Fashion in the Age of Philanthropy: Manuel Arnaut on Vogue Arabia’s Inaugural Ball in Partnership with UNICEF
Hello Mr. Arnaut.
“Please, call me Manuel.”
We got on the phone with Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Arabia Manuel Arnaut, to discuss the magazine’s inaugural gala Ball of Arabia. We talked female empowerment, fashion in the MENA, and why Vogue Arabia is at the helm of a more conscious regional fashion ecosystem.
[This conversation took place the night before the ball.]
Ball of Arabia took place on December 7, 2018 at the prestigious Burj Al Arab. Middle Eastern royalty, international and regional celebrities, and moguls of the fashion world will be in attendance at this opulent fundraising night in benefit of UNICEF.
The proceeds gathered during the evening will go towards implementing UNICEF’s Girls Education and Empowerment Program in the MENA region, a cause Arnaut believes perfectly compliments the magazine’s ethos.
Manuel. Let’s talk about fashion and philanthropy …
Vogue Arabia partnering with UNICEF for their inaugural event, what is the overarching statement being made here?
“We wanted to end our year with a grand moment for fashion in the region, it’s been a year and a half of great success and so much support. The magazine, Vogue, is a powerful medium and a tool to shape the way people think, about contemporary fashion, about the MENA. Educating young girls, investing in women – I can’t think of a better way to set an example for fashion in our region, and through UNICEF, we guarantee the funds we raise go to the right place.”
Girls Education and Empowerment – an apt cause – how important is this initiative to Vogue Arabia and to you? Why this cause in particular?
“Girls education and empowerment is a key factor to societal development - women are key. More girls going to school, getting a good education, it will help them lead a life of independence and find employment. Empowerment is more than just a word; we need to take actions to help this happen, in the MENA in particular. UNICEF ensures these funds go towards women in our region, to help our societies evolve.”
Fashion today acts as a cultural mirror more than ever before, how authentic to the MENA will Ball of Arabia be?
“Ball of Arabia will pay tribute to the region’s opulent and rich culture, through decoration, theme and guests invited. A contemporary fashion moment with all the gilded glory of the MENA, the theme is really celebrating heritage through fashion in a modern day context.”
And dressing in Arab designers, is this mandatory for the Ball?
“Nothing is mandatory but we are really making an effort, and asking all our guests to be wearing Arab designers. Beautiful women in attendance such as Yasmine Sabri, Jessica Kahawaty, Maya Diab, Salma Abu Deif and many more will be dressed in designers such as Rami Al Ali and Ashi Studio. We want to create a fashion ecosystem where Arab designers, make-up artists, stylists and creative people of the industry are at the forefront. Even international guests such as Ciara and Lara Stone, will be dressed in designers from our region.”
“So will I, I’ll be wearing a cape … Like Superman! by Lebanese duo Azzi and Osta as well as an embroidered jacket from Saudi brand Layla Moussa.”
Ball of Arabia will represent a moment in regional fashion history, you gave this moment to women/young girls, by partnering up with UNICEF for the Girls Education Program, was this a conscious decision?
“It’s our first ball, and this is a women’s magazine first and foremost - it made sense. We’ve been advocating powerful stories about women for over a year now, we understand the influence our publication has.”
It is an important moment in time for women in the MENA, boasting more opportunities than ever before. Ball of Arabia x UNICEF is supporting this wave of change, what are your thoughts on the region’s reforms towards women in the past few years?
“This is definitely a moment worthy of celebration for women in the MENA. There is a daunting misconception that the fashion industry isn’t conscious enough, that we don’t give back enough, but here we are. We live in a country – the UAE – with more female ministers than anywhere else in the region. The Girl’s Education Program with UNICEF is relevant, because this moment is relevant. And we want to celebrate it with vibrancy, purpose and pizazz!”
Ball of Arabia, why this year? Why now?
“There has been a lot of curiosity about our region, in fashion and otherwise. A lot of curiosity about Vogue Arabia, the covers we’ve chosen, featuring both global and local faces, these were all conscious decisions. We want to open our region to the world, and welcome international guests to show them more of what our designers have to offer. The establishment of Vogue Arabia in itself was a statement, and so there is not better time to have a ball in affirmation that we are here and we are making important moves.”
Vogue Arabia has broken cultural and stereotypical boundaries this year, how important do you believe the relationship between fashion and philanthropy is?
“Fashion and philanthropy - that’s an interesting question. There are so many designers having a fundamental role in social causes, Stella McCartney and her discussion on fur, Michael Kors on sustainability, the amfAR Gala’s support of research on AIDS. Fashion has become more openly philanthropic, we are conscious, contrary to popular belief, and we do take actions to give back. I won’t say everyone in the industry has reached this point, but at Vogue Arabia, we look at fashion from a different perspective. We could have just had a party, with beautiful clothes and inspiring guests, but we’re having a celebration for a cause. The way publications work today and with the struggle print media is encountering, donating money almost seems counter intuitive, but we do it because fashion needs to be philanthropic, in an industry that affords such luxury it only makes sense to give back.”
Vogue Arabia is the voice of a region in fashion, if people were to walk out of this year’s Ball with one message to take into 2019, what would it be?
“We all have a social responsibility, and everyone can contribute, to really help others to have a better life. We have resources, and here we live in Dubai, one of the most abundant cities in the world. We are privileged to be here, but we must never forget to give back in a way that makes sense. It sounds cliché, but choose the causes you advocate. And of course support Arab designers, it is the extra mile, that needs to be done!”