For some, the idea of venturing through the desert in style may require a variety of breezy caftans, sun-reflecting headgear, and sandals to cool the heels when striding over the hot sands. But for Qatar-based art and fashion consultant Anum Bashir, who online goes by the delightful moniker “Desert Mannequin,” the look requires a few more layers. Culling a chic borrowed-from-the-boys personal style that has endeared her to 40,000 Instagram followers, she’s more apt to grab for an oversize Valentino Hawaiian shirt and menswear-inspired Dries Van Noten cargo pants than traditional abayas as she circulates among the art world for her work with Qatar Museums. This distinctive and boundary-pushing look has also led to her frequent work with Qatar boutiques as a fashion director, her deft buys introducing international brands like Rosie Assoulin, Ellery, and Vita Kin alongside emerging designers from the region. Accessorizing with Gucci fur slides and, of course, her own collaborative line of jewelry with local designer Nadine Kanso of Bil Arabi, Bashir is helping to reimagine fashion for the modern Muslim woman.
Here, she decodes her “statement minimalist” personal style, and shares how rummaging through her husband’s closet has made her a bigger tomboy.
The Art of Rocking Off-Kilter Fashion
I find that advocating an off-kilter way of dressing has resonated among a cool group of women in Qatar whom I respect and admire greatly, mainly in the art and fashion industries. It’s fun to break sartorial rules here, and may eventually down the line be the very reason you get recognized for it. It’s women in the art world, such as Mona Hatoum and Shirin Neshat, who have greatly influenced my style and helped me adopt statement minimalism, as I like to call it. I started my career in art about five years ago after moving from New York to Doha. Today I am still working full-time for the Qatar Museums’s Doha Fire Station Artist in Residence initiative alongside up-and-coming contemporary regional artists. That helped pave the way for Desert Mannequin nearly three years go—I came to realize that no one at the time in Qatar was truly blogging on an international level.
A Tomboy in the Desert
I’ve definitely always had a boyish flair to my style. Getting married helped string that along further because now instead of my own wardrobe alone, I have my husband’s closet to dig into and claim—linen button-down shirts, pocket squares, and woven belts, things that when styled with my own pieces look quite fun and trendy, but also tend to spark a conversation. For me, dressing is all about juxtaposition and contrast. I feel my best when things are achieving a certain balance. For example, with a very tailored suit, I’d probably wear an incredibly feminine and delicate heel or some statement jewelry with a bright red lip. With a dress, sneakers can be such a great idea when executed right.
How to Sizzle With Style
Linen is the best, and several local designers do such a good job creating wearable linen pieces! I find that my go-to items for the summer are button-down linen shirts paired with something fun around the neck, either a bandana choker or statement jewelry by Roxanne Assoulin or Monica Sordo, or my favorite regional fine jewelry designer Bil Arabi, with whom I did a collaboration last year. Tome’s coveted karate pants are a great choice for bottoms for me, as they’re airy and quite light. For feet, anything by Brother Vellies, or even more recently, Gucci loafers in pretty much every colorway are often my first picks in the morning when the eyes are still half shut. Other brands and pieces appropriate for the Arabian sizzle season are anything by Johanna Ortiz, Vita Kin dresses, Natasha Zinko, Ellery, Dries Van Noten, and Isa Arfen’s Spring 2016 collection, which is a staple for me. Otherwise, it’s regional names like Reem Al Kanhal, Taller Marmo, Bouguessa, and Mochi who have fast become favorites among the Middle Eastern fashion elite.
More Breakout Regional Designers to Watch
As a platform, I envisioned Desert Mannequin to grow slowly by my working with young fashion designers, engaging in consultancy buying roles in which I’ve partnered with a boutique to be its guest fashion director for a couple of seasons, and in turn introduce amazing designers from the international markets and brands like Bouguessa, Sandra Mansour, and Madiyah Al Sharqi from our regional market to consumers. I adore Nathalie Trad, who designs beautiful architectural clutches; same with Lilian Afshar, who is a remarkable accessories designer. Faiza Bouguessa has modernized the abaya and advocates modest dressing in her ready-to-wear label, Bouguessa, which is so chic, minimal, yet incredibly fashion-forward for this region—imagine Céline with a Middle Eastern twist. Lebanese designer Sandra Mansour creates a dreamy ready-to-wear label that is equal parts fantasy and elegance, but also edgy and strong. I love her multicultural background and influences, which makes her one of my favorite emerging designers to watch right now. Farah Nasri launched a line called HKD a few years back, and now recently has gone into fine jewelry that I quite love. And, of course, my collaboration partner and jeweler extraordinaire, Nadine Kanso from Bil Arabi, has a really unique and interesting aesthetic that resonates wonderfully with me. I really hope she’ll go far.
Keeping In Step With Tradition
Shoes for me are such a statement and have the ability to totally finish off even the simplest of outfits. I’ll pair a white crisp linen button-down with a pair of vintage Levi’s and Gucci Princetown fur loafers, which instantly makes me feel put together and on trend. And yes, it is a balancing act: masculine versus feminine. Or heck, just a great shoe at the end of the day regardless of what you’re wearing on top! For something a bit more tribal and ethnic—which also works beautifully in this part of the world—I love Sanayi 313, a brand I discovered in Paris during my spring 2016 buying trip, when I was collaborating with a multi-brand store to edit its designer roster and introduce new labels to the Qatar market.
Qatar Is Getting Trendy
I think the biggest challenge women here face is how to adhere to local customs and traditions, and still be trendsetting, not following. How are we breaking the norm? How can we stand out more? are questions on many women’s minds now. Some are opting for colorful robes and abayas; others are sporting shoes from avant-garde or eclectic designers. Traditionally, in the past, women were more prone to buying either an Hermès, Chanel, Valentino, Céline, or Prada bag—now they are opting for Mark Cross, M2Malletier, Mansur Gavriel, Sarah’s Bag, Nathalie Trad, or Olympia Le-Tan. The same holds true with ready-to-wear or eveningwear. We’ve got girls in Delpozo and Sandra Mansour. That excites me. It’s a strong indicator that we’re amid change.
Originally published on US Vogue