Luxury magazine: March 2019

High fashion on the streets of Zanzibar; the formidable Ashley Graham; Pharrell talks style; and Karl Lagerfeld’s swansong

‘Narrow ideals of female beauty are constantly being reinforced'

Moving in fashion circles requires a sturdy constitution. In this elaborate alternative universe, it can feel like everyone is being judged, all the time – on what they look like or what they are wearing or how skinny they are or how young they are or how rich they are. It is a world where narrow ideals of female beauty are constantly being reinforced and unattainable perceptions of femininity are cast in gilded stone.

Which is why people like Ashley Graham are so important. I was at Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda presentation in Lake Como last year and saw Graham at a party the night before the show. She was wearing a skintight body-con Dolce dress that accentuated her US size 14-to-16 figure, and she exuded the kind of confidence that most women spend their whole lives aspiring to. The next day, she walked the Dolce & Gabbana runway – a clad-in-black reminder to the world that women come in all shapes, sizes and forms.

Graham has made it her mission to ensure other women feel comfortable in their own skin – even if it is covered in cellulite. “I am allowing [people] to see things that the fashion world has never shown – like cellulite or back fat. Or cellulite on your arms. Yeah, it’s not just on the back of your thighs, you know, it’s on your stomach, too,” she hilariously noted when I met her in Dubai last month.

In our interview, the “plus-size” model (I put the term in quote marks because, like Graham, I feel uncomfortable pigeonholing women in this, or any other, way) is refreshingly open about her relationship with her body and the sometimes heavy responsibility that comes with being a role model. We also discuss tokenism in the fashion industry – because we can’t ignore the fact that while Graham is busy taking over the world, women her size are still an anomaly on runways and magazine covers. As she openly acknowledges, there is much work to be done, but real, systemic, sustainable progress takes time.

We are celebrating another woman challenging the fashion status quo. In a major coup for Dubai, Dior will present its spring 2019 haute couture collection in the emirate on March 18. Sarah Maisey takes a closer look at the creative vision of Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first woman to ever head up the historic house of Dior.

For her first-ever show, Chiuri famously sent models down the runway in T-shirts that read “We Should All Be Feminists”, and this has been an underlying theme in her work ever since. We cannot wait to see how this manifests itself in Dubai next week.

Selina Denman, editor

Millionaires' marketplace

If you’re in the market for a super-rare lambskin apron crafted by Chanel, a crocodile skin Birkin handbag or even a diamond-encrusted Rubik’s cube valued at 2.3 million euros (Dh9.5m), www.hushhush.com could be the site for you.

Dubbed the “Amazon for millionaires”, the newly launched online marketplace currently offers more than 225,000 products, ranging from fashion accessories and yachts to jets, fine art and even private islands. The 88.4 million euro, 26-acre Pumpkin Key, part of the Florida Keys, for example, could be yours at the click of a button. For more packable purchases, the site promises free delivery worldwide, as well as a personal shopping concierge service for VIPs.

“The luxury concierge sector is growing, fast. I spotted the trend, and realised there was a gap in the market for an online marketplace for the finer things in life. Millionaires and billionaires are cash-rich and time-poor. They want the variety of products that such a global marketplace offers. The desire to provide the convenience of Amazon, but with luxury products, inspired the launch of www.hushhush.com,” explains the brand’s founder, Aaron Harpin.

One of the most expensive items sold though the site so far is a jet, although, as Harpin explains, the process wasn’t quite as simple as clicking a button, adding to a basket and checking out. “There are many more touch points with our sales team to determine the exact requirements, confirm the correct licenses are in place and verify fund availability. But ultimately, that’s our goal; to provide the very best in customer service to our discerning clients.”

The site may cater to a highly demanding audience, but price isn’t the main factor determining what gets listed – quality is. Which means that while you have the aforementioned Rubik’s cube and island paradises at one end of the spectrum, at the other end there are artworks for under £300 (Dh1,435) and designer lamps for £100.

Everything up to £10,000 can be purchased immediately with a standard debit or credit card, while more expensive items generally involve multiple discussions between the purchaser, seller and Hush Hush team. “These account for 77 per cent of transactions and are arranged via direct bank transfer,” Halpin reveals.

“For our high-value items, all funds are held in escrow and we advise clients to conduct independent professional verification and valuations before completing transactions.”

And the most unusual request they’ve had so far? “We actually had a request come in via email from a valued client who is looking for a UK mountain to buy. He wants to carve the faces of his family into it as a surprise gift and lasting monument to his love for them. So far we haven’t been able to help him, but we are hoping that someone steps forward to offer a suitable location to purchase.”

www.hushhush.com

Maria Grazia Chiuri will present Dior’s spring/summer 2019 haute couture collection in Dubai.

Maria Grazia Chiuri will present Dior’s spring/summer 2019 haute couture collection in Dubai.

When unveiled in Paris, the spectacular sequinned dresses, threepiece ringmaster suits and crinoline gowns appeared in a circus-themed big-top extravaganza .

When unveiled in Paris, the spectacular sequinned dresses, threepiece ringmaster suits and crinoline gowns appeared in a circus-themed big-top extravaganza .

The greatest show

As Dior prepares to bring its latest haute couture collection to Dubai, Sarah Maisey takes a wider look at the vision of the house’s fearless creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri

Maria Grazia Chiuri is not afraid to make a statement. In fact, in the often conservative world of high fashion, where even the merest shifting of a hemline is carefully considered, the creative head of Christian Dior is nigh on fearless.

Chiuri, the only woman ever to head the famed French fashion house, has a knack for putting on bold, visually spectacular shows. Since taking over at Dior in 2017, she has established herself as a conjuror of dreams, unafraid to create lavish backdrops against which to present her collections. Chiuri has referenced everything from American artist Georgia O’Keeffe to the student riots of the 1960s, and even introduced the world to Mexico’s female rodeo riders.

Maria Grazia Chiuri will present Dior’s spring/summer 2019 haute couture collection in Dubai.

