What if you could spend a day like a movie star, would you do it? I’d jump at the chance to have people fawn over me while enjoying free stuff lavished upon me, all the while living in luxurious accommodations with my own private driver to follow my directions. Even for just twenty-four hours…
Turns out, I was born to dream that dream.
During the Dubai International Film Festival there is one exclusive suite, a place of wonder and opulence that divides the mere mortals from the superstars. And that place is the VIP Gift Lounge. Inside its well-guarded secret location, surrounded by handsome men and beautiful women to attend to the VIPs every whim and wish, some of the best things in life are free and for the taking. The only prerequisite is celebrity-dom.
This year, the GC Agency which has been running the DIFF Gift Lounge for the past few years, concentrated on local Emirati products and brands and articles that are used by the glitterati of the Region. It’s a wonderful idea since there are of course as many gift lounges around the world as there are film festivals and what sets this one apart is its exquisite location inside this mecca of shopping and cool lifestyle choices that is Dubai. If you can dream a brand or wish for a special beauty treatment, you can find it in Dubai.
Ask any woman you know, and if you are a woman ask yourself — and answer truthfully — what you need in your life and the answer is not what you’d expect to hear. Men, nope, it’s chocolate and make up. Am I right ladies? So, when I walked into the Lounge to find a white life-size chocolate falcon next to eye creams and treatments, with a tea display just off to its side, I knew I had entered my own kind of heaven.
The falcon belonged to chocolate shop Boutique Le Chocolat which in its location on Al Wasl brings together chocolate creations from around the world. “We sell chocolate shoes,” declared Aziza, one of the shop’s attendants, who doubles as chocolate model inside the Lounge. I’d love to have a pair of those, please! But I did settle on trying a Yuzu bonbon, which started out tart and increasingly packed more flavor the more I bit into it.
A stop by US brand The Art of Shaving made me realize just how lonely a job writing about cinema is. Don’t feel bad for me, I do enough of that on my own, but when my guide through the wonder of the VIP Lounge Victoria asked me if I had a man in my life I could bring back a shaving souvenir to, I had to say no. I am still thinking about whether I can justify bringing that quiet yet handsome filmmaker I interviewed in Venice a bag of shaving goodies… But, on a separate note, I’m hoping the great luxury of this perfect shaving products will convince more men to do away with those horrible beards, and come clean (shaven) once again!
From last year, I remembered the Ayaso boutique so well, my browser history immediately recognizes the brand when I type the letter “A”. Imagine that. But in the Emirates it’s very convenient to own at least one “abaya”, the traditional outerwear that local women sport — usually over their outfit. Having one in my closet here helps if I’m ever in need of some evening-wear, even if I don’t have time to do a full change from day to night. You slip your abaya on, change bag and office-wear suddenly becomes red carpet worthy. During their Formula 1 event, the folks at GC Agency told me Lionel Ritchie picked up a few abayas for his woman — and they have the photos to prove it.
More wonder for me came from the honey corner, by the brand Balqees which I’ve seen around the malls here but never investigated further. The gentle Abdallah, handsome and kind, walked me through their entire collection of Yemeni honeys, the best in the world, and let me try something called “Raw White Mountainous Honey” that combines for me the experience of taste and smell. Infused with the scent of orange blossom, or maybe it’s rose, this white honey looks like a cream and tastes like heaven in a jar. Of course, their Nigella seed honey, spicy with what I can describe as maybe a salty aftertaste and their cinnamon infused honey are quite special as well. Oh, yeah, Indian mega star Ranveer Singh (who travels with his own soundtrack man, playing music whoever he goes) stopped by and was mesmerized by the dance the attendants perform to fill a jar with this golden commodity.
Samuel L. Jackson was also mesmerized by the Lounge and stopped in to choose a cap — the man rocks all kinds of hats of course — by brand Caliente and to accept a free holiday invitation at a time of his choice at the Jumeirah sister property to where we’ve all been staying, the newly opened Jumeirah Al Naseem. In these last days of weather changing patterns, the resort has taken on a beautifully moody look and I’ve enjoyed the ominous looking clouds that herald the arrival of much welcomed winter in the Emirates.
One trend I’ve noticed everywhere, well aside from the animal print look which women are sporting from head to toe in the festival, is the camouflage craze. I realize the Region is feeling the stress of nearby struggles and conflicts and the idea is present in the dystopian themes we are witnessing in films. But the camouflage look is one easy to do, well, and luxuriously. I found a great jacket by modest fashions brand Sciccoso. Hailing from Bangladesh, which is where most fabulous affordable fashions are coming from these days, the brand makes the perfect camouflage print bomber, just what every woman needs in this cooling weather. I noticed DIFF jury member Shohreh Aghdashloo, after I heard her iconically sultry voice speak at breakfast walking away wearing another design by the brand. Oh, and modest fashions are the thing of the future, as women begin to embrace this new Trump America, right?
Other unmissable brands include beauty favorite Shiseido, the great teas of Newby London, which also make a line inspired by our zodiac signs, and last, but not least, the beautiful leathers of Native, which hail from Dubai. When I interviewed Andie MacDowell earlier, she was carrying a purse from Native and gushed about how much she loved it!
And of course Monkey Cookies, the reason I am a few pounds heavier coming out of DIFF than going into it.
I think I’d love to live the rest of my life as a VIP, but maybe I can count on it happening in the next lifetime. Inshallah.