DIFF 17! Film Will Find You

The 17th edition of DIFF commenced with the expected glam and vigor of an international film festival, topped with the warm generosity of Arabian hospitality. In contrast to my involvement last year, based partly on curiosity and partly on the enthusiasm of a rising social media star, this time the festival promised to be quite a bit more festive for me with invitations to the Opening and Closing, VIP parking a few minutes away from screenings, access to a secret lounge and rocking after parties. Read more about the Opening of DIFF ’16 over here. 

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The festival is undergoing changes but they weren’t particularly obvious to an outsider like me. Apart from usual screening programs, galas, “in conversations” and workshops, DIFF 17 features virtual reality experiences and free movies at The Beach. The Film Will Find You tagline was selected to represent the transformation of the way entertainment reaches our hearts and eyes, noting the impact of Netflix, social media algorithms and ever advancing technologies.

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The hospitality was impressive, with a large number of multilingual volunteers, complimentary coffee for press, two-for-one ticket deals, complimentary public WiFi and even bottles of Evian water left in chairs at all Gala screenings.

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While movie stars and celebrities walked the Red Carpet, I hung out with everyone’s favorite (including me) DIFF team member Brent Lawrence at the special lounge overlooking the action. Brent, in his perfect black tux, managed to participate in several conversations simultaneously, exchanging jokes and insight with a curious crowd and Dubai beauties.

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Team Harper’s Bazaar Arabia was present on the carpet spotting the best dressed. No matter how hard I tried catwalking by them or posing pretentiously, my outfit caught no attention. Regardless, I decided to keep on showing up.

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The venue for the occasion, Madinat Arena, was at its brightest. The legendary place radiates an incredible charm enhanced with search lights, candles, flowers and views on the Venice of the Middle East.

The Opening speech by Chairman Abdulhamid Juma, packed with witty remarks and his shimmering sense of humor, contained a deep idea about the human side of cinematography and the importance of art. His “dreams are future movies” quote is still being analyzed in the corners of my head. Cate Blanchett and Patrick Stewart joined on the stage, and reiterated the thought that Art will Save the World.

In contrast with the party vibe, the gala screening of Hostiles put a rather dark feeling in the audience, with no one wanting to leave their seat when credits rolled. Keep an eye for my upcoming review, but the movie was more about love than once would assume from the title.

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Straight through a dimmed room and to the right, I was stunned by the set-up for the after party. Imagine endless rows of champagne, luminous lights, Haute Couture style, a rocking band and happiness shared in every direction.

I danced, laughed, cheered and interacted with like-minded folks feeling out of the world, and in a way I truly was. Thank you Dubai Film Festival for a magical night!

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Enigma @PalazzoVersace, Dubai

At the lobby level of Palazzo Versace, with indoor and outdoor seating facing the main pool and magnificent Creek (especially at night), Enigma delivers on its namesake, “delightfully mysterious”. So did my incredible gown from Si Fashion Galerie.Si Fashion Galerie.

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It’s best to call it contemporary Turkish with warm Mediterranean influence, reflected in the ingredients, flavours, colours and distinguishable Versace prints.

The installation of branded wall mirrors result in dramatic reflections of candlelight and exteriors, creating an Ottoman palace effect. The soft fabrics used for seating arrangements including pillows, sofas and chairs create a “divan culture”.

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Signature cocktails, designed around everyone’s favourite beverages and well-known landmarks like Constantinople and Bosporus, show the bartender’s obsession with the history (of the world and drinks).

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One can never underestimate the freshly baked fluffy bread with crispy edges and sesame seeds, paired with a selection of sauces, including my favourite tomato and red peppers, sweet pear puree and sliced marinated to crisp onions.

The real magic starts when the chef appears with a long serving table and house cured meat, pastrami layered with black pepper, fenugreek, anise, bay leaf, white pepper and obviously a secret ingredient. While the chef slowly slices pastrami on white plates carved of stone, he engages in a conversation explaining the magic behind the softest and the most fragrant piece of meat one can dream of.

But the masterpiece of the night was octopus, cooked in a vacuum pot for as long as five hours, then quickly seared on a hot pan.

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I’m wearing a beautiful tight gown from Si Fashion Galerie.