In a major coup for the city, Dior will present its spring/summer 2019 haute couture collection in Dubai on March 18. The collection was initially shown in Paris in January, in a circus-themed extravaganza for which the Musée Rodin was transformed into a big top, complete with strings of lights and a rainbow-tiled runway.

Performers from London’s all-female troupe of acrobats, Mimbre balanced nimbly on each others’ shoulders, hammering home the message that women should support and elevate other women. The clothes were equally spectacular, with semi-transparent crinoline gowns, perfectly tailored satin three-piece suits, tightrope-walker slippers, ringmaster dress pants and tiny playsuits all vying for space on Chiuri’s fantastical catwalk.

Feminism has shaped Chiuri’s oeuvre since her debut spring/summer 2017 collection for Dior. The line was hotly anticipated – everyone was eager to see what she could do as a solo act, after 17 years partnering with Pier Paolo Piccioli at Valentino. And the designer did not disappoint.

Chiuri opened with a shaven-headed Ruth Bell striding out in a pristine fencing waistcoat and breeches. It was expected that she would start soft and pretty, so this was startling from the offset, and it became clear this would be no ordinary parade of gowns. By the time she sent out a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “We should all be feminists”, the audience was well and truly under her spell.

Her spring 2018 runway show, meanwhile, opened with a striped top that asked: “Why have there been no great women artists?” The show evolved into an homage to artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who once modelled for Marc Bohan during his days at Dior. De Saint Phalle turned to art as a form of recovery after a breakdown, and created mysterious figures out of shattered murals. Chiuri referenced these in broken mirror-work running across the runway and in the clothes themselves, which culminated in a sequence of fractured dresses.

When unveiled in Paris, the spectacular sequinned dresses, threepiece ringmaster suits and crinoline gowns appeared in a circus-themed big-top extravaganza .

For her first foray into haute couture, for spring 2018, Chiuri raised the bar even higher, with a tribute to 1930s Surrealism dominated by a black-and-white chequered runway, over which discombobulated plaster-cast hands, mouths and ears hung.

A homage to Leonor Fini (the now largely forgotten Argentinian avant-garde artist who was exhibited by gallerist Christian Dior in the days before he turned to fashion design), her spirit was rekindled in gloves that morphed into shoes, dresses scattered with embroidered eyes and glorious trompe l’oeil torsos, in a startling spectacle that was as intoxicating as it was thought-provoking.

For her equestrian-inspired cruise 2019 show, Chiuri flew in the astonishing escaramuzas, Mexico’s traditional women rodeo riders. Cantering into a sand (and rain) filled arena at the beginning of the show, the riders then sat impassively as models strode past in Bar jackets reworked into ridingwear, circular petticoats depicting toile hunting scenes, and the saddle bag – introduced under John Galliano in 1999 – rethought into leather belts. Wide-brimmed hats sheltered faces from the downpour, as riding boots grounded the women to Earth.

For cruise 2018, nature was also dominant, but was here seen through the prism of painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Huge tents and even hot-air balloons were the backdrop for a collection that spoke of the painter’s life and pre-historic cave paintings, while for spring/summer 2019, the sublime beauty of ballet was the inspiration for an ethereal collection.

An intellectual with extensive industry experience, Chiuri’s ideas are extensively researched, with elements skilfully linked to create the precise jigsaw image that she wants her audience to see. As her confidence at Dior grows, so too her touch softens, and her latest foray into the big top proved that her gamble is paying off.
With astonishing lightness, Chiuri breathed life into tulle, sketched with delicate lines of embroidery that took the eye on a virtual dance. With the skill of the Dior atelier at her disposal, Chiuri is proving to be an inspired ringmaster, and given the UAE’s love of spectacle, we are in for a treat.

Trend: the enduring romance of Victoriana

Dolce & Gabbana

The brand excels at corset dresses and here, bloom-covered fabric is thrown over layers of netting and offset with a laced bodice.

Elie Saab

The Lebanese designer also embraces florals. A billowing skirt is kept sharp with sheer panels and a matching headscarf.

Dior

Lowered to the floor and cut from gossamer tulle, this Dior gown becomes ethereal, like a ghost haunting a Dickens novel.

Alexander McQueen

Corsetry is left on the outside, but a scooped neckline and full sleeves are updated with steel-toe-capped boots.

Graham is a regular on both runways and red carpets.

Graham is a regular on both runways and red carpets.

She has collaborated on a capsule collection with luxury brand Marina Rinaldi that focuses on high-quality denim.

She has collaborated on a capsule collection with luxury brand Marina Rinaldi that focuses on high-quality denim.

Ashley Graham has long treated her body as a weapon – something to be used to break down boundaries, challenge narrow ideals of female beauty and show other women that it’s OK to be different.

I watched the world’s most famous plus-size model walk the runway in Lake Como last summer, as part of Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda show – and there was something undeniably powerful about seeing a woman that so strikingly diverges from “the norm” on so illustrious a stage. Graham stands at the vanguard of the body positivity movement, in all her curvy, US size 14-to-16 glory.  

In person, she is formidable. Her appeal has always stemmed from the fact that she is relatable, engaging and laughs like she means it – a hearty guffaw that has become something of a signature. The first thing she asks when we sit down is where I got my dress. “Mango,” I answer in a half whisper, expecting this modelling superpower to be a fashion snob. “Oh, I did a campaign for them,” she exclaims excitedly. “Is it this season? I want one.”

We are sitting in the Marina Rinaldi boutique in The Dubai Mall, where Graham has come to unveil a new capsule collection designed in collaboration with the luxury fashion brand. She is wearing flared white jeans and a space-age silver jacket, both from the new collection, which has a strong focus on denim. “When we started talking about this collaboration, I immediately said: ‘We have to make it young and we have to make it cool.’ So I came in and was able to do my own young, fun twist on it,” she says.

As Graham well knows, finding jeans that fit just right is tricky whatever your size, but nigh on impossible when you have a fuller figure. “Yeah, it sucks,” she says.

