CHICAGO: Arab-American stand-up comedian Ahmed Ahmed was performing in Florida several years ago when he noted how few Arabs there were in the audience, joking: “It only takes one.”
He was surprised when the next day, two police officers knocked on his door. They said someone in the audience had complained that Ahmed had made a joke threatening terrorism, he told a virtual audience hosted by the Arab America Foundation and attended by Arab News.
The pioneer comedian — who has also had acting roles in Hollywood movies such as “Executive Decision,” and in TV series such as “Roseanne” — said many Americans still do not understand the Arab community, and comedy is a powerful way to break through stereotypes.
“I feel like our culture, our stereotype keeps getting recycled,” he added. “Laughter is really important … Nobody can hate you when they’re laughing with you … It’s important to poke fun at our culture. There’s miles and miles of material.”
Other performers at the virtual event included journalist and food blogger Blanche Shaheen, acclaimed poet May Rihani, pop singer Abir and music sensation Emad Batayeh.
After Abir and Batayeh performed some of their latest musical releases, Rihani read poetry for the audience.
“I use my identity in my music and in my art … It’s fun for me to show my culture to people who may not know anything about it,” Abir said.
“There are all kinds of expectations on how I should dress, how I should dream, how I should work. The modern Arab woman … does what she wants to do,” she added, citing her mantra: “Don’t live for other people, live for yourself.”
Ahmed said he got into comedy despite resistance from his parents, although his father, who recently passed away, was considered one of the funniest entertainers at weddings and social gatherings.
“The thing that inspired me to get into entertainment was when I was 5 years old, when my parents took me to see a screening of the film ‘Muhammad: The Messenger of God,’ which later was called ‘The Message’,” Ahmed recalled.
“We got their late, typically because we’re Middle Eastern … I watched this epic movie about Islam and the Arab world … It was a cinematic masterpiece that made me interested in film.”
Oscar-nominated ‘White Eye’ asks the hard questions
Updated 16 min 1 sec ago
LONDON: “White Eye” — a short film from writer-director Tomer Shushan — serves as a masterclass in concise storytelling. After all, the pivotal moment at the heart of Shushan’s semi-autobiographical (and recently Oscar-nominated) short involves little more than a dispute over a stolen bicycle, with no lavish set pieces or special effects required to create an enthralling atmosphere. Furthermore, “White Eye” is shot in a single, continuous take that follows Omer (Daniel Gad) as he tries to retrieve his stolen bike.
The camera buzzes around Omer, sometimes looking over his shoulder, then backing up to show events unfolding in front of him, or circling to show the audience what he can’t see. It makes for an intense 20 minutes of cinema, and it’s no surprise that “White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.
Shushan keeps the scale of the film small. “White Eye” takes place in a single building and on the street outside. As Omer’s attempts to get his bike back escalate into a far more high-stakes situation, there’s a palpable sense of rising tension and, without giving away too much of the story (which would undo the strength of the narrative), Shushan begins to ask a number of uncomfortable questions — about assumption, about prejudice, about empathy and retribution.
The 20-minute runtime flashes past in a heartbeat as the tiny world the film inhabits becomes both more familiar through repetition, and more uncomfortable as the severity of the situation dawns on Omer — and, by extension, the audience. Thanks to an understated performance from Gad, we see Omer begin to ask himself the hard questions about the strength of his own character. And by that point, we’re so taken in by Shushan’s carefully crafted microcosm that we can’t help but ask ourselves the same of our own humanity.
Bella Hadid shares insight on her autoimmune disorders
Updated 23 min 6 sec ago
DUBAI: US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid offered fans a glimpse into how she treats her autoimmune disorders in an Instagram post this weekend.
On Friday, the 24-year-old posted a series of photos showing her hooked up to an intravenous drip. “Living with a few chronic autoimmune disease = always finding time for my IVs,” she captioned the post.
Part-Moroccan model Malika El-Maslouhi is the star of the Dundas Fall 2021 collection
Updated 22 min 40 sec ago
DUBAI: Norwegian designer Peter Dundas presented the Dundas Fall 2021 collection this week with a little help from Malika El-Maslouhi. The fashion heavyweight tapped the Moroccan-Italian rising model to showcase the glamorous new offering, which was digitally presented in a look book format.
