Meet Anum Bashir: One of The Middle East’s First Fashion Influencers

Meet Anum Bashir: One of The Middle East’s First Fashion Influencers

Desert Mannequin is a documentation of the Qatar-born creative consultant’s personal style. Colourful, eclectic and witty, Bashir talks about sustainable outfit choices, pens love letters to her favourite shoes and explains why a Prada dress has more lives than a cat.

our preconceptions of the UAE may be dominated by
skyscrapers and oil magnates, the country is slowly establishing
itself as a destination for both fashion and culture, the recent
opening of the Louvre
Abu Dhabi
being a case in point. But could you name one
influencer à la
Pandora Sykes
Pernille Teisbaek
? Nor could we – until we came across Anum
Bashir and her blog, Desert Mannequin.

Desert Mannequin is a documentation of the Qatar-born creative
consultant’s personal style. Colourful, eclectic and witty, Bashir
talks about sustainable outfit choices, pens love letters to her
favourite shoes and explains why a Prada dress has more lives than
a cat. She’s also on a mission to promote emerging local talent,
marries fashion with art and touches on politics.

Born and raised in Doha, Bashir says it’s a place she will
always call home. Following formative years as a student in
Pittsburgh and a young professional in New York, she now
lives in Dubai.
We spoke to her about the contemporary Arabic woman and finding a
voice in a region where the blogging territory was basically

Desert Mannequin was one of the first blogs of this kind in
Qatar. What was it like to start it?

Yes, it was unprecedented territory in Doha at the time. I was
keen to start something fun and fresh that married art and fashion. I haven’t looked
back since and work every day to help it grow and morph into
something far beyond simply sharing my outfits. Since day one it
has granted me a huge amount of exposure.

Tell us more about your aims.

The plan for Desert Mannequin has always been the same – share
the platform with women who have interesting stories and strong
voices. I have always advocated an off-kilter, eclectic approach to
style and hope to continue that. I would eventually love to offer
fully fledged consultancy to emerging brands and designers.

How did the idea for Desert Mannequin first come about?

After moving back from the US in 2011, I started my career at
the Qatar Museums. That job allowed me to get home around 3PM every
day, so that I had lots of time to start something for myself.
Working in the art world for over five years gave me a pretty
sturdy leg to stand on. That’s when I decided to start Desert
Mannequin – mostly as a passion project to chronicle and marry
personal style with contemporary art.

How would you describe your style?

Eclectic with a consistent effort to balance the masculine with
feminine. Picture a cocktail dress with sneakers, or a tuxedo with
dainty glitter stilettos. To me, it’s about being observant and
able to interpret what you see around you in your own way.

What pieces of clothing could you not live without?

I always joke that my shoes and handbags are my children; you
can practically wear anything if you have a wonderfully outrageous
pair of shoes on. I’m currently living in my printed silk Dries Van
Noten shirts. They’re maximalist in every way, and create this faux
sense of being on a holiday which isn’t a bad thing if you’re
actually constantly working. I also love anything created by Isa
Arfen, one of my favourite designers.

What’s always in your SUITCASE?

My skincare products, a pair of jeans, a coloured pair of
trousers (be it red, khaki or black), a good blazer, two pairs of
shoes, and a crisp white button-down shirt. Everything else can be

Compared to London or New York, how would
you characterise your local fashion scene?

It’s still very much in its infancy. We’re growing and
developing every day which is good, but the fashion industry here
is always faced with the challenges of finding its voice and
identity. I often critique that Dubai’s fashion landscape can be
quite homogenous and over the top in a way that’s not always
revered. Luckily, there are new and interesting people stepping in
to debunk those views.

What impact do local culture and dress codes have on

Of course they are quite conservative and traditional. I’m
typically a modest dresser anyway, so that fits in quite well.
There are several designers who are deeply inspired by the
traditions and heritage of Arabia, and that is highly prevalent in
the pieces they create.

How would you describe the contemporary Arabic woman?

She’s become quite the individual: highly educated and
well-travelled, with a strong voice and a desire to stand out.
She’s often entrepreneurial, constantly learning more about the
industry she’s in and driven to create something successful.

, there can be a stereotype of Arabic women liking to
shop A LOT. How do you approach that?

In my opinion, Middle Eastern women enjoy luxury just as much as
the next girl. I’m not saying it’s completely untrue – and since I
live in a more affluent part of the world, I think that the
stereotype comes a little easier – but with time we’ve seen an
evolution in women’s approach to business or style. We’re becoming
more diverse. As I said, the fashion industry is still very much in
its infancy, so with that come teething pains. We hope to one day
rival some of the most culturally established cities in the

Do you see yourself as a stereotype-breaking kind of woman in
your region?

I’d like to think so. My time at the museum allowed me to
approach things from a unique vantage point. I love discovering new
brands and share an approach to style and writing that’s unique in
this part of the world.

Besides your personal style, you address topics such as Trump’s
travel ban. When it comes to politics or social issues, do you feel
free to talk about anything you find important? Are there any

I can obviously only maintain a dialogue within certain
confines, and I think that’s okay. At its very core, Desert
Mannequin is still a fashion-centric platform. Do I want to
continue having more punchier discussions on there? Absolutely!
It’s part of intellectualising what I do, which I think is
incredibly important. But yes, living here means that certain
subject matters are regarded as taboo.

What does your work with emerging brands entail?

My work with emerging and local brands comes from a wish to
nurture talent. It’s fascinating to join someone on their journey.
When a designer asks for your opinion on a collection, being able
to give honest feedback is a privilege I take very seriously.

What role do influencers and social media play?

Dubai is currently riding the social media wave hard.
Influencers are everywhere and brands are gung-ho about working
with them.

What local brands do we have to know?

There’s a lot of local talent that should be known globally.
I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with many people in
different capacities – be it Bil Arabi by Nadine Kanso, Nathalie Trad, Bouguessa, Reemami, Matar. The list is quite vast and they’re all doing
remarkable things.

What’s next for Desert Mannequin?

Lots of exciting things. We’ve just launched our beauty segment
“Let’s Face It”. I’m also continuing my partnership with
-based brand NDUO – we’re already discussing the AW18 collection,
which is crazy. On top of that, I want to venture into podcasts.
Again, it’s something that hasn’t been done in the region and I’m
quite passionate about it.

Finally, can you give us some of your favourite places in

Comptoir102, Wild and the Moon, Artisan, La Serre, The
, La Petite Maison and Biryani

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