Graham was discovered at the Oak View Mall in her home town of Lincoln, Nebraska, when she was 12 years old. Her parents were just happy that, having dabbled in basketball, volleyball, football and art, she had finally found something that she genuinely enjoyed. “And then it turned into a thing and I was making lots of money and I was travelling the world,” Graham recalls.

Those were the initial draws of a modelling career, but the impetus has changed over the years. “Now, it’s about making a difference,” she says. “It’s not about getting my picture taken; it’s not about how many followers I have. It’s about the conversation I’m having, about the young girls that come up to me crying, or the emails I get where I’ve changed the mind of a young girl who was anorexic, or an older woman who gained weight and was too embarrassed to wear lingerie in front of her husband.”

It can be a heavy responsibility to carry, she admits. “I now know how to handle a crying a woman in my arms,” she says with a laugh. “But if you think about it, it’s a really emotional business. It is emotional to be something that has never been the norm  and to always be told that you are not good enough because of your size, and then to not have clothes that fit you because of your size. So of course, when you meet someone who has changed the game, and who has stood up for you, it’s emotional. So it’s heavy, but I like it.”

"Now, it’s about making a difference. It’s not about getting my picture taken; it’s not about how many followers I have. It’s about the conversation I’m having, about the young girls that come up to me crying, or the emails I get where I’ve changed the mind of a young girl who was anorexic, or an older woman who gained weight and was too embarrassed to wear lingerie in front of her husband.”
Ashley Graham

The watershed moment in Graham’s career – the point when she knew she was really on to something – came when she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit issue, long the stronghold of lean, lithe, traditional model types. Graham became the first plus-size woman in the magazine’s 52-year-history to grace the cover. Because she often references her Christian upbringing and values (she famously met her husband in a New York church, where she was volunteering), I ask whether she struggles to reconcile those sensual, semi-clad photos of her frolicking in the surf with her faith.

“I think there’s a strength in owning who you are,” she says. “I’m not going to come to the UAE and tell women to take their clothes off. However, I will say that, for me, being a model and also being a Christian woman, there has always been a balance. Why am I taking off my clothes? Am I doing this just to look sexy? Or am I taking my clothes off with a mission?

Graham is a regular on both runways and red carpets.

“The mission behind it has always been that I want women who look like me to feel comfortable in their own skin. I’m not telling those women to take their clothes off, but I am allowing them to see things that the fashion world has never shown – like cellulite or back fat. Or cellulite on your arms. Yeah, it’s not just on the back of your thighs, you know, it’s on your stomach, too.”

And that, right there, is why the world loves Ashley Graham. That’s why she has 8.1 million followers on Instagram. Because she talks about stomach cellulite with mirth and candour; she isn’t ashamed of the wobbly bits we all try so hard to hide; and she wears what she wants, when she wants. “Being a curvy girl, you’ve always been told what you can and can’t wear, but I think, now, there are no rules and no limitations,” she says. “As long as you are comfortable, that’s all that matters. Own it.”

Graham has body confidence “pretty much down pat” at this moment in time, but even she has off days. And that’s all part and parcel of being a woman, she maintains.

“I try to celebrate my body every day – it’s kind of hard not to when I’m talking about it every day. But sometimes you roll out of bed and you don’t want to wear a body-con dress, because you don’t feel your best. That’s the beauty of being a woman. We all have these celebrations of our bodies and we also all share the same bad days, as well. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like my body or I wish I had a different body; it means that today is just not the best day.”

Over the course of her career, Graham has appeared on the covers of American Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Glamour; starred in advertising campaigns for H&M, Bloomingdale’s, Calvin Klein and Marina Rinaldi; designed lingerie for Addition Elle and bikinis for Swimsuits For All; authored two books; and is the host of reality TV show American Beauty Star. Tellingly, she references model-turned-mogul Kathy Ireland, and women like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, who are the epitome of longevity.

“These women have really paved the way so that you don’t just have to just be a pretty face and take a pretty picture. You can really turn what you have into a business. I’m excited to do that.”

But where are all the other Ashley Grahams? Does it ever feel tokenistic – like the fashion world has embraced her, given itself a big pat on the back and then left it at that? “I think we have to look at tokenism as a good thing in the beginning,” Graham says. “I think there’s a responsibility with tokenism in that, after a couple of seasons or a couple of years of seeing one type of person, you have the responsibility to open the door for other people that look like that.

“And for other body shapes, or religions, or different skin tones or hair textures. I have always said yes to everything because I feel like if I said no, there’s not going to be that seat at the table for the girl who looks like me,” she adds.

"The mission behind it has always been that I want women who look like me to feel comfortable in their own skin. I’m not telling those women to take their clothes off, but I am allowing them to see things that the fashion world has never shown – like cellulite or back fat. Or cellulite on your arms."
Ashley Graham

Having spent 20 years modelling, Graham has an expansive view of the inner workings of the industry and insists that, while it will take time for it to become truly sustainable, change is definitely afoot. “I think there are a lot of people that wish that things would happen just like that. But I think a smart person, or even a business person, knows that not everything happens overnight,” she says.

“If you escalate too fast into something, then you are going to fall quickly. And I think what’s been so great about the body confidence movement in fashion is that it’s been slow and steady. Every year, it’s been a new success and a new ‘wow’ moment. I think that’s an indication of what’s to come. And what’s to come is that we are not going to have this conversation any more.”

In the meantime, Graham has launched her own podcast, Pretty Big Deal, to have just those kinds of conversations. She uses it as a platform to discuss a range of issues with high-profile guests, from Met Gala dresses with Kim Kardashian and the Muslim faith with Noor Tagouri, to race relations with actress Gabrielle Union and motherhood with Serena Williams. In one poignant conversation, Graham chats to hijabi model Halima Aden about her experiences growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya.

The line-up for the second season hasn’t been confirmed yet, but Graham does have a wish list in mind. “I would love to talk to Michelle Obama.” Did she read the former first lady’s autobiography, I begin to ask … “Duh, of course. OK, I’ll be honest, I didn’t read it, I listened to it on audio because I’m a girl on the go.” She’d like to get Jennifer Lopez on the show, as well as, curiously, The Rock, because “he’s really created this empire and a lot of people don’t give him the credit he deserves”.

