If the shoe fits…

It all started one unsuspecting Thursday night at Barasti, enjoying some cocktails under the stars and engaging in some blatant people-watching. An attractive girl in her 20s walks past in a dress I spotted earlier in a high street store. Another cocktail, meet an old friend, grimace over the DJ’s choice of muzak, some more people-watching, oh! What do I spot? Another attractive girl wearing the exact same dress. Shock! Horror! If this was the Oscar’s there would be a cat-fight right about now. As the night progressed into the early hours, friends were made and more people were watched, I counted six girls wearing the incriminating dress from the affordable high-street store. Six! And lest the dear reader wonder if perhaps I was suffering from double-vision thanks to those cocktails, let it be known, the strongest ingredient in there was some sharp Pineapple juice. Six young attractive girls wearing a block-printed, slinky jersey dress from High Street Store du jour. I was appalled! Don’t think I’m a high-street snob either, I found it equally infuriating when a couple of seasons ago a certain identical version of the Louis Vuitton speedy was spotted on multiple arms of fashionistas all over Mall of the Emirates. Where has all the creativity gone?

It made me think about fashion in Dubai on a deeper level. Cities like London, Milan, Paris and Tokyo are heralded as much for their designer togs as they are for the avant-garde individualism represented by young people in their ‘street’ togs. The advent and unbridled popularity of blogs like ‘The cool Hunter’ have represented that the fashion-conscious aren’t just interested with what the couturiers are creating. Fashion is intensely and increasingly influenced in a down-up manner. With the Punk and Mod movement in the 60s hitting London, designers like Vivienne Westwood claimed with great authority that Punk was all about the people. Her collections were as much about young fashion students ripping their jeans and wearing knuckle-dusters as jewellery as her mind’s own creative ministrations. With it’s newly launched fashion week, multitudes of designer boutiques and fast-fashion troves where does Dubai’s burgeoning fashion scene stand in terms of a defined street style?

If the episode at Barasti is anything to go by, Dubai’s street style may have a long way to go. Asking several fashion friends in the know they all lament over Dubai’s lack of originality. “Everywhere I go I see people following trends, I hardly ever see anyone starting a trend or following a path less beaten to inspire a trend”, says Natalie Robehmed, “When I visit London I may see many girls wearing exactly what style.com says is ‘in’ for the season, but I also get to experience some innovation and creativity, people stepping outside the box”

From the ornate Harajuku girls of Tokyo, to the ethnic beauties of Mumbai, the well-coiffed Parisians to the eclectic East Londoners, the beachy keen babes of Miami to the head-to-toe black New Yorkers, every city has their signature style that doesn’t just take its inspiration from trends but also works of practicality and circumstantial conveniences. Taking inspiration from history, culture and making sure to keep the weatherman’s warnings in mind, a street style is derived by a need to experiment with one’s look, be creative and not worry about breaking or making fashion rules. Taking the plunge into the unknown can be intimidating but it sure beats having the same dress and the same pair of shoes and the same handbag as your equally fashionable friend.

Though perhaps we fashion-cynics are being a little harsh. Dubai is a pretty young Emirate and it does show some evidence of having particular aspects to its fashion personality that can be deemed quintessentially Dubai. Stalk a neighbourhood mall and aside from the perfectly trendy, you’ll soon notice a few quirks that make Dubai’s street style an emerging persona. O.T.T Swarovski crystals, glitzy stilettos, a little bit of leopard skin here, a few beachy-keen summer dresses there, lots of sheer black Abayas, the most bling version of designer Sunglasses one can lay their hands on, super-sized leather totes in loud colours…you may have to squint and look hard, but a gleaming street style is just waiting to emerge. Perhaps it’s a beacon of hope for those waiting patiently for a fashion revolution here in Dubai, but there is hope.

So it all rests on you. Stop going for the tried-and-tested, take a chance! If your heart tells you you’d love to wear a pair of wellingtons under an abaya, go crazy! Feel like ditching your trustworthy little black dress combo? Wear your mum’s old wedding dress and accessorize with a smile- you could well be the mascot for Dubai’s street style revolution.

A very important person once told me he believed every city was a shoe. If East London is a pair of re-issued patent leather Doctor Martens, Paris is a pair of smart, Prada loafers and Mumbai is a pair of Kohlapuri ‘Chapals’, what would Dubai’s shoe alter-ego be? The truth is the shoe would probably be a particularly glitzy pair of heels, decadent, luxurious, hella expensive and just a little bit too much.

