target consumers in the region. Burch identifies young aspirational women, collegians and even high school students, as her brand’s main clients. Given this demographic, she says social media remains an important communications tool.

“I tweet and Instagram myself, and our team manages platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and Weibo,” she says. “Our social media conversations have to be organic and authentic to who we are.”

Burch is equally invested in her non-profit foundation, which provides grassroots financial support for female-owned start-ups, mainly in the US.

“I wanted to help other women and their families,” she says. Based on our experiences starting a business, I thought we had something to offer aspiring female entrepreneurs. Through research I learned that it was extremely difficult for women to get small business loans in the U.S. But women are a great investment – they pay back their loans at a high rate, and invest earnings back into their communities. I felt loans and mentoring for female entrepreneurs were the best way for our foundation to contribute. We had a mentoring event in Marrakech last year, and we hope to expand all of our programs internationally at some point.”

But despite the hectic traveling schedule, a business empire to run and three children to raise, Tory Burch seems full of energy. She’s looking forward to her fragrance launch and a women’s activewear line in the near future. “I want to be like Wanda Ferragamo and work until I’m 85,” she says.

Loewe's Hands of Spain By Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine

Loewe’s Hands Of Spain

Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

Loewe’s Hands Of Spain
With ‘Hands of Spain’, the 166-year-old Spanish luxury accessories brand sets out to share its country’s culture, heritage and camaraderie with the world, one expertly crafted piece of leather at a time. T Emirates speaks to Loewe’s CEO Lisa Montague to find out how.

By Priyanka Pradhan

Loewe's Hands of Spain By Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine

Loewe’s Hands of Spain By Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine

“It takes close to 12 hours, and over 130 different pieces of leather, for our craftsman to make one classic Amazona bag by hand,” says Lisa Montague, chief executive of the Spanish luxury brand, gesturing as she speaks towards an in-store artisan who is expertly cutting, sewing and hemming a bag for us to see.

The tapestry on display is a part of Loewe’s ‘Best hands of Spain’ project, which has been traveling the world to celebrate the country’s cultural heritage.

Montague says: “We at Loewe talk a lot about our craftsmanship, and we want to emphasize what is special about Spain. When you read the papers, it’s all about the European crisis and tough times, but at this point we want to highlight what we can celebrate about Spain.”

Loewe has collaborated with a number of indigenous Spanish brands such as the espadrille-maker Castañer and traditional fan-makers from Valencia. Montague explains: “The fan-makers chose a specially-made hand-carved ebony wood and a beautiful fabric to make the ultimate fan for Loewe.
We then made a special case for the fan, crafted with our finest leathers. Then we also have the ‘Mantón de Manila,’ which is a tradition from Seville, where we took the iconic pattern, added elements from Loewe from our own Manton archives and colored it up on our own. It’s a fresh, more modern interpretation of the traditional ‘Mantón de Manila’ of Spain.”

The response so far, Montague says, has been great. “People have responded so emotionally to the project,” she exclaims. For a brand whose soul lies in its 166-year-old history, the challenge is to be accepted as a ‘modern’ brand, while retaining its traditional aura. Montague says the brand endeavors to constantly update itself, to keep pace with the changing times and evolving consumer needs.

“Take digital communication, for example,” she says. “Our Galeria Loewe in Barcelona is so edgy and state-of-the-art! It is a ‘modern-tech’expression of a museum of Loewe, with projections, digital versions of the prints and drawings, holograms of the craftsmen making the products, and giant digital tables where you can drill down as much information as you want about the history and heritage of the brand. To me, this is the perfect combination of tradition and history, through technology.”

She continues: “Coming soon is our ‘Tales of Spain’ project, which is all about prints and using our traditional scarf prints to interpret them on leather. We’ve digitized them, mixed and patchworked them, chopped them up and reassembled them to make it quite exciting for the modern consumer.”

But when it comes to collaborations, Loewe is not following other luxury and designer fashion houses by going down the high-street route.

Montague emphasizes: “Loewe is still a very well-kept secret… it’s a niche brand, really. Right now, for us, I don’t think high-street collaborations will work, because we have to uphold the quality of the brand and its products. We can’t do that without compromising the quality of the leather, which we would have to do to price it according to high-street brands. I can see the argument for that, though – there is great merit in these collaborations for some brands, but not for us.”

However she goes on, “We’re collaborating on another level. For instance, we’ve announced a high-design collaboration with Tokyo-based designer Junya Watanabe, to celebrate the Year of Spain in Japan (2013-14) with a capsule collection of accessories and clothing.

“For us, this is the perfect marriage between a strong luxury brand and a fashion ‘god’ in terms of cutting-edge design. This clash of cultures and the creativity from this collaboration will be very interesting to watch out for, going forward.”