The 22-year-old, who was born in Milan to an Italian mother and a Moroccan father, features in the look book, shot by fashion photographer Charlotte Wales in London, wearing 31 looks that range from draped minidresses and velvet pantsuits to slender duster coats and the brand’s newest category — hosiery.
“If we’re ever allowed to go out at night again, I promise I’m stepping out in @dundasworld,” wrote El-Maslouhi on Instagram alongside a carousel of videos and photos that included backstage clips from the shoot. “What a fun day it was and loved to rock these looks. Thank you for having me,” she added.
Indeed, the collection is perfect for post-lockdown revelry.
Inspired by the glamour of the 1930s and the 1970s, the collection was punctuated with flowy wide-leg trousers, tailored jackets worn over lavish dresses, fringed tops and skirts, feathered cardigan dresses and lots of animal print.
The London-based designer chose rich and luxurious fabrics such as velvet and charmeuse and details like ostrich fur and sequins to dream up the latest offering.
El-Maslouhi, who is signed to VIVA Model Management, made her modelling debut when she was 18 years old at the Alberta Ferretti Fall 2019 show and went on to walk for the Dior Cruise 2020 show held in Marrakech a month later.
She would go on to quit her university studies to pursue modeling full-time, and completely captivate the fashion industry in the process.
In addition to gracing the runways of storied fashion houses such as Hermes and Chanel, the rising fashion star has also appeared in international campaigns for the likes of Jacquemus and Zadig & Voltaire, and was selected as the face of Calvin Klein swimwear.
Meanwhile, the model, who splits her time between Italy, France and the Netherlands, was also recently selected as the cover star of the latest edition of Elle France.
Valentino collaborates with Mideast’s Magrabi on sunglasses for summer
Updated 27 February 2021
DUBAI: Sunglasses might be a small accessory, but they have a large impact. The importance of a great pair of shades can’t be understated, especially in our region where the sun shines virtually all year round. Fortunately, the sunglasses market is brimming with stylish and wearable shapes to suit all faces and styles. The most recent pair to hit our radar is the new Valentino x Magrabi sunglasses. Dubai-based fashion influencers Maram Zbaeda and Zoya Sakr were recently spotted rocking a pair.
The Italian luxury maison has collaborated with the regional eyewear brand on a limited-edition range of sunglasses that hit shelves this week.
The exclusive collaboration is limited and features just 30o pairs of bold, square-shaped sunglasses engraved with “Valentino Magrabi Edition” inside the temple. The acetate shades also boast smoked lenses and the iconic VLogo Signature in gold metal on the side for an added statement.
Each pair comes enclosed inside a sleek red box bearing Valentino’s distinctive logo, alongside a unique authenticity card and serial number, so it would also make a covetable gift to give and to get.
The exclusive collaboration is available to purchase at Magrabi stores across Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Egypt and Kuwait, and with summer just around the corner, consider picking up a new pair—or two, for the even sunnier days ahead.
Saudi Fashion Commission CEO Burak Cakmak unveils plans for the future
Updated 27 February 2021
DUBAI: Last week it was announced by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture that Burak Cakmak had been appointed to lead the Kingdom’s Fashion Commission, one of the 11 bodies under the Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture, to help develop the country’s burgeoning fashion industry.
“I was honored to have a chance to join the team at the Fashion Commission to lead the implementation of an ambitious strategy to build a robust fashion industry in Saudi Arabia,” said Cakmak, a former Dean of Fashion at the Parsons School of Design in New York, to Arab News.
“Saudi Arabia has all the key elements for building a successful fashion industry today. With traditions and heritage to inspire, its creative community keen to build new businesses and a fashion conscious young population engaged in retail and social media with fashion. Saudi (Arabia) is in a great place to become a key influencer in the region and globally,” he added.
In his new role as the CEO of the Fashion Commission, Cakmak will be responsible for a string of tasks, including supporting and empowering talent, professionals and entrepreneurs in the local fashion industry, developing and regulating the fashion sector as well as encouraging finance and investment.
“One of my main focus areas is to identify opportunities for Saudi to create fashion solutions that are innovative, technology driven, sustainable and aligned with the expectations of the 21st century global consumer,” said Cakmak of some of the changes he would like to implement in his new role.