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#AZtory: Gold, spices and textiles, part 3

Like Alice in Wonderland, who ran after the White Rabbit to escape the boredom of her world, I followed the lady in the black abaya, worrying how easy it would be to loose her in a crowd of other ladies… Read Part 1 #AZtory and Part 2 Old Dubai 

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Despite hostile summer weather conditions, noisy traffic and a nagging companion (me), Zainab never looked back pushing us towards the wilderness of the old souks. “Keep up with me, Anna. The “City of Gold” lies on the other side of this bridge. I bet you’ve never seen anything like it.”

Zainab’s alluring voice triggered my ever conscious curiosity. Following Zainab was a challenge. One moment she walked right in front, the next – she vanished from my radar caught in a circle of similarly dressed people. Plus it took me a while to realize Zainab valued a good photo opportunity higher than a chitchat (even with a super famous blogger like me).

Third stop: Gold market

For half a century Dubai was referred to as the “City of Gold” by those who praised its fantastic development from a little peaceful harbour to a busy futuristic hub where everything unimaginable turned possible.  Zainab intended to amaze me with the materialization of the literal meaning, showing me streets and corners shining with the precious metal.

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“Watch out,” a deep voice suddenly interrupted my random philosophical thoughts mixed with walking and texting. “Young generation!” added the same voice annoyingly, but to me it sounded like a wonderful compliment. I happily rushed away leaving my Generation X status in the air.

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When we successfully crossed the street, gold was everywhere! It happily rested in the rays of the midday sun, smiled with a million rainbows through the panoramic windows of miniature stores, winked at me reflected in street mirrors, and sweetly whispered from every corner: “Take me home, Anna. I’m your precious.” Swirled with temptations I backed away, allowing Asian tourists and Zainab to produce quality photo memories.

When Zainab found me hiding from my inner spontaneous shopper, I was ready to leave. Empty-handed fortunately for my budget. A big fan of glamorous jewellery, Zainab looked a wee bit disappointed with my sudden meltdown, but my promise to be a lot more engaging at the textiles market seemed to reassure her and we continued (spoiler, I lied).

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Forth stop: Textiles and garments

Obsessed with online shopping and luxury retail, my feelings towards fashion from the streets of Deira were rather skeptical and in full contrast with Zainab’s excitement. I noticed a dominancy of natural fabrics made of cotton, silk and cashmere topped with a generous choice of bright attractive colours. Pretending to be interested I looked for the first opportunity to escape. The weather however made me reconsider. Surprisingly, all the tiny stores on all sides of the souk turned out to be air-conditioned and blasting a desirable chilled air in all directions. To Zainab’s delight, I happily followed her inside (however for a different reason) and practiced the competitive art of bargaining. With a bit of experience I’ve discovered that a simple Arabic phrase “Mafi fulus” (I’m broken) would gain me a so desired space in the busiest market even in peak hours. So I didn’t hesitate to use it again and again to Zainab’s amusement.

When we were leaving, Zainab’s hands were no longer empty. With numerous little gifts for family and friends she portrayed a very kind social person, especially when compared to me, who believed that my IG posts were the best presents imaginable. I told her so and she laughed. “Anna, let’s catch a boat to the other shore of the Creek. I want to see if the fragrant smell of Iranian saffron inspires you to cook for friends tonight.” It was my turn to laugh, but the word “Iranian” caught my attention.

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Prior to embarking we stopped to admire the courage of traditional dhows crews (cargo ships) traveling around the Gulf and further. The legend says they sail all the way to Iran carrying the wonders of Persia aboard, but perhaps it was just a modern take of “One Thousand and One Nights” tales 🙂

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We walked to the docks, joined a group of people waiting to cross, and comfortably nested on wide the benches of the traditional wooden boats, abras. The cost of our trip sounded surreal as there was practically nothing one could purchase with 1 Dirham in the UAE (soft ice-cream at McDonald’s was raised to 2 Dirhams). Thoughts of the fresh sea breeze, an adventurous ride and beautiful aqua blue waters occupied our happy minds. For the first time I no longer wanted to run away.

Fifth stop: Spice souk

The Spice Souk greeted us with a variety of colours, textures, smells and shoppers: locals, expats, tourists and residents rushing from one side of the market to another.

“Careful, Anna,” Zainab warned me when I stopped to stare at a curiously looking thing. “Not all you see are spices. The blue balls are dye used to magically turn your casual white pants into jeans”. I was speechless!

I demanded a further explanation and we stopped at Nasser Ali’s for a deep insight in the world of spice, dye and everything fragrant.

When the time came to say good-bye I didn’t want to. Instead I tricked Zainab into promising to see me again to continue our endeavors discovering the secrets of Zainab’s motherland.

