Home for the holidays: Arab in-flight style

Ahlya Fateh
Ahlya Fateh
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I have a confession to make...I don’t travel well. I have been a jet baby all my life but I just don’t do air travel in style. When I was a child I watched a great film called The VIPs starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Orson Welles among others, and this stuck in my mind as how really glamorous people voyage around the world. I mean, Liz Taylor is wearing a tiara in most of the scenes for goodness sake! Can you imagine that today? Now when we travel it is my children who look immaculate in matching blazers and glittery pumps, I just look like I am on day release with my hair on backwards. Moreover, I never get upgraded. In fact on a recent flight I heard the magic words “I am sorry Madame but we are going to have to move you.” Where to I asked, thinking Please God Business Class at least. Only to find myself sandwiched between a couple with a small child. Actually it was a man and his two year old daughter, the wife was patently trying to act as if she had nothing to do with it all and thought it perfectly reasonable to ask a strange woman to sit in the middle seat while they passed their child across me. Now that is bad travel karma all round!

However, I have noticed that invariably the most glamorous and stylish of passengers normally hail from the East. You first notice the waft of perfume, fragrance seems to be a big thing amongst Arab fashionistas – whether it is the traditional Oudh or another exotic concoction that makes one think of heavy desert nights under a moonlit sky. They also have another ace up their sleeves, long lustrous hair that doesn’t go flat on a seven hour flight. I recently sat next to one such elegant creature on a journey to Dubai and even after a long snooze, she had more body in her curls than Marilyn Monroe. Moreover this is one area where wearing a hijab is genius! No matter how rough the plane ride Arab women emerge on the other side looking like Grace Kelly about to take the Moyenne Corniche to Monte Carlo in a convertible.

Now the make up – all us gals in the West have been told to wear nothing but moisturiser in order to hydrate our skins on long journeys – this is not the Arab way. Firstly they all seem to have amazing colouring which negates the need for heavy maquillage, strong brows which are groomed to a millimetre of their lives, dark eyes and wonderful skin. However, I do think it is more than that, I do believe that Arab women are raised to always make the effort to look immaculate.

Now the make up – all us gals in the West have been told to wear nothing but moisturiser in order to hydrate our skins on long journeys – this is not the Arab way

Ahlya Fateh

I can’t imagine seeing any of the Arab girls I know in London ever looking less than beautifully turned out and always with a little twist that makes it their own. A wonderful scarf from a designer they discovered on a summer holiday, or a classic shoe with a studded heel – all these elements come together to ensure that even at 30,000 feet these ladies don’t need to rise to the occasion (sorry, I couldn’t help it!).

I believe this unique sense of style has developed through the generations. With couture wearing grandmothers handing down the sartorial torch to Yves Saint Laurent and Oscar de La Renta clad mothers leading to Celine/ Rag and Bone/ Balenciaga rocking daughters. The fashions may have changed along the way but the message remains the same – grooming is the bedrock foundation and everything else is just architecture. One of these days I will find out their secrets so I too can travel the world looking like the most fabulous version of myself. Until then, I will watch my Arab sisters closely and hope that this Western woman can work a little Eastern magic into her travel routine, if only for her daughters’ sake!


Ahlya Fateh knows all about fashion and publishing. As the former managing editor of Tatler magazine and the managing director of fashion brand, Tata Naka, she has combined a strong creative vision with an understanding of strategy and management. Ahlya lives in London and is a mother of two.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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