“As we are building and growing a relatively new industry in the country, we need to ensure we don't repeat the mistakes of the West from the past century. This means that we need to focus on building new business models that are able to manage social and environmental impacts, (and that are) transparent and innovative in the way they engage the consumer.”
In addition to managing and developing the fashion sector in Saudi Arabia, Cakmak also hopes to shine a positive spotlight on the Kingdom’s burgeoning fashion scene.
“At the moment there is not enough information available about the creativity coming out of the Kingdom to the rest of the world,” he noted. “The richness of the country’s heritage and crafts, as well as its designers, with both traditional and modern takes on Saudi fashion, is a great starting point for us to start shaping perceptions around the Saudi creative industry.”
In the past two years alone, Saudi Arabia has rolled out a series of changes that can be attributed to Vision 2030, a plan that focuses on modernizing Saudi culture, diversifying its economy away from oil, attracting new global investments, and supporting small local businesses. One of the areas that is showing real potential is the country’s fashion sector.
“Recent initiatives around tourism and a deeper focus on diversifying local economic sectors have been a great catalyst in stimulating the fashion industry,” Cakmak said.
Indeed, the country’s fashion sector is rapidly on the ascent. In the last couple of years, the country hosted its first-ever Fashion Week in Riyadh in 2018, the Dubai-based Arab Fashion Council opened up an office in Riyadh and Saudi fashion designers are getting more recognition than ever as they lay the groundwork for a real, thriving fashion industry.
“Mohammed Khoja’s brand, Hindamme, produced a jacket embroidered with the words ‘24 June 2018’ – the date women in Saudi started driving, which was acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London as part of their permanent fashion collection. Meanwhile at the end of last year, the brand of Saudi sisters – Sarah and Siham Albinali – Lurline, was declared joint second runner-up in the Vogue Arabia Fashion Prize. And one of Mohammed Ashi’s creations was worn on the red carpet by Oscar-nominated director and screenwriter Ava DuVernay at the Academy Awards in 2017,” recalled Cakmak, highlighting some of the many success stories from Saudi Arabia.
But despite growing interest and support from events like Arab Fashion Week, a lot of brands struggle with a lack of access to capital and resources necessary in a functioning fashion ecosystem. Cakmak hopes to change that in his new role.
“A brand can only succeed if they are able to couple creativity with a sound business strategy,” he explained, adding “I am working closely with the Fashion Commission team and the Ministry of Culture to ensure we are creating the right infrastructure to develop the industry. First and foremost, we want to support fashion entrepreneurs with the right regulatory frameworks relevant to the fashion industry. As we assess the local fashion ecosystem, we are identifying areas for new job opportunities and fashion businesses that can be created locally to support a growing fashion industry in Saudi Arabia.”
Cakmak received a bachelor’s degree at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey in 1997.
His career in the fashion industry began in 2000, serving as Gap Inc.’s senior manager of social responsibility. After eight years, he relocated to London and was hired by European conglomerate Kering to lead sustainability strategies for the luxury group’s brands — including Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga — as its first director of corporate sustainability.
He was appointed as dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design in 2016, where he made it his mission to educate the next generation of fashion creatives about the importance of environmental and social responsibility.
With his 15-year-strong background in sustainability, Cakmak hopes to make the topic a key focus in his new role in Saudi.
“As the Fashion Commission, we are keen to bring the latest tools for measuring and reporting on the sustainability impact to local brands and share knowledge on how to build more sustainable business models for the fashion industry,” he shared.
“Made in KSA will be a key focus to create short supply chains where we can encourage on-demand production and mass customization to minimize returns and left-over inventory for the industry,” he added of his strategy to minimize the impact of the fashion supply chain in the Kingdom.
As for his long-term goals for Saudi’s fashion sector, Cakmak just wants to position the country as a key player in the global fashion industry.
“In collaboration with the Fashion Commission team, Ministry of Culture and all other relevant government entities, I hope to put in place the incentive and infrastructure to achieve this goal,” he said.
“I have worked with fashion businesses all across the globe and have a good understanding of the opportunities and challenges they face. I also have a good view on the latest developments in the industry, and access to a global network of experts who we can tap into to shape the future of fashion in the Kingdom. I am really excited to be a catalyst to bring such positive change to the country.”