News presenters must be presentable – and that’s where stylist Mimi Raad comes in.
Raad, an image consultant for the Al Arabiya News Channel, helps shape how anchors look in front of the camera, from the makeup they wear to the color of their suits.
She explains how she brings a modern, “chic and understated” feel to the channel by tailoring how the presenters look.
A full version of this interview was originally published by The Huffington Post
Q&A with Mimi Raad, image consultant for the Al Arabiya News Channel
What does your styling job for Al Arabiya entail – clothing, hair, makeup, everything?
I created something called the image department. I have a team with me of makeup artists and hair dressers and stylists, and I choose for every presenter a specific style – the stylist goes shopping with them and then I have a chart for makeup and hair. What TV requires is different than, say, a photo shoot, because you have the lights and the camera and they move – it’s not static. I also explain to them how to stand, how to talk, how to use their voice or not to use their hands – all those details you’re not aware of when you’re not on camera.
Q. Do you watch a lot of news to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work?
I do monitor every presenter when they go on air, and I make sure that the hair dressers and the makeup artists and the stylists did their job so I won’t have any surprises on air. You are judged on the last five minutes you were on air – you could look like a princess for so many hours, but the last thing people will remember will be the last five minutes. So it has to be consistent… If it’s a live show, I stand directly with the hairdressers and the makeup artists or even the stylists so if there’s something wrong with their outfits, whenever we have a break, one of the team can go up to the studio to fix whatever’s wrong.
Q. It seems like there are many constraining factors to styling the presenters, not the least of which is the individuals’ own opinions and preferences. Do those factor in?
Oh, yes! There is a lot of psychology in what I do. Because I can’t just go, “oh my God, you can’t wear this.” It’s very subjective, because you are used to a certain way of dressing or a certain way of doing your hair and makeup, and this is your comfort zone. And then I come and tell you that the way you look on the camera has requirements, and you have to stick to those requirements. You don’t take into account that, say, this dress that you love so much will probably put five extra kilos on you when you’re on camera.
Plus, in the Arab world, you have to be careful of the length of the dress and of the sleeves. So it’s very important because the newscaster’s image goes into every house in the Arab world, and it’s like you are a guest in the house. So you can’t just go into people’s houses wearing indecent clothes, as per our understanding here. So no low cleavage, no shirts without sleeves and nothing too short. The knee-length is a must for skirts and dresses, and the pants can’t be too tight.
But also, there is a tendency here [in the Arab world], especially for the presenters on TV, to put a lot of kohl on their eyes, a lot of extra mascara, extra makeup – it’s part of the culture here. But I try to explain to them that they’re not the stars, they’re the medium to get the news out there. So they have to be slick, neat and elegant, but not too much, not too “bling-bling,” not too “in-your-face.” And I have a very European approach to that, so no jewelry and no extravagant makeup or hair. I try to explain to them that you can’t go on air talking about war and people dying looking like you’re going to a party. It just doesn’t make any sense.
It seems there are constraints due to the Arab audience that requires more modesty, but that there is a competing tendency for big hair, big makeup and that “blingier” look. Is that a general trend throughout the Arab world that you’ve observed?
Women here want to show off. All the time. When they’re wearing the shayla or the abaya, it’s all black, so they try to put the focus on the handbag they’re carrying and make sure everybody knows the brand of the handbag they’re carrying or the sunglasses they’re wearing. And as for the other women, who don’t wear abaya or shayla, I don’t know why they want to show everything at the same time – it’s like putting the whole closet on them and showing everything all at once! The hairdo, the makeup, the handbag... it’s a lack of simplicity. They don’t have the concept of “less is better” – that just doesn’t exist here.
So that’s why at first, when I started, I observed for one month and didn’t say a word and just took pictures. And then, when I started styling them and taking care of their looks, I showed them the “before” and the “after” and they all agreed that it made a difference, even the most subtle ones.
Have you ever had any pushback against a styling decision you wanted to make?
A lot of times, when I try to tell them, say, you can wear a simple black jacket and you don’t need a colorful one, I think they relate black to being old or not a happy person. In Dubai, it’s sunny all the time and people have a tendency to wear color all the time. So when you ask people to wear dark colors, for them it doesn’t fit. But for news, it gives more austerity; dark colors are more appropriate for a news presenter.
Is what you’re implementing drastically different than what you see on other Arab news channels in the region?
Yes. The image we have on Al Arabiya compared to other Arabic channels is very different. The other Arabic channels still have this ‘80s look, with stiff jackets in not-trendy cuts, the makeup is garish and the hair doesn’t move – it’s like a wig. Whereas I implemented a more modern and urban style for the Al Arabiya news presenters. It’s young but yet I make sure each presenter has her own style according to her own features, her body shape and her age.
Like I said, I use a lot of psychology. It’s not easy to convince people, especially women, to come out of their comfort zone and change the way they look and let them be happy about the way they look now.