Friday, February 17, 2012

The Royal Glam Squad

The Royal Glam Squad
Laaleen Khan

They’ve got university degrees, promote humanitarian causes and live lives of ample luxury, all in the public eye. These modern-day Arab women, who’ve either married or been born into royalty, also rule the glamour stakes from their influential positions. Their unique styles and strong views have modernized the ‘face’ of contemporary Muslim royalty.

Before these ladies married their princely husbands, it was unheard of for a Moroccan princess to feature prominently in the public sphere, for a Saudi royal to wear dresses that didn’t conceal her shapely calves or her long hair, and for a tweeting Jordanian queen to work with a rock star (i.e. Bono) for a poverty alleviation campaign that put them both on the cover of a prominent magazine. By promoting their wives as royal figureheads, monarchies seem less outdated than in preceding generations. That the Royals spend exorbitant sums on their wardrobes hardly comes as a shock when the Arab world is considered to be the world’s largest consumer of haute couture.  

In Pakistan, it’s not always easy to get away with such varying styles in the public eye. While models and actresses tend to be photographed in relatively daring attire, female politicians (with the exception of Sherry Rehman) are obliged to don dupattas on their heads in public.  A tailored pantsuit or a gown with a dress coat, even if all the right body parts were concealed to meet stringent Islamic requirements, just wouldn’t be culturally acceptable for a Pakistani parliamentarian, first lady or head of state.  

Comparatively, many Middle Eastern women, including expatriate Persians and Afghans, are more inclined to buy into international runway trends (or the high street, depending on their income bracket). For luxe-loving royalty, it’s all about Dior gowns, Gucci pantsuits, Chanel tweeds and Versace cocktail dresses, not to mention custom-made Lebanese couture by Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad and Reem Accra. The saying that women ‘dress to impress other women rather then men’ seems especially true at segregated Saudi wedding events, where ladies leave their abayas at the door and emerge in shimmering designer gowns slit to the thigh with plunging necklines, dripping with jewels the size of pigeon’s eggs. 

Leader of the Couture clan: 

Queen Rania of Jordan
, 43, consort to the 50-year-old King Hussein II, is a Palestinian-descent mother of four whose sense of style has catapulted her to the global A-list as an international fashion icon. The queen favours knee length dresses and jackets for her daytime appointments, and gowns for the red carpet, only occasionally donning a caftan. Critics even found her better dressed than Carla Bruni-Sarkozy during the Jordanian visit to Elysees Palace.

The Saudi who could: 
Princess Ameerah Al Taweel, 28, is the fourth (and only current) wife of notable billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal Al Saud, 56. She’s also the first princess in Saudi history in the limelight, much to the dismay of her husband’s uncle, the King. Her ensemble at Britain’s Royal Wedding is among her best couture looks, where she dressed head-to-toe in stunning, custom-made Zuhair Mourad (dress, coat, hat and clutch).

The turban-chic Sheikha: 
Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned of Qatar, 60, is the second of the three wives of the Emir Of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, 79, and mother to seven children. She is widely regarded as figuring among the world’s best-dressed women. An avid follower of couture, the Sheikha’s stylish interpretation of the hejab is eminently chic, terribly expensive and a turban, her signature look, has never looked so glamorous as it does on her.

Rocking the caftan Marocain:
 Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco, 32, consort to King Mohammed VI and mother of two, is the first princess in her country to be publicly acknowledged with a royal title. The flame-haired princess frequently dresses in vivid silk caftans belted at the waist at formal occasions, along with tailored suits and dresses during the day. Her elegant sister-in-law, Princess Meryem, 59, and her attractive daughter, Princess Sukaina, 25, are equally known for their glamorous fashion sensibilities; their caftans at Monaco’s Royal Wedding were the most striking outfits among the dignitaries present.

Pakistani-origin princesses: 

Princess Sarvath El Hassan of Jordan, 64, pairs regal tiaras and tailored dress coats with her traditional saris and counts Rizwan Beyg among her designers of choice. Crown Princess for three decades (before King Hussein changed his choice of successor from Princess Sarvath’s husband to her nephew), the Cambridge-educated, Taekwondo black belt holder has a distinguished Pakistani lineage. Her father, Mohammed Ikramaullah, served as Pakistan’s first Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and her mother, Begum Shaista Suhrawardy, was one of Pakistan’s first female parliamentarians. Princess Sarvath’s four children include three daughters, all of whom dressed in Pakistani joras on their mehndis as part of their otherwise contemporary Arab weddings. Princess Rahma, 43, Princess Sumaya, 41, and Princess Badiya, 33, sport eclectic styles including pantsuits, dresses, kameezes and caftans. 

Sense before style: In their own words

Princess Badiya is an Oxford graduate and Jordan’s first princess Barrister. 
“We’re very quick to get upset when we’re being treated badly, but I don’t see the same level of protest when Muslims treat non-Muslims badly; for example when Christians are murdered in Iraq or Pakistan, where are the furious demonstrations? And what about when it’s Muslims against Muslims? Where’s the outrage when it comes to non-Arab Sudanese being massacred in Darfur? Where is the outrage about the Sunni-Shi’a bloodbaths? We’re good at complaining when it’s the ‘non-Muslim Westerner’ who we see as being the perpetrator, but we’re very reluctant to take responsibility for ourselves” (in an interview with Emel magazine in 2011)

Princess Ameerah is a Business Administration graduate from the University of New Haven. She is Head of the Executive Committee of the Al-Waleed bin Talal Foundation and has traveled to Pakistan for flood relief efforts. 
No matter how many great things we do, we’ll always be judged as a country that suppresses women because we’re the only country in the world where women can’t drive….We (Saudi women) are not backwards. We’re not second-class citizens. Maybe the rules are backwards and the policies are backwards, but it’s not us. We’re educated. We’re very much respected in our families. We’re entrepreneurs, businesswomen, social leaders”  (interviewed on The Today Show in 2011).

Queen Rania is a Business Administration graduate from the American University of Cairo and worked at Citibank and Apple before her marriage. She is a prominent humanitarian and plays an active role in UNICEF, the World Economic Forum and the International Youth Foundation. 
“There are 600 million girls shackled by housework or work in factories; many fall victim to early marriage, sexual abuse, HIV. So I push for girls’ education because it works. Girls’ wages can go up by 20 percent for every year of education. Look at any country that’s plagued with poverty, disease or violence; the antidote is girls. Girls are the antibodies to many of society’s ills” (in an interview for Glamour magazine as their 2010 Woman of the Year).

Princess Lalla Salma worked as an IT engineer before her marriage. She founded the Lalla Salma Association against Cancer foundation and is a WHO Goodwill Ambassador. 
“There can be no political or institutional empowerment of women unless their economic, social and cultural rights are promoted, and unless women become part and parcel of the development process” (in a 2009 speech at the Higher Council of Arab Women).

Sheikha Mozah studied Sociology at the University of Qatar. She runs the Qatar Foundation and spearheaded the Al Jazeera Children TV channel and the Qatar Luxury Group. 
"How can we, in all sincerity, talk about women’s political participation in parliaments that are farcical…The truth is there is nothing in our religion to prevent women’s political participation. Women are excluded for the same reasons men are excluded" (in a speech delivered at Rice University in 2007). 

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