It’s no surprise that some of the most brilliant creatives look to the Arab world to revive their senses. Four tourists share their personal pictures and vivid memories from holidays in the region.
Travels to: United Arab Emirates
At first glance, Michèle Lamy – artist of Algerian descent, entrepreneur, and wife of Rick Owens – intimidates. Her tattooed fingers, bangled wrists, and golden grill hold your gaze. What is most gripping about her appearance, however, is her falcon-like stare – assured and unblinking. From her Paris base, where she drives various creative projects born from Owenscorp, her journeys to the UAE have become an annual affair; a cultural pilgrimage through time and space. She immerses herself in Art Dubai and Dubai Design Days, visits the camel tannery in Abu Dhabi to research materials for furniture collections, and the Sharjah Art Foundation. Somewhere in the middle, she travels deep into the desert. In the company of salukis, she is elusive. Looking out at the horizon with her friend Ahmed Abdelrahman, the designer behind Thamanyah, she is a nomad at home.
Traveled to: Damascus
The French couturier’s designs feature waves of organza that recall undulating desert dunes. His statuesque dresses have garnered him a loyal following in Arabia – so much so that in 2013, he chose the emirate of Abu Dhabi for his first standalone boutique. A frequent traveler throughout the Arab world – including the UAE, Oman, and countless desert escapades – he remembers one his most memorable journeys: Damascus.
“I arrived only a few months before the war broke out. Already, the airport was under high security, but as soon as we got in the car, the smell of eucalyptus wafted through the windows and the landscape grew more appealing. The ancient city was my predilection, and losing my way in the streets, a favorite game. There were the colors, the black and white checkered boards that adorned most of the buildings, and the cheerful children running out of school in blue uniforms. I also remember sublime courtyards that revealed hidden cafés, the traditional restaurants (Syrian food is a unique experience!), a shop filled with refined products, laméd brocade in all colors and, of course, perfume. Such beauty. Everything seemed intact and time stopped. Damascus’s youth revived its traditions and brought to life a unique aesthetic: boutique hotels at the forefront of trends opened their doors, the night was full of life, music, and seduction. I felt wonderful, but there was a weight, something latent. No one said anything, we didn’t talk about it. The welcome was extremely warm, with a share of mystery. I could see that the country’s economy was at its lowest; nevertheless – as in Lebanon, that close cousin – the people I met made me positive. What a life lesson. What elegance. What strength. You’re never a tourist in Damascus. You dive into an ancestral culture that absorbs you and forces you to reflect on the meaning of life.”
Travels to: Morocco
In her heyday during the 1970s, the granddaughter of Elsa Schiaparelli, Marisa Berenson, was one of the world’s most celebrated models. She frequently made the cover of Vogue and even Time magazines. Her swan-like grace and blue eyes the size of saucers quickly translated to the silver screen, with roles in movies Cabaret, Death in Venice, and later, I Am Love by French-Algerian director Luca Guadagnino. In and out of the spotlight over decades, one trip to the Maghreb country would change her life forever and offer her a hamlet of serenity.
“I first came to Morocco in the 1970s. I arrived to do photographs for Vogue Paris with Arnaud de Rosnay. We did pictures in Tangiers at Count Adolfo de Velasquez’s house. In Marrakech, I stayed at La Mamounia, which was very different then. Later, there were the years with Yves Saint Laurent. Yves was very inspired by Morocco – he created so many wonderful things between his collections and Majorelle. I’m delighted to be on the honorary committee of the board of the new museum. I always wanted to come back to Morocco. Here, the smells are particular: the spices and the gardens. The people are warm and the light is amazing. It is a world of its own, and with a very gentle way of living. I returned five or six years ago in an unexpected fashion. Jean Michel Simonian, who had created the concept of luxury spas in the best hotels in Morocco, introduced me to the people at the Sofitel hotel, who were looking to make a line of wellness products. At the time, I had been using skincare I had created 20 years before. I developed it further for the spas and it became a veritable holistic, 100% natural lifestyle brand with products made from prickly pears, which grow everywhere here. I come to Morocco to rejuvenate myself. I’ve created a little corner of heaven. I have a vegetable garden, my dog, and a nice spa. Here, I wear lots of colors and kaftans – they are the most comfortable garments in wonderful, cool fabrics. I wear them at home, or otherwise palazzo pants. In the wintertime, I don embroidered velvet jackets and coats that I have made. Marrakech has become a big city now, but in my haven I meditate, read, swim, see friends, and find things that I can create with. Morocco is a magical place; but you can’t explain magic.”
Travels to: Egypt
Between a traditional adobe house in Luxor and his dahabieh, a classic Egyptian sailboat on the Nile, Christian Louboutin has crystalized his love of Egypt – a country he cherishes and calls his second home. “I used to watch old Egyptian films. Then, I visited the country and fell under the charm of its history and its present,” recounts the cinephile. The landscape has often served as inspiration for his collections. For Spring 2002, he created the Esmeralda shoe covered in sequins that come from a Cairo souk and that are reminiscent of a belly dancer. The following year, Louboutin declared his love for the country of the pharaohs when he turned his boutique windows into mini temples with sphinx replicas, ancient monuments, papyrus, and hieroglyphics. Soon afterward, he created the Kephira bag, complete with an Egyptian-inspired scarab clasp. His deep affection for Egypt was later reflected in his beauty lines. Limited-edition nail polish colors inspired by the beetle and a lip color range on the bust of Nefertiti were launched. To Louboutin, no one manifests his idea of ideal beauty more so than the legendary queen of Egypt, whose name means “the beautiful one has arrived.” Last year, he launched Bikini Questa Sera perfume, with its notes of jasmine and tuberose inspired by the intense colors of an Egyptian sunset.