The undisputed queen of beauty is fearless, passionate – and not ready to stop.
Organizing a photo shoot with Huda Kattan is a long – very long – process. Every detail, from the shape of the earrings that she may or may not wear, to the length of the eyeliner that will be drawn on her lids, needs to be proposed, discussed, and approved by her team. “I’ve always been a diva, very difficult, and very particular,” she shares with a laugh. “Sometimes, I don’t know how my family puts up with me.” To be fair, it’s not by helming a loose ship that one achieves world success, from launching a set of faux lashes from your kitchen with a US $6,000 loan from a sister, to becoming the head of a record-breaking beauty empire, present in 45 countries and in more than 3,000 stores. But don’t get me wrong, Huda Kattan is not at all like a character from The Devil Wears Prada. As she arrives to this photo shoot, she is exactly how you can see her on social media (counting more than 60 million followers across all platforms): bubbly, sharp, and so easy to talk to that you instantly feel you are in the presence of an old friend – even if you are meeting her for the first time.
Born in Oklahoma City in the US to Iraqi parents, Kattan’s beauty journey was not always straightforward, mainly due to being raised in a city where most people were white, with barely any racial diversity. “Growing up as a little brown girl in the South was a challenge, as I was very confused and could not fit in,” she confides. “I felt I was not pretty, and that I had to conform to a beauty standard.” With the Kattans being the only Arabs in town, the young Huda had to search for her own role models, becoming obsessed with Tyra Banks and, at a later stage, Priyanka Chopra. “Not having brown girls to look at bothered me. Today, part of my narrative comes from my experience as a kid, and the belief that I don’t want my daughter to grow up like I did.”
If what doesn’t kill makes you stronger, these initial insecurities appear far behind her, as Kattan enters the set of legendary photographer Tom Munro, dressed in a black bodycon dress by Maison Rabih Kayrouz. She is also wearing Saint Laurent platform sandals that could give a skydiver vertigo. “Can someone play Beyoncé, please?” she asks. As “Run the World (Girls)” blows up on the speakers, it seems like the perfect soundtrack for our shoot. Under this edition’s theme of women taking Arabia global, Kattan joins forces with designer Amina Muaddi and actor Nadine Nassib Njeim to represent the potential and endless capabilities of the Arab woman of today.
“I definitely get discriminated against,” the entrepreneur points out when I ask her how she feels about the place in society women from the region are now commanding. “Being an Arab woman, people think you are oppressed and that you can’t speak your mind. Although there’s still work to do, we see the progress. Dubai is a bubble, but also a place where women are opinionated, starting their own businesses, and working very hard. But even globally, there’s still a lot of inequality, no matter how far we come.” Kattan fits this description of fearless entrepreneurship, as along with the record-breaking Huda Beauty makeup brand, she also co-founded the fragrance range Kayali with her sister Mona in November 2018, and founded Wishful Skincare in 2020. Not to mention different investments in technology and in the world of NFTs. No wonder that in 2020 and 2021, Huda Beauty was named the world’s most in-demand makeup brand by Cosmetify, and the most hyped celebrity brand in 2022 by Cosmetic Business.
Although Kattan seems like an incredible role model, I wonder if she has ever experienced any professional failure. She shares that she came to Dubai in 2008, following the footsteps of her father, who was a professor at the American University of Sharjah, but she didn’t experience sudden success. “Yeah, I was fired,” she says with a lowered voice. “Upon my arrival I was working as a financial recruiter, and I lost my job a few months later. I was fired pretty terribly by a very harsh boss. But I’m glad he did it. Otherwise, I would probably be doing a job I didn’t like.”
All the victories and lost battles have been assimilated through a decade-long journey of self-discovery, with Kattan sharing that she’s been investing in self-help books and podcasts since university to “work on myself.” She’s also been seeing a life coach for the past seven years. “To be perfectly honest, when I started my job in beauty, it was a hobby. It wasn’t supposed to be a business. It wasn’t supposed to be something where I was making money, and I struggled with that internally,” says Kattan. “Then, add the complexities of working with your family, the complexities of finding yourself through this journey… As you get popular and people start to criticize you, you really go deep inside and start questioning yourself, going through peaks and valleys of extreme anxiety. Today, I’m not ashamed that I don’t have it all together. I am a hot mess some days… Actually, I’m a hot mess almost every day – and I don’t have it all figured out. It’s OK. But I’m really good at makeup, so nobody knows,” she smiles and blinks her long lashes.
On the topic of family, private and public share a very thin barrier in the world of Huda Kattan. With most of the family being involved in the business – one where exposure on social media happens on a daily basis – I wonder if there’s a hierarchy at home, and how everyone finds their own space in this billion-dollar clan. “We tried different things,” explains Kattan. “I tried to involve my husband more on social media, but he didn’t like it. I’ve tried to do more things with my sister Alya, but she feels very uncomfortable. Mona, on the contrary, loves it. Even when we did our Facebook series, Huda Boss, she was the one pushing me.” And is there any competition between the two more visible siblings of the family? “We have the most difficult personalities, and sometimes we don’t get along, as we both want to be the boss,” Kattan laughs. “But I don’t think there’s competition. We can learn a lot from each other. I’m always happy for her and I admire the very hard work she is doing with Kayali. I believe it can become a billion-dollar brand.”
As the conversation flows, the outspoken Iraqi entrepreneur shares that the only real wall she has built is around her daughter, Nour Giselle. At the tender age of 10, the youngest member of the family has 135,000 followers on Instagram, on an account “managed by my family,” the profile reads. “Recently there’s this situation where celebrities are putting their kids on certain platforms. As a parent, there’s no real answer to it,” states Kattan. “In our home, my daughter has been asking forever to become a YouTuber, and although she creates content sometimes, I limit her on the platforms, as I don’t want her to be dealing with the criticism.” The same wall also shields the mogul’s marriage. She met her husband in high school in the US, where the two went to prom together. “Have we ever talked about divorce? Of course. Do I tell my community that? No. I’m much older than most influencers and still very excited about my relationship, but I don’t want to share that with the world. When it comes to family, there are certain vulnerabilities I want to protect,” she concludes. “Some people might find it strange, but even for Huda Kattan there are private things that will always be… private.”
Originally published in the March 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Amine Jreissati
Junior fashion editor: Mohammad Hazem Rezq
Hair: Ilham Mestour
Makeup: Naima Bremer
Nails: Jill Downie at La Lodge
Digital tech: James Naylor
Set design: Lauren Haslam
Creative producer: Laura Prior
Photography assistants: Tom Hill, Fiel Concoles
Style assistants: Joyce Rreige, Nadin Karkoukli
Hair assistant: Aguera Deborah
Makeup assistant: Thirza King
Set design assistant: Jun Juyo
Special thanks: SLS Dubai Hotel & Residences, St Regis Downtown, Jones The Grocer, Salata, Fine Blooms