As is trend around these neighbourhoods, a quote:

“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” – Oscar Wilde

May the Doc Martens, Prada loafers and Kohlapuri chapals be with you,

If I had six minutes to live…I’d write a little faster xxx

“Where is that accent from again?”

Let me begin by saying, like all naive Dubaians, I never used to believe I had an accent. An immigration official at LAX airport set me straight. After a gruelling sixteen hour flight to Los Angeles, the last thing I expected as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes was an immigration official asking me “So, what accent is that you’ve got…it’s pretty interesting.” One thing led to another, as they often do when one is travelling and at their most-vulnerable best, and the next thing I knew, I was being led to be strip-searched and interrogated for three and a half hours, all on the basis of an accent the blessed officer “couldn’t quite place”, naturally arousing suspicion. United States of Paranoia.

It did make me think though, how would I categorise my accent? Born and raised in Dubai, the Cosmopolitan melting pot that it is infused me with a global fusion of an accent. I told the officer the same thing I tell foreigners when asked about my accent “I’m a French citizen, though I was born in the Middle East where I went to an International School. I watch far too much American television, grew up with a Sri Lankan nanny, have a Canadian sister, Indian parents, a South African best friend and a Mancunian fiancé- of course I sound strange” The best part is, I would be considered decidedly uninspiring and boring in Dubai, with others affected by even stranger concoctions of nationalities, dialects and accents.

The fact of the matter is that those who live around here are constantly bombarded with different accents every single day. Live in Dubai for more than a year and you’ll realise you’re living a multi-national existence rivalled by places like New York and London, famed as cities filled with diverse immigrants. The interesting part is, unlike New York and London, where immigrants tend to stick together and form close-knit communities like Chinatown and Little Italy, Dubai is too small and too concentrated for such segregation to take place for long. There is absolutely no escaping the bombardment of accents and languages that hit a Dubaian as soon as they step out the front door in the morning, making it next to impossible to escape the ‘Dubai accent’.

Take for example a simple day out buying groceries from your neighbourhood hypermarket. As soon as you park your car you are accosted by a Sri Lankan gentleman asking if you would wish to have your car washed as you shop. You head over to pick up a trolley where a friendly South Indian security guard greets you as you enter the crowded hyperspace. You bump into your Australian neighbour as you pick up milk, and after exchanging pleasantries head over to the deli counter where you are served fresh olives by a Jordanian. You buy meat from the Pathani butcher behind the meat counter, and when you can’t find eggs, a cheerful Bangladeshi supermarket stacker directs you in the right aisle. You head over to scan and pay for your items, as your Philipina cashier asks if you would like to pay by cash or card all while a swift, Nepalese boy bags your groceries. You head back to your car, make small talk with a Local policeman giving a ticket to an illegally parked car, jump in and drive home. Over the course of 20 minutes and the simple act of getting groceries, you were faced with 9 different accents. Isn’t it but sociologically inevitable to find this infusion of accents creeping into your own?

The Dubai accent is a mish-mash of Arab phrases, British spelling, American slang and Indian-inspired diction with a generous peppering of Philipino voice inflections and Persian lingo, all blended together with the individual’s home-grown tone. Chameleon-like in its quality to borrow from what it sees around itself, the Dubai accent is pretty much synonymous with the Dubai expat entity itself. It takes defining aspects of the dynamic stuff it is exposed to, and infuses it with one’s own touch, coming up with a unique hybrid accent that leaves many stumped. As one lives life in this crazy little bubble we call Dubai, we don’t just learn to curse in five different languages and say “Good Morning” in another seven, we actually get influenced enough by the accents we hear swimming around us to start sounding a little bit different ourselves. Whether it’s imbibing phrases like ‘yalla, ‘kaisa hai’ and ‘cheers mate’, to being able to sound like a perfect parody of put-on Americanese with an ‘awesome, how you doooin’ that could put a Southern California cheerleader to shame. The Dubai accent is a feisty little fighter, making its mark even in the most fastidious of environments.

So for all those expats who have just moved and plan to stick around for a while, be prepared to expect changes to start affecting your accent after a couple of months. You can run but you can’t hide…The Dubai Accent triumphs over all, from the strongest Kenyan baritone to the most pronounced Yorkshire blend.

As always, I end with a quote:

“I have travelled more than anyone I know and I have noticed that even the Angels speak English with an accent”- Mark Twain

If it suits the Angels, it suits me fine…

If I had six minutes to live, I’d write a little faster xxx

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