Qatar’s Fashionistas Launch Haute Muse Internationally

By: Nesima Aberra

Move over Vogue! The next big high fashion magazine to fly off the shelves will be coming from east of