A camera, the desert and Beyonce's boots (the story of my high-end Abu Dhabi phootshoot)
When the conversation moves seamlessly from algorithms to runway trends, you know you're at a gathering of fashion bloggers.
Deep in the Liwa Desert, at the stunning Qasr Al Sarab resort, Swarovski brought together eight regional influencers for a gorgeous editorial shoot captioned NeoArabia. With a team of stylists cherry-picking designer pieces from across the globe, this was an incredible opportunity for regional fashion bloggers and I was honoured to be the only Pakistani invited to take part.
When you hear the work Swarovski, most people think of crystal jewellery — but the brand’s core business is supplying crystals, pearls and other embellishments to designers across the world including John Paul Gaultier, Dior, Vera Wang and pretty much any major designer you’ve heard of. They’re even the ones who designed the Chanel pearl for Coco Chanel.
The concept behind the Neo Arabia photoshoot was to showcase the fashion-forward perspective of Asia and the Middle Eastern region. The shoot featured pieces from regional and international designers that merged historical Middle Eastern references with 21st-century modernity.
Women in the region are more style-savvy and au-fait with international trends than ever before. Social media influencers and bloggers are at the forefront of this development and highlighting them in an editorial shoot was a bold move.
Fashion bloggers: cut from the same cloth
For me, it was an amazing experience on so many levels. Perhaps the best part was being among other fashion bloggers. No one else combines that geeky obsession with technology, the artistic eye of a photographer and a towering passion for fashion and styling.
Eight bloggers were chosen to participate in total, the seven bloggers besides myself all had their own styles and talents.
Award-winning Zahra Lyla is a regular at international fashion shows and has worked with brands such as Burberry but is incredibly down-to-earth. She’s very tech-savvy and had us in fits with her witty asides. Nicoletta Burke is an air-hostess on Emirates and style-blogs on the side. Her native language is Romanian but her English is fabulous and she speaks a total of five languages. Mariyah is an incredibly talented photographer while Fatma Husam is only 22 but has an encyclopedic passion for makeup. It was wonderful being among other fashion bloggers with varying degrees of experience, sharing tips and tricks and the commonality of a unique hobby-come-profession.
I would never have thought to pair a tweed suit with a giant statement necklace and sandals. Somehow the effect was particularly striking.
Another remarkable aspect was being in the hands of a professional team of stylists, makeup artists and photographers.
The brand had a very specific minimalist hair and makeup look in mind, and the stylists had chosen a variety of looks that took us all a little out of our comfort zones. Being style bloggers, we all had our input to give but the stylists did manage to challenge us on various levels. Fashion bloggers are generally open to the novel but, for example, I would never have thought to pair a tweed suit with a giant statement necklace and sandals. Somehow the effect was particularly striking. Similarly they chose a Maria B ensemble for another blogger and gave it a totally fresh look, by combining it with a sheer top and stark make-up.
Role reversals in the desert
The stylists didn’t get it all their way – we all had issues about what we would and wouldn’t wear.
Personally I didn’t want anything more revealing than a sleeveless top and Fatima wears the hijab, but most of the other bloggers were less conservative.
More importantly, none of us were sample sizes — which made styling that much more of a challenge. What was great was that the stylists had some fantastic designer pieces on hand including a €100,000 John Paul Gaultier Dress that Zahra Lyla wore for the group shot. She was terrified of damaging it and treated it extreme care!
It was great to see such pieces up close. The fabric of the Victoria Beckham tweed suit I wore was extra-ordinary – yellow, white and navy threads women together to shimmer like gold. Being fashion bloggers, we instantly recognized several pieces – especially an iconic pair of Louboutin boots that Beyonce had once worn.
Slipping into a model's skin
On a personal level the photoshoot was nerve-racking. Unlike the other seven influencers, I'm more of a fashion commentator rather than a personal style blogger. I am more comfortable behind a keyboard than I am in front of a camera. While several of the bloggers are photoshoot veterans, this was the first time I had done anything at this level. I needn’t have worried as the entire team was very supportive.
The photographer, Tanya, was excellent at directing the shoot and giving little tips on how to move, where to look and exactly how to pose. Tanya’s advice made it all much easier than I expected though the shoot did give me a renewed respect for how hard a model’s job actually is. Being aware of every aspect of my appearance from the angle of my foot to the expression in my eyes was exhausting!
The entire shoot was, in fact, a bit of a marathon for everyone involved. With 2 looks for each blogger and a group shot packed into two days, the first makeup slot started at 4:30 a.m ! Although we bloggers could rest in between, Tanya and her crew spent two grueling days in the desert sun getting the shots. The desert was scorching but it was a fantastic location; the Liwa desert is stunning. I’ve always thought of deserts as very flat, boring expanses but the play of colour on the dunes and the quality of the light was endlessly fascinating.
My favorite pictures from the photoshoot? Zahra in the Ferragamo dress with the Saluki, Fatima’s fabulous smile in her portrait shot and Mahriya’s smouldering looks in the ruffled Elaidi top.
The luxury resort provided some excellent opportunities for downtime even though mostly we were all too busy to take full advantage. I learned so much from my fellow bloggers, particularly from Mahriya who was full of tips about photography and generous with her knowledge.
As for the pictures themselves, you be the judge. I have my own favourites - Zahra in the Ferragamo dress with the Saluki, Fatima’s fabulous smile in her portrait shot and Mahriya’s smouldering looks in the ruffled Elaidi top.
My own shots are pictures that I’ll treasure, souvenirs of a memorable experience.