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P.S. I am wearing a beautiful silk scarf by Wyilda, “Spring Roar”. Get yours here

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ESMOD Dubai Runway

Last night a new generation of ESMOD graduates presented the glamorous outcome of their three years of dedication to the non-glamorous side of vogue: stitching, sewing, pattern drafting, scaling and other elements often left behind the curtain. A long journey through the ins and outs of the fashion industry was visualized in a collection individually produced by each emerging designer from concept to runway. With 22 branches worldwide, ESMOD is a French Fashion Institute and a top school for design and pattern makers.

Previously set at Wafi luxury shopping mall, this year’s new venue was in contrast with local trends and unexpectedly edgy. The runway curved between wooden benches fixed on an artificial field lit by industrial lamps. At the beginning ceiling high posters created the illusion of cheering crowds. The whole space was protected by wires, fences and netting, adding a touch of a street underground culture to the upcoming event.

Backstage (I used my charming powers to sneak in) things seemed to be under control. Kid models with iPads reading The Economist (see photos below), graduating makeup artists kept busy bronzing pretty faces (including mine), and designers keeping surprisingly chilled. I managed to startle a person or two with a random flash but in general we (me + my camera) were invisible to most.

I was pulled aside by Ohoud, a graduating student of ESMOD, who applied layer after layer of magical beauty products to help me look like a true Instagram Star. Half an hour later I was transformed 🙂

Dressed by Canella in Canella Hostal Couture, a 2-piece outfit with a focus on a beautiful Geveva handmade skirt, I got surrounded by photographers who demanded me to turn, walk, sit, smile and deliver pose after a pose.

Pushed in a fancy corner, I complied.

Back at the venue, hundreds of guests including family, friends, bloggers, alumni, models, influencers, hipsters, fashionistas and other stylish Dubaians were greeted by the founders of ESMOD and stalked by me. Craving inspiration (and dinner), I scouted eye-catching pieces and people with camera in hand.

It was a whistle paired with witty comments from L. Redman that started the show. As I had never met any designers it was easy to be absolutely neutral focusing on music, fabrics, accessories, footwear, creativity, art work, etc., rather than personalities. Towards the end however I narrowed my “OMG” list to one designer and my “I want it now” list to two.

Knowing the amount of hard work every designer had invested in their first collection, it was unsurprising to see emotions on the runway. I was laughing, sobbing, clapping and snapping through the show wondering how impossible would it be to select a winner.

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Unsurprising the producer of Vancouver Fashion week, Jamal Abdourahman, chose three winners instead of one to showcase their collection during Vancouver Fashion week in September. As they say, “Winner takes all”. Congratulations!

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Feel Ibiza, breath Dubai

Close your eyes and visualise a place where sand whispers stories of eternal happiness and blue is the warmest colour. Picture white chaise lounges, vibrant umbrellas, sun-kissed hair, boaty-boats and a glorious Mediterranean tan ruined slightly by fancy swimwear. Add a fabulous soft beat and oh boy, you are in Ibiza.

Open your eyes and you are here in the financial heart of the dazzling Dubai, sipping rosé at La Cantine du Faubourg.

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Impossible, you say? Well, not quite! Look closely at the photograph…

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The mesmerizing piece is the work of a Frenchman, passionate photographer Stephane Dessaint. Born and raised in Paris (I wonder if he loved to hang out at Montmartre) Stephane also lived in LA and New York where he was involved in the emerging fashion industry. Several years later, at his recent vernissage in Dubai, Stephane was introduced to me as the artist and photographer behind the limited edition “Ibiza Feelings” collection. My first impression however was: “Boy, he knows how to dress”.

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Charmed by his style I was the hundredth person at La Cantine to ask the same question: “What’s your secret?”, unintentionally narrowing his work to a photography trick. To my surprise Stephane took my inquiry with the full seriousness a serious artist can only afford and whispered back technicalities related to his usual day at a shoot. Geared up with a camera, Stephane would patiently wait for the “l’heur du Zenith” when the angle of the sun leaves no shadows on the ground giving seawater additional sparkle and deep blue colour (apparently his favorite).

Warning: Please consider the image below as rather inaccurate as I don’t recall being the only person who talked 🙂

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Stephane Dessaint’s work will be displayed at La Cantine de Faubourg for another couple of months. Please stop by to witness the charming vibes of Mediterranean summer and photographs that tell stories.

