Muse: Mariam Hamidaddin talks safe spaces, creative courage and cats

Mariam Hamidaddin is founder of “alternative art space” Humming Tree is also a freelance graphic designer and a keen adventurer. (Supplied)
Updated 22 May 2018

Muse: Mariam Hamidaddin talks safe spaces, creative courage and cats

The Jeddah-based founder of “alternative art space” Humming Tree is also a freelance graphic designer and a keen adventurer. This year, she became the first Saudi to join a Euro-Arabian North Pole expedition, spending 10 days on the shifting ice of the Arctic Ocean and skiing over 100km to the pole. Here, she talks safe spaces, creative courage and cats.

In 2011 in Cairo, I attended my first open-mic event. That’s where I discovered the power of safe spaces — the sense of belonging through shared values and community, and the beauty of authentic creative expression as a means to connect with one another and evolve together. 

I witness so much courage every day. I’m proud of creating a space that people say feels warm and makes them feel like they can be their true selves. Being able to provide resources for people and their ideas to grow is an honor. I love seeing people transform before my eyes and I feel like I’m constantly growing with every person I meet.

The biggest challenge, for me, was finding that sweet spot between having a sustainable business and serving the community.

We’ve got cats in the Humming Tree compound we feed regularly. One of them particularly feels like it’s her home and tries to sneak in the main door whenever possible. One day, in the middle of an event, she casually walked in and went upstairs. The crowd’s reactions were a combination of laughter, screams, and wanting to hold and pet her. Quite entertaining.

I don't spend too much time thinking about what people think of me. I believe people will always have something to say, but it's important to focus on the people who truly believe in us and connect with our message, and to listen to different opinions when said and meant constructively. 

Life hardly ever goes as planned. But living in regret is something I'm strongly against. We can obsess over the issue and narrow our lives to that moment, or we can embrace reality and see what wisdom can be learned and grow because of that.

Seeing more women in managerial positions has put a spotlight on the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace, which — especially in my line of work — is an important skill to have; being able to balance being firm and structured yet encouraging and empathetic.

Karl Lagerfeld: Looking back at his rise to fame and love of Arabian fashion

The designer died at the age of 85 on Tuesday. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 19 February 2019

Karl Lagerfeld: Looking back at his rise to fame and love of Arabian fashion

DUBAI: As tributes pour in from across the fashion world over the death of industry icon Karl Lagerfeld, we take a look at his storied rise to fame, as well as his controversial comments on Middle Eastern migrants and his love of fashion from the region.

The designer died at the age of 85 on Tuesday after he failed to make an appearance at the Chanel show at Paris Couture Week in January, prompting industry insiders to question the state of his health.

Reuters reported that Lagerfeld enjoyed the stature of a deity among mortals in the world of fashion, where he stayed on top for well over half of a century and up to his death, at an age almost nobody apart from himself knew with to-the-day precision.

The German designer was best known for his association with France’s Chanel, dating back to 1983. The brand, the legend now goes, risked becoming the preserve of monied grannies before he arrived, slashing hemlines and adding glitz to the prim tweed suits of what is now one of the world’s most valuable couture houses.

But Lagerfeld, who simultaneously churned out collections for LVMH’s Fendi and his eponymous label — an unheard of feat in fashion — was almost a brand in his own right.
Sporting dark suits, white, pony-tailed hair and tinted sunglasses in his later years that made him instantly recognizable, an irreverent wit was also part of a carefully crafted persona.

“I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that,” runs one legendary quote attributed to him, and often recycled to convey the person he liked to play. “It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long.”

Tributes pour in 

The world’s fashion elite took to social media to pay tribute to the hugely respected designer, with the likes of Victoria Beckham, Donatella Versace and Lilly Allen leading the pack.

Versace shared a similar message.

Singer Allen took to social media with a touching message.

Meanwhile, Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad also paid tribute.


In great honor and admiration of the iconic fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld - Rest In Peace

A post shared by Zuhair Murad Official (@zuhairmuradofficial) on

Model Gigi Hadid shared a message on Instagram Stories.

Controversial comments

His artistic instincts, business acumen and commensurate ego combined to commercially triumphant effect in the rarefied world of high fashion, where he was revered and feared in similar proportions by competitors and top-models.

Lagerfeld was as harsh with his fashion models as he was searingly critical of anyone he considered "not trendy".

He fired his closest female friend, former Chanel model Ines de la Fressange, in 1999 after she agreed to pose as Marianne, France's national symbol, without asking him first.

Occasionally his sharp tongue has stirred controversies, though he also had a flair for a good soundbite.

In 2017, he sparked outrage by evoking the Holocaust in an attack on Chancellor Angela Merkel over her opening of Germany’s borders to migrants.

“One cannot – even if there are decades between them – kill millions of Jews so you can bring millions of their worst enemies in their place,” the 80-year-old Chanel designer told a French TV show.

“I know someone in Germany who took a young Syrian and after four days said: ‘The greatest thing Germany invented was the Holocaust’,” he added.

Middle Eastern inspiration

Despite the abrasive comments, the designer went on to release an Egypt-inspired collection in December 2018 and sent models down the runway in a rich array of Ancient Egypt-themed outfits at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Gold shimmered all over the runway, as models strolled past the floodlit temple in everything from gold thigh-high boots to gold brimmed hats to glistening dresses with golden feather adornments, to shoulder-length gold earrings.

Singer Pharrel walked the runway during Karl Lagerfeld's Egypt-inspired show in December. (AFP)

It isn’t the only time he has looked to the Middle East for inspiration, however.

The designer made a much-reported-on appearance in Dubai in 2014 when Chanel staged its Cruise collection show in the city.

That collection was inspired by an Orientalist vision of hazy Arabian nights and featured harem pants, ghutra-pattern-inspired coats and diaphanous jumpsuits, along with a heavy use of mosaic-style patterns.

Karl Lagerfeld photographed at ‘The Island’ in Dubai during the Chanel fashion show on May 13, 2014. (AFP)

In 2018, he worked with Lebanese architect Aline Asmar D’Amman on the renovation of Paris’s Hôtel de Crillon and, in a win for the Middle Eastern fashion scene, he photographed Bella Hadid for Vogue Arabia’s first September issue in 2017.

In rare moments when he was not working, Lagerfeld retired to one of his many homes in Paris, Germany, Italy or Monaco, all of them lavish carbon copies of 18th-century interiors.