“In season two, we are going to be talking about everything, and more,” she says. “I like to think of myself as unapologetic. I don’t know if I’m the smartest  person – I’ve never been book smart – but I know people and I like relationships and I like conversations and I like to learn. And I think, if more people were just willing to learn and have an open conversation and not be so close minded about what they think is right and the right way of living, we could all be growing and learning from each other.” And that’s just one more reason to love Ashley Graham. 

She has collaborated on a capsule collection with luxury brand Marina Rinaldi that focuses on high-quality denim.

No 123 & 125 East 10th Street, Manhattan, New York

Real estate doesn’t get much more fashionable than these twin townhouses in Manhattan, the former residence of the ever-stylish Mary-Kate Olsen

Before they moved to New York’s Turtle Bay neighbourhood, actress, author and fashion designer Mary-Kate Olsen and her husband, Olivier Sarkozy, called two townhouses in the city’s East Village home. The Anglo-Italianate brownstones, which the pair moved into in 2012, stand side by side at the epicentre of the St Mark’s Historic District, overlooking Greenwich Village.

Although they can be bought individually, the two properties present a rare opportunity to own conjoining townhouses and build a veritable mansion in the heart of Manhattan, much like Olsen did. In keeping with Olsen’s vintage-meets-grunge aesthetic, the residence on 125 East 10th Street is rustic and chic, featuring floor-to-ceiling French doors, wooden beams and floors, and bold colour schemes. Floral rugs lie underfoot in the reception room and parlour, while the airy master bedroom comes with a decorative fireplace from 1854.

The detailed mantelpieces, stairwell, skylights and mouldings, too, remain intact. The hulking dining area, with its dark-wood double doors, a long wooden table and sleeper-wood ceiling, sits in harmonious contrast with an open-plan kitchen that’s decorated in pristine white, while the home boasts as many as five historic chandeliers.  

What was originally Sarkozy’s residence on 123 East 10th Street, meanwhile, is a more masculine space, with exposed brickwork, oversized artworks and a denlike library. Current owners, artist Aaron Young and his wife, Laure Heriard Dubreuil, chief executive of luxury retailer The Webster, have retained Olsen and Sarkozy’s modifications to the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as the home’s historical elements.

The master bedroom features turquoise walls – as does the endearing nursery – and his and her walk-in wardrobes, while the monochrome master bathroom comes with reflecting mirrors that add a sense of space. The property has an eat-in family kitchen with a large hearth and a wall of steel casement French doors. A streak of fire-engine red dominates one wall of a foyer that can be entered through wrought iron gates. The upholstery and carpets across the common areas continue with the blue and red colour scheme, while the lights are more contemporary than its twin’s antique fixtures.

A dark-wood banister curves through both the five-storey homes, each of which has five bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms, spread across 4,200 square feet. The residences also share an al fresco seating area, with stonework and ornate benches and tables, in what is one of the largest private gardens in Manhattan, and come with an English basement, ornamental Juliet balconies and grand double parlours with soaring ceilings.

The houses boast “a trifecta of grand scale, glorious light and priceless architectural details”, says the team at Sotheby’s International Realty, which is representing 123, and lists it at $7.7 million (Dh28.2m), while 125 is with Walburg Realty for $8.3m. Together, the homes are on the market for $15.99m.

Asking price: Dh58.7 million

Panna Munyal

The foyer at 123, East 10th Street.

The eat-in family kitchen at 123 comes with a large hearth and a wall of steel casement doors.

The master bedroom at 125, East 10th Street.

The monochrome master bathroom at 123.

The properties share an al fresco seating area.

The foyer at 123, East 10th Street.

The eat-in family kitchen at 123 comes with a large hearth and a wall of steel casement doors.

The master bedroom at 125, East 10th Street.

The monochrome master bathroom at 123.

The properties share an al fresco seating area.

My luxury life: Pharrell Williams

The singer-songwriter found fame as one half of record production duo The Neptunes and lead singer of NERD, before launching a solo career that yielded hits such as ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Happy’. But the father of four is just as well known for his outlandish fashion choices

How do you describe your personal style?
My style is based purely on how I feel in the morning, where I have to go that day and what the climate is going to be like.

What’s the best thing in your wardrobe?
Imagination.

What’s your biggest fashion no-no?
If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. 

What is your favourite city in the world?
Tokyo.

Where is your favourite place to shop?
I am open, as things can always change.

If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you be?
With my children.

Who would be your perfect dinner partner, where would you go to eat and what would you order?
My wife and I, we are creatures of habit, so it would definitely be food we already like.

Are you an instinctive person?
I am open.

You have designed a capsule collection with Chanel. Tell us about it.
I have been working with the brand for, I don’t know, four or five years now. And each time, they gave me the room to just express myself in some way, whether it was through a campaign or some sort of collaboration. Then they figured we would do it in a more material way, this time. And so I was able to go in and make suggestions about things that I think are essential for now, for men to be able to get in there too. To make things that have a unisex usage. I was able to really bring my ideas and my version of colour to it as well. I can’t give away too much more than that but it’s been really good. 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Dream big.

And what advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Dream bigger.

Sarah Maisey

Stone Town spice

Taking the upbeat, joyful colours of the spring/summer collections to the streets of Zanzibar

Dress, Dh8,944, Dolce & Gabbana. Tights, Dh450, Gucci. Earrings, Dh2,553, Amy Gattas.

Dress, Dh8,944, Dolce & Gabbana. Tights, Dh450, Gucci. Earrings, Dh2,553, Amy Gattas.

Dress, Dh40,400, Gucci. Slides, Dh1,650, Stuart Weitzman. Earrings, stylist’s own .

Dress, Dh40,400, Gucci. Slides, Dh1,650, Stuart Weitzman. Earrings, stylist’s own .

Dress, Dh44,400, Saint Laurent.

