The American version has the bob. But in Italy, they have an ethereal fall of long, blonde tresses. I’m referring to the editor of Italian Vogue, Franca Sozzani, a woman whose steely blue eyes, curly yellow locks and understated Italian glamour have reigned the Conde Nast publication for decades. Last week, she brought her brand of glamour to the cash-rich Middle East capital for a multi-tiered extravaganza of emerging fashion and traditional Italian entertainment. There was a fashion show, a Fashion’s Night Out-style party in the world’s largest mall, and then an outdoor – yet still air conditioned – black tie dinner with performances from celebrated Italian ballet dancer Roberto Bolle and the opera singer Vittorio Grigolo. Joining Franca were many of the Italian fashion industry’s biggest luminaries, including Donatella Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Dan and Dean from DSquared2, and Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci. Tipping the scales on the ultimate in fashion glamour? The legendary Naomi Campbell.
“Modern luxury is giving back.” That was Franca’s battle cry at this event, which combined her desire to expose new talent from the Middle East to the Western world as well as raise funds for Dubai Cares, the charity initiate founded by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. So, on a sunny day (but aren’t they all?), we all met at the Dubai Mall, the largest in the world, for a show from designers from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Nigeria, Ireland, Italy and Russia. (My favorites? Iteun Basi from Nigeria and Ireland’s Simone Rocha.) Then, a gala for 400 on the terrace: Vittorio sang and the fountains exploded, Roberto danced when the buildings in the distance were illuminated for effect. The tables were under the night sky, but individually air conditioned from below, which blew my mind. There was an auction too, which had a few akward moments: Turns out that even though they’re rich, the Arab people aren’t as showy with their public displays of philanthropy as we may see back in New York. Somehow, though, Vittorio managed to sell the sweaty shirt off his back for $40,000, which was added to a pot that topped a million dollars for Dubai Cares.
The night ended at the Armani nightclub with Roberto, Franca’s son Francesco Corrizzini and Vittorio all dancing without their shirts on while standing on the back of a banquette, Franca and the lovely Afef Jnifen flanking them with big smiles on their face. Naomi too showed some prowess for the dance floor, pulling a few moves with Roberto when we got back to the hotel. (Scroll down to the pictures below for evidence of this supermodel’s dance skills.)
My last few days were spent in the desert, which was a wonderful and surreal experience. Less than an hour from the luxury that was the Armani Hotel, the concert and steel world stops and there is nothing but sand as far as the eyes can see. The sun set into long pools of pinks and reds and blues and purples. I made friends with designers Louis Leeman and the boys from Aquazzura, who joined us in the desert, and we drank red wine and rode camels. After dinner, the obligatory belly dancer came out – but this one had a real smile on her face. She was good, she made us happy. (I’ve seen a few belly dancers in my days, and there really is nothing sadder than a belly dancer who is just calling it in.)
This was my first time in Dubai, and I left with an endeared impression. The people I met were fabulous and open-minded. They knew about art, fashion and perfume, the last of which I thought a few of them abused. Ha! I went back my hotel room energized – perhaps a little too much so. On my last night in Dubai, I couldn’t fall asleep before my 6am flight. (An avid reader of this blog will see that in the past few weeks I’ve crossed the Atlantic four times, so it’s not surprising that my poor body clock is a little out of whack.) So, I drew a bath and watched the sun rise over a city that didn’t exist when I was born. The light rose on buildings that glimmered with ambition and a new Arabic Dream. And I thought to myself, When am I coming back?