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Destination dream body

“Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it,” said Tony Soprano with a sparkle of irony in his eyes, and I shivered. For the last couple of weeks my mind has been fully occupied with “below the waistline” thoughts. With upcoming modeling assignments, bikini season and everyone’s continuous obsession with perfect legs, I’ve been identifying the missing links in the chain of diet plus exercises. Don’t get me wrong, nutritionists love to repeat that first we are what we eat and then what we do, and a balanced diet contributes to 80% of success. However, regardless of playing by the rules, cutting on sugar, macaroni and gravy and squatting till last breath (did you see my insane workout with Leo), my body is a rebel at heart.

It was time to turn my attention to science by “doing the right thing”, googling my options. It appears that today’s beauty market had a lot to offer with body treatments varying from steaming to freezing, and everything “laser” in between. My search, narrowed to medical centers and clinics, resulted in a list of “must call” places, but only at Silkor was I offered a specialist prior to committing to any treatment plans. I screamed “Eureka” and demanded that Siri immediately book me for a free assessment.

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Headquartered in Beirut, Lebanon Silkor is well known in the region for hair removal and laser services, promising smooth baby skin. Being a big fan of both babies and great skin, I decided to focus on getting rid of a baby fat here and there. While not so many are aware that Silkor Dubai is equipped with state of the art machines to polish the look and curves of female and male bodies, it was a perfect moment to take advantage of their availability to see me. So when I showed up at the door with an endless list of body goals supported by peculiar questions, Milena, Silkor’s specialist in body aesthetics, was well prepared to cool me down (literally).

During the consultation I mostly talked about the triumphs and failures of a busy girl in her 30s attempting to regain a body she once had prior to committing to an 8-5pm (if lucky) lifestyle. I explained my struggle with shaping up outer thighs and especially knees, which require a 7/7 gym attitude. Milena was seriously attentive just like Jennifer Milfner in the earlier “Sopranos”.

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Done with talking, I was asked to step on a smart scale to reveal my body secrets and the truth behind my questionable physic. The scale measured my weight, percentage of a body fat, water and muscle mass as well as BMR (basal metabolic rate), crutial if one is looking to loose weight. My results were printed and carefully filed.

When the time came for a visual assessment, I was done with my anxieties and no longer afraid of Milena’s tools: various rulers, scales, measuring tapes and a blue marker. After being asked to lie down, wrapped in a soft warm blanket, I was convinced that Silkor was my type of a place.

Armed with the facts and my emotional desires, Milena sat me down one more time for an honest talk, expectations vs reality.

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To be continued…

Meanwhile you can book your free medico-easthitics assessment here or reach Milena at Silkor Jumeirah branch. Their contact number is +97156- 1744550 or +9714-3480500, silkor.com. Silkor is Instagram active too

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Fashion Forward Dubai – it’s on!

Sheer with joy fashionistas, designers, models, bloggers, buyers and the beau monde. While the cosmopolitan fashion community is catching up on sleep, post major fashion weeks, Dubai is plotting to shine bright with talent from all over the globe at the new edition of Fashion Forward (FFWD).

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Fashion Forward, the region’s well known fashion platform follows a “See Now, Buy Now” progressive format, where collections presented on podium are immediately available for purchase and delivery. Watch a kaleidoscope of last season’s best moments over here (credit to FFWD crew for images and a video)

Scheduled from March 23rd-25th 2017, the FFWD team had already opened its doors to sassy media reps and designers for an interactive press conference with the theme of fashion standards in the age of technology.

Taking place in the inspiring, sleek Dubai Design district, this year’s edition will support its commitment to introduce fresh faces to the market, debuting thirteen designers. In line with traditions, FFWD will showcase 30 regional pret-a-porter, haute couture and accessories designers who form not only the wardrobes of local “IT boyz and girlz,” but contribute greatly to what the cut of tomorrow is going to be. In the process some will make it big carving out a name and a niche for their labels on a global fashion map.

Online registration for industry pros is open and truly it’s the easiest and most efficient way to be a part of the show. Spare no time and go here for further detail  Tickets are expected to be on sale soon. Meanwhile scroll up and down through images of the unforgettably stylish people I stalked during the press conference.

Marcela Danielova, designer relations director at FFWD:

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Rumbi Tendaupenyu aka just.askana:

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Layla Shugri a designer and the owner of Lya Lya Couture:

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Florian Akinbiyi, MC, Host, Public Speaker:

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Arwa Al Banawi, designer:

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FFDW team:

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