Dress, Dh44,400, Saint Laurent.

Dress, price on request, Valentino. Slides, as before.

Dress, price on request, Valentino. Slides, as before.

Top, Dh1,550; and skirt, Dh2,570, both from Taller Marmo at The Modist. Bag, Dh5,290, Loewe. Trainers, Dh3,638, Dolce & Gabbana .

Top, Dh1,550; and skirt, Dh2,570, both from Taller Marmo at The Modist. Bag, Dh5,290, Loewe. Trainers, Dh3,638, Dolce & Gabbana .

Dress, Dh2,977, Paule Ka. Polo neck (worn underneath), Dh1,098, Bally. Earrings, Dh1,100 each, Aurate.

Dress, Dh2,977, Paule Ka. Polo neck (worn underneath), Dh1,098, Bally. Earrings, Dh1,100 each, Aurate.

Dress, price on request, Chloé. Earrings, Dh2,020, Amy Gattas. Shoes, Dh2,370, Valentino .

Dress, price on request, Chloé. Earrings, Dh2,020, Amy Gattas. Shoes, Dh2,370, Valentino .

Jacket, Dh3,925; and trousers, Dh2,405, both from Racil at The Modist. Slides, Dh1,402, Bally. Earrings, Dh1,650, Valentino. X Ring, Dh1,500; and Band ring, Dh6,150, both from Aurate.

Jacket, Dh3,925; and trousers, Dh2,405, both from Racil at The Modist. Slides, Dh1,402, Bally. Earrings, Dh1,650, Valentino. X Ring, Dh1,500; and Band ring, Dh6,150, both from Aurate.

Dress, price on request, from Iris & Ink at The Outnet. Slides, Dh1,402, Bally .

Dress, price on request, from Iris & Ink at The Outnet. Slides, Dh1,402, Bally .

Dress, price on request, Valentino. Earrings, stylist’s own.

Dress, price on request, Valentino. Earrings, stylist’s own.

Dress, price on request, Valentino. Band ring, Dh6,150; and Icon ring Dh2,900, both from Aurate.

Dress, price on request, Valentino. Band ring, Dh6,150; and Icon ring Dh2,900, both from Aurate.

Dress, Dh14,553; cape, Dh4,128; and shoes, Dh2,877, all from Givenchy.

Dress, Dh14,553; cape, Dh4,128; and shoes, Dh2,877, all from Givenchy.

Dress, Dh1,880, Lama Jouni. Trousers, Dh2,250, Safiyaa at The Modist. Slides, Dh2,860, Valentino.

Dress, Dh1,880, Lama Jouni. Trousers, Dh2,250, Safiyaa at The Modist. Slides, Dh2,860, Valentino.

Dress, Dh11,155, Dolce & Gabbana. Tracksuit top, Dh1,707, Isabel Marant Etoile at Shopbop.

Dress, Dh11,155, Dolce & Gabbana. Tracksuit top, Dh1,707, Isabel Marant Etoile at Shopbop.

Blouse, Dh1,895, Paule Ka. Dress, Dh44,400, Saint Laurent.

Blouse, Dh1,895, Paule Ka. Dress, Dh44,400, Saint Laurent.

Jacket, Dh3,925, Racil at The Modist. Earrings, Dh1,650, Valentino.

Jacket, Dh3,925, Racil at The Modist. Earrings, Dh1,650, Valentino.

Photography: Ruth Ossai
Fashion director: Sarah Maisey
Model: Noelle at Fabulous.com
Make-up: Sharon Drugan

Karl Lagerfeld’s swansong

A few weeks before the fashion maestro’s death, Sarah Maisey visited the Chanel atelier in Paris, little knowing that she was seeing his final haute couture collection being brought to life

“Without great ateliers, you cannot make a beautiful collection,” said Karl Lagerfeld.

Speaking ahead of the unveiling of what would prove to be his final haute couture collection, Lagerfeld was keen to explain that, although it would be him the world congratulated, the success of every collection hinges on countless people toiling behind the scenes.

Chanel’s spring 2019 haute couture offering was presented on January 22 in a snowy Paris. As was his wont, Lagerfeld completely transformed his venue of choice, the Grand Palais, by transplanting a Tuscan villa, surrounded by orange trees, rose bushes and a reflecting pool, into the Parisian landmark. There was even a faux summer sky.

With a keen understanding of the theatricality of fashion, Lagerfeld knew that elaborate settings were a key element of any runway presentation. As the scale of his productions grew (from icebergs and spaceships to a custom-made beach), so did his audience. Increasingly, Chanel had to put on two shows in one day to accommodate everyone.

One day before, I was invited into the sanctum that is Chanel’s atelier, where the couture pieces are actually made. It is here that, seemingly spun from thin air in just six short weeks, ethereal dresses are shaped from sketches entirely by hand.
Inside the fabled 31 Rue Cambon in Paris, which in fact takes up almost an entire block, I was guided up a staircase, past the ground-floor boutique, to the first atelier, which specialises in “flou” or lightweight fabrics such as silk and chiffon.

I ascended another floor, past the famous panelled mirrored staircase immortalised in countless photographs and the curious time capsule that is Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s old apartment, and found myself in the second atelier – referred to as “tailluer” or tailoring, where heavier materials, such as wool, leather and tweed, are worked. I was acutely aware that somewhere amid the labyrinth of twisting stairwells and narrow corridors, sat Lagerfeld’s studio.

Opening the door, less than 18 hours before the first show, I braced myself for a scene of flustered panic but, instead, all was calm. We were welcomed by quiet, unhurried workers, fabric, needle and thread in hand. These artisans (mostly female but a few male) are the “petits mains”, which literally translates as little hands. They are the secret weapon behind Chanel’s success.

Every flower, bead, sequin and crystal is attached by hand in Chanel’s ateliers .

Every flower, bead, sequin and crystal is attached by hand in Chanel’s ateliers .

