Nevertheless, I was excited. From my few years of experience, I could tell you that off-season destination fashion shows tended to be far more relaxed and fun than the main-season ones. Besides, what girl in her right mind wouldn’t want to fly business class to a five-star resort and be in a Chanel show? I decided I was going to keep my mind open, but admittedly I got a little annoyed at the struggle I had while packing. Long dresses? No short shorts (although, it’s 90-plus degrees there)? Swimsuit…but is bikini okay?
My flight to Dubai arrived seamlessly, without mishaps or delays, but by the time I arrived at our hotel, One & Only Royal Mirage by the Marina of Dubai, I was exhausted to the point where I felt sick. The hotel employed a quirky performance of ringing a gong as guests first entered, but I was in no mood to be entertained. I made a beeline straight to my hotel room.
After sleeping for nearly seven hours, I finally got out of bed, went down to the lobby, and walked outside to the back courtyard. The hot, humid air and soothing sound of the sea welcomed me. Being a Southern California girl, it felt strangely familiar, which I immediately liked. But, what I really enjoyed was the vista. Facing away from the hotel, I looked upon a huge pool and watercourse leading to a beautiful fountain. Beside it was an expansive, green garden and palm trees, all of which led to the beach, with its aquamarine water and warm sand. The winning view was looking past the hotel, where in the distance I saw the city skyline. It was everything I loved — the beach and the urban cityscape, melded into one.
I ran into my friends Lindsey Wixson and Grace Mahary, who were coming back from their spice-market adventures. We exchanged stories and caught up as we dined at The Beaches, the hotel restaurant by the water. Post-dinner, I took a dip in the pool for a night swim with Kwak Ji Young and went to bed while watching A Scanner Darkly on cable TV.
I had the luxury of sleeping in, having a leisurely brunch by the beach with some model friends, then meeting up with my friends Jake, Renee, and Stephanie at The Coveteur, which was also in town. They picked me up at 1 p.m. and took me along to the Aquaventure Water Park in Palm Island, a man-made island, which, from an aerial view, looks like palm-tree fronds.
As we were ushered through the entrance, it felt like I was reliving my childhood summer vacation when my parents would take me to water parks in California. As a jazzy cover of Bob Marley’s "Redemption Song" played on, we splashed around, noshed on curly fries (which I dredged in ketchup just as I used to do when I was 10 years old), and took GoPro selfies through a fantastic ride called Shark Tank.
After a fun day in the sun, I came back to my hotel for my fittings. Usually, for Chanel, models get the full hair and makeup for fittings — partly to avoid any surprises at the real show, but mostly because they want to document each look in photos and videos. I received two looks: first, a long, flared, flowy top and slouchy harem pants made of the same semi-sheer knit and inlaid with red and purple flowers, and second, a golden-knitted, two-piece top and a breezy, white, pleated ruffles pant.
I woke up a little past 11 a.m. and groggily stumbled into the One & Only Spa for a hammam massage at the hotel. Hammam, which is a Turkish bath, was another highlight of the trip, First, I shed all of my clothes (they gave me a pair of disposable underwear that looked like adult diapers), then, with the help of my masseuse, who washed and tended to me like I was a baby, I shed layers of dead skin...which were visibly coming off me. Fascinating.
Feeling rejuvenated and renewed, I hopped into the model bus that shuttled us to the location of the show. The driver dropped us off by the harbor, and from there, a fleet of abras (small, traditional wooden boats) ferried us to a private island where the show was to take place. I’m sure by now there are tons of published articles, photos, and reviews of the show, so I won't be redundant. (But, it was obviously a spectacular experience, as usual.)
Following the show was the after-party. Friends introduced me to a group of young Arab royals and aristocrats, including the beautiful Princess Deena of Saudi Arabia, who probably blinded anyone who glimpsed her wrist decked in layers of diamonds. My new friends bequeathed me ghutra and agal, the traditional headdress set that was worn by men. We chatted, drank, and danced, as one would in full extravagance in Dubai.
At the Chanel after-party the previous night, I befriended Mohammed S. Al Habtoor, a fun, outspoken Dubai native who offered to show me around on my last day in Dubai. He took me to a Lebanese restaurant for a traditional lunch and shisha, then to mosques. Mohammed — Mo, for short — was extremely informative and nonjudgmental while speaking to someone like me, who wasn’t familiar with his background. He explained that he chose to wear traditional garments (though his closet at home was brimming with beautiful luxury-brand clothing) because it was the best thing to combat the hot, dusty climate, and eloquently told me about the importance of water and trees in Islamic culture, as they represent life and family.
Speaking to him helped me gain more respect for the city. Yes, my first few days in Dubai I was awash in the world of opulence that almost felt excessive and inauthentic at times, and my initial, crude understanding of the culture’s censure of liberal expression seemed antiquated. But, the culture also represents respect and celebration of tradition amid the acceptance of the new, as well as the importance of family and heritage.