A curious universe, haute couture is consumed by only a tiny number of customers worldwide, and yet its influence is felt by all. Its closest cousin lies in the unlikely noise and fumes of Formula One, from where innovations trickle down to hatchbacks and family cars. As with engineering, so the techniques and methodology of couture – although impossible to mass-produce – filter through into everyday clothes, exerting a subtle but omnipresent gravitational pull.

Lagerfeld’s sketches lay scattered all around the space. They were small and intense, apparently dashed off in a frenzy, with scribbled instructions, largely unintelligible. And yet, somehow, from these inscrutable drawings, the studio heads, or premieres, knew precisely what the designer wanted. Each look was assigned to a specific artisan, who would oversee its creation from start to finish.
The brightly lit room of the flou atelier was filled with large, high tables, set almost too close together. A glance across the surface showed scraps of fabric and panels of embroidery – all done by hand – casually abandoned, along with Lagerfeld’s sketches, now with snippets of fabric pinned to their edges.

Dressmaker’s dummies were clad in simple cotton shapes, with more drawings strategically pinned on to them. These are the toile, the prototype dresses, on which final placement of embroidery and pockets is made. The casual appearance belies its importance, as the toile is the first time the team will see the dress in three dimensions.

With its own ateliers, Chanel is able to complete many of the intricate techniques needed for couture in-house, but for methods outside even its realm of knowledge, there are small specialists dotted around Paris. Founded during the golden age of couture, when all clothes were handmade, these tiny ateliers have faced an uncertain future as demand for their services has dwindled.

Lagerfeld, understanding the irreplaceable value of these tiny studios, encouraged Chanel to acquire them, for every couture house to use. One such house is Lesage, which specialises in embroidery. Famed for its lightness of touch, the studio is behind much of the elaborate – but never gaudy – beading of couture.

Lesage worked on many of the pieces for Lagerfeld’s final collection, but one of the most extraordinary creations was look 20, an ethereal column of white scattered with pastel-coloured spring flowers. A scene as light as a breeze on a summer’s day, it took the expertise of three ateliers to bring it to life.

Once Lesage received the sketch for look 20, the house had to decide how best to interpret Lagerfeld’s loose instructions. To create the trails of fragile flowers, fabric was stretched taut in a frame, as the embroiderer pushed a tiny Luneville crochet hook through to catch a single sequin, bead or crystal. The resulting trails of delicate petals in soft pink, lemony yellow and periwinkle blue required 10,000 bead tubes, 25,000 sequins and 880 slithers of crystal to be stitched into place, one at a time.

Lagerfeld’s final haute couture show was held in the Grand Palais in January.

Lagerfeld’s final haute couture show was held in the Grand Palais in January.

Another house, Goossens, hand-dipped 250 real flowers and buds into resin, immortalising their delicate beauty, and cut a further 150 flowers from brass, hand-painting each with yellow petals and pink hearts. An additional 350 organza flowers (each one outlined in a halo of delicate stitches) were added, along with 60 starchy-white raffia blooms, to create a three-dimensional effect. Meanwhile, the house of Montex created the backdrop for the flowers, using 1,080 tubes, 15,700 sequins and 1,700 beads to craft glistening lines like raindrops. It took more than 800 hours to complete, which means that even if they were working around the clock, it would take one person more than 33 days to finish.

Due to the scale of the beading and embroidery, many pieces are only returned to Chanel the day before a show, and we were there to see them arrive. With fewer than 18 hours to go, the work of many of the petit mains seemed to be just beginning.

Strips of gold leather were gently added to the hems of a halter top and skirt. Another table clattered with the sound of thousands of ceramic flowers being moved, as a lining was hand-stitched into place. Elsewhere, frothy tiers of black net were teased into shape, not yet attached to anything. In the corner stood a mannequin dressed in a trompe l’oeil skirt, silently awaiting its matching jacket.
Seemingly entirely untroubled by the colossal task at hand, the women all smiled and assured us that they expected to be home at the normal time that evening. I left, unconvinced.

And yet, the following day, sitting in a make-believe Mediterranean scene in the centre of Paris, we watched 62 exquisite looks sweep past – all perfect and complete. I was once again awed by the skill and dexterity of those master craftsmen. 

Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld died on February 19.

Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld died on February 19.

Only when the final bow came, and we realised that Karl Lagerfeld was missing, did the atmosphere shift. His right hand and second-in-command, Virginie Viard, took the bow in his place, and received the applause she so readily deserves. As Lagerfeld himself explained in the 2018 Netflix documentary 7 Days Out: “Virginie is the most important person, not only for me, but also for the atelier, for everything. She is my right arm and even if I don’t see her, we are on the phone all the time.”

However, the absence of Lagerfeld was telling, and it hung in the air, breaking the spell of the stunning clothes on show. We know now that this was the maestro’s last haute couture collection. Looking back, it is hard not to feel sad that, after such a long, lauded and tireless career, Lagerfeld was denied his last theatrical flourish – a final bow to an audience that adored him.

Custom kanduras at your door

Majed Al Awadhi, founder of Dar Al Hay, operates a mobile tailoring truck where innovative fabrics, colourful caps and other stylish accoutrements are delivered directly to your home. Selina Denman takes a tour

The doors at the back of the truck sweep open and a set of metal steps descends to the floor. They lead up into a brightly lit, dark-wood-panelled space with mashrabiya patterning picked out in gold on the ceiling. Plush red carpeting lies underfoot. Colourful caps by Code Eight, Caliente and Capster line the walls, alongside custom-made ghutras and egals. Encased within a glass counter at the far end of the space is an assortment of cuffs and collars – pointed, rounded, one button or two – and a sample book brimming with kandura fabric.

The shop's walls are lined with colourful caps.

The shop's walls are lined with colourful caps.

“When a customer enters, he feels like he is in a real shop. It doesn’t feel like a small truck; it doesn’t feel tight,” says Majed Al Awadhi, who established the Dar Al Hay tailoring shop in Dubai in 2015 and, last year, supplemented the thriving business with a mobile tailoring unit to offer a truly door-to-door service.

The white truck, which has an illustration of a young Emirati man emblazoned across its side, will come directly to your home or office. Two members of staff are on hand to take measurements and discuss the intricacies of your chosen kandura design. What is your preferred colour, for a start? In addition to the expected shades of bright white, there are creams and blues and greys and greens.

The founder of Dar Al Hay, Majed Al Awadi, launched a mobile kandura truck last year.

The founder of Dar Al Hay, Majed Al Awadi, launched a mobile kandura truck last year.

“White is still the most popular colour – it is what Emiratis wear when they are on duty, or at weddings and other occasions. Colours are a little more casual, and we mostly wear them in the winter. White and cream are more for summer. We normally bring 20 to 40 new colours to the market every year. If this year you were wearing green, for sure next year you’ll want a slightly different shade. You won’t want to order exactly the same kandura,” Al Awadhi explains.

There are also countless options when it comes to customising the stitching that runs along the front of the garment – from delicate swirls to art deco-esque squares and the more traditional triangles. “Other tailors might offer between 10 and 20 different designs when it comes to stitching; at Dar Al Hay, we offer more than 300. In fact, the machines that we have can create more than 385 different designs, and there are only three of these machines in the UAE.”

It takes up to five hours for Dar Al Hay’s tailors – a team of skilled professionals who hail from Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh – to create a single kandura in the company’s Sharjah workshop. “Maybe other tailors can make a kandura in two-and-a-half or three hours, but with us, we give each tailor a maximum of three kanduras to make per day. Maximum. And you see the difference in the quality and the finishing,” he says.

Custom-made egals.

Custom-made egals.

Al Awadhi prides himself on the calibre of the fabrics that Dar Al Hay uses and is constantly looking for innovative new materials to bring to the market. To that effect, this month, he will launch kanduras made from a Japanese-developed nano-fabric that is antibacterial, odour-repellent and exclusive to the GCC. He currently sources all his fabrics from Japan, maintaining that they are the best in the world, but also plans to launch the first Italian-made kandura fabric to the market next month.

There are a number of other barely perceptible details that set a Dar Al Hay kandura apart. There are hidden pockets where you can store your keys or mobile phone, to ensure that these bulky essentials don’t ruin the fluid lines of your custom-created kandura. A small label attached to the inside of the garment, meanwhile, features the owner’s initials and the date that the piece was made. If you have a wardrobe full of almost identical white kanduras, this is a handy way of identifying which ones are new and how long, exactly, you’ve had them.

When it comes to pricing, Dar Al Hay sits at the upper end of the industry average. While a well-made kandura generally costs between Dh200 and Dh220, you can expect to pay about Dh225 here, with no extra charge for the door-to-door service.

Majed Al Awadi.

Majed Al Awadi.

In addition to the current shop in Dubai’s Etihad Mall, near Mirdif, Al Awadhi is this month opening a new store in the emirate, at Galleria Mall, as well as one in Abu Dhabi. And for added convenience, a Dar Al Hay app is due to launch in the next couple of months, where customers will be able to book an appointment with the mobile unit, or place an order directly online.

And if you find yourself needing a kandura in a hurry, Al Awadhi promises to do anything in his power to help out. “If one of our customers asks for a kandura in one day, it means he needs that kandura. He has a problem and we will do everything we can to help. We will not blackmail our customers by saying they need to pay triple for that service.”

A chat with the founders of Lebanese couture label Azzi & Osta

Sarah Maisey speaks to George Azzi and Assaad Osta about their couture creations and high-profile fans

“Our fascination with fashion was nurtured from early childhood,” explains George Azzi. “I was inspired by my grandmother, who was a tailor. She spent much of her time creating outfits from leftover scraps of fabric.”

Born in Lebanon in 1986, George Azzi and Assaad Osta, founders of Azzi & Osta, grew up surrounded by fashion. A young Azzi developed a love for clothes watching his grandmother make her own, while Osta learnt about the importance of perfection from his mother. “My mother sewed her own clothes with meticulous attention to detail,” he recalls.

Fuelled by a shared love of fabric, the friends enrolled at Esmod Beirut in 2004 and presented their final collections to Elie Saab. They were both awarded top honours and placements in Saab’s studio. “Elie Saab is a great couturier and a school for every fashion designer,” says Azzi. “He is a source of Lebanese pride and we were lucky to have worked with him.”

The pair toiled as assistant designers at Elie Saab for 18 months, an experience both acknowledge as being absolutely vital in shaping their vision. “In fashion, like any other industry, mentorship is key and it’s something we strongly believe in. We are regularly approached by fashion graduates for internships in our atelier, and always happily make sure we give the most to them,” says Osta.

Buoyed by new-found knowledge and contacts, in 2010, Azzi and Osta left Saab and launched their namesake couture label. It was, they agree, the natural culmination of a shared journey. “We both have the same interests,” says Osta. “A deep love for history, for surrealism, the science of fabric and an unconventional approach. It all came together in perfect harmony to launch our own brand.”

As well as a desire to create beautiful clothes, designers must be able to identify a target client – who they are and what they want – and Azzi and Osta know exactly what kind of woman they are creating for. “The Azzi & Osta muse? Every woman who is iconic, a woman of achievement, a role model, one that makes humanity proud. She is a lover of luxury and a curator, but also a minimalist who enjoys her individuality, values her heritage and embraces her future,” explains Azzi.

“Beirut is definitely a hub for creativity,” adds Osta. “We have always been inspired by the city, its heritage, its culture and multi-layered scene. Lebanese women are internationally known for their taste and interest in fashion. Beirut inspired us to be sophisticated and refined, because you can’t really live in Beirut and not be inspired by everything around you.”

This inspiration has been translated into gowns that mix old-school elegance with avant-garde daring, and that have caught the eye of some of the world’s most stylish women. Queen Rania of Jordan and Beyoncé, for example, are both fans. At the UN General Assembly in October 2018, Queen Rania teamed a custom-made Azzi & Osta shirt with an Antonio Berardi skirt. Delicately embroidered in gold on white, it was both simple and classic.

That same immaculate handwork also appeared at the waist of the folded gown worn by actress Angela Bassett to the 70th Emmy Awards, and trailing across the hip of the high-neck sheath dress donned by Twilight actress Nikki Reed for Elton John’s Oscars party last month. And, proving that high-octane glamour lies at the heart of the house, when Beyoncé needed a statement dress for Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party in New York in January last year, it was Azzi & Osta she turned to.

Entirely bespoke, the dramatic black fishtail gown, complete with a sultry fishnet panel with extra volume at the hips, took more than 300 hours to make. At the time, the designers said in a statement that they were “honoured, proud, happy and thrilled beyond imagination”.

“We love to dress women of all types. When it comes to women in the spotlight, we always aspire to dress those who stand out for their achievements in all fields. We would love to see our designs on Amal Clooney,” says Osta.

Their latest couture collection is inspired by historic journeys. “The Silk Road is an ancient trade network that connected East and West, and where silk, goods and cultures were exchanged. It has always fascinated us how silk had to travel from one side of the Earth to another to get to the royal courts of Europe. The idea of a secretive and protected art – like silk-making – is very similar to couture, the savoir faire, and the well-kept secret of the couture house. It is the journey that every piece undertakes.”

Style podcasts

Sophie Prideaux rounds up five fashion-focused audio shows that are essential listening

American Fashion Podcast

A fashion show for fashion people, American Fashion Podcast has been running for four years and has more than 200 episodes in its archive. It offers a deep-dive into all elements of the industry, from the designing, making and selling of clothes, to long-form interviews with people from all corners of the fashion world.

The show’s hosts, Charles Beckwith and Cathy Schepis, have spoken with everyone from the chief executive of Brazil’s biggest shopping mall to designers who have been working in New York City for more than 30 years. Both Beckwith and Schepis have a particular interest in sustainability in fashion, which has prompted a number of thoughtprovoking and knowledgeable discussions. It has been described as the podcast for the “fashion nerds at heart”, and it really does offer insight into every aspect of the industry.

Bande à Part

This laid-back, entertaining and well-informed podcast lets us in on phone conversations between Rebecca Arnold and Beatrice Behlen. Arnold is a renowned fashion lecturer, while Behlen is a curator at the Museum of London. In the weekly episodes, the pair discuss everything from individual designers, trends and their origins, to fashion weeks and popular culture’s impact on the industry.

It’s a mature, educated and intellectual conversation around fashion that will keep you interested and make sure you come away with a head full of new information. Particularly interesting episodes include Dress & Autobiography, which looks at the ways in which fashion and personal stories intersect, while exploring the archives at the Museum of London, and Mail Order Fashion, an enlightening talk on the origin of ordering clothes from catalogues.

3.55 Chanel

As one of the most coveted creative houses in the world, Chanel holds a special appeal for fashion-lovers – and the label offers insight into its inner workings with its 3.55 podcast. Now in its seventh series, the show explores everything from the history of the brand and the stories behind its latest collections, to the memories and experiences of some of its most famous collaborators and ambassadors.

The latest season, 3.55 Chanel à l’Opéra, was recorded at the Palais Garnier ahead of the opening of its dance season. Anne Berest, actress and author of How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are, explores the theme of creativity with choreographers, dancers and actresses. Guests include Kate Moran, Keira Knightley, Diana Vishneva and Ohad Naharin. A newly released episode features one of the last interviews ever given by Karl Lagerfeld.

The podcast is available in English and French, and has been translated into a number of other languages, including Chinese, Korean and Russian.

Gucci Podcast

The Florentine house launched its podcast in May 2018, although episodes have been released somewhat sporadically since then. Nevertheless, for fans of Gucci, there is a solid backlog of conversations to catch up on and plenty more planned throughout the year.

Each episode features the voice of one of the brand’s collaborators, speaking on topics ranging from scent creation and the creative direction of Alessandro Michele to the house’s relationship with music and some of its most memorable collections.

Stand-out episodes include Dapper Dan talking about his collaboration with Gucci and growing up in Harlem, and Elton John talking about his and Michele’s “artistic connection”. Other guests of note include singer Florence Welch and film producer Jenn Nkiru.

The Memory of ... With John Galliano

Curious and at times a little surreal, John Galliano’s podcast series was launched as a way to explain his latest collections for Maison Margiela. For the listener, the bad news is there are only a handful of episodes. But the good news is they are highly entertaining, thanks to Galliano’s infamous eccentricities.

The 15-minute segments are released shortly after the designer debuts his collections. He narrates his inspiration and the creation process, and throws in some interesting anecdotes for good measure.

His signature British drawl is set against the backdrop of dramatic drumming as he deconstructs his Maison Margiela menswear collection, his artisanal women’s show and his spring/summer co-ed show.

The Dh3,3935 lipstick case

Prone to misplacing your make-up? Louis Vuitton has created a portable yet stylish solution just for you. Subscribing to the mantra that good things come in small packages, the French fashion house has launched a designer lipstick case that is being dubbed the next It-bag.

The compact accessory is the brainchild of Nicolas Ghesquière, artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s women’s collections, and is modelled on the make-up boxes of the 1920s. The case is decorated with Louis Vuitton’s signature Monogram, which was designed by Georges Vuitton in 1896, and has since become one of the most recognisable motifs in the world.

The lipstick case comes in two colours, chocolate and light tan, complemented by a gold top, chain and lock, which is engraved with a LV Circle logo and takes its design cues from historic Louis Vuitton trunks. Inside, for those who struggle to settle on a single shade, the case has space for two lipsticks. Also concealed within is a handy inbuilt mirror.

Louis Vuitton suggests that the miniscule accessory “be worn as jewellery or to adorn the outside of a favourite bag”. So you can style it as a statement necklace or cross-body accessory, or simply attach it to your best holdall.

If you’ve already got the Louis Vuitton bag, belt and case, this will complete the collection.  The piece is available in select Louis Vuitton stores around the world, but you’ll have to hurry – the Monogram lipstick case has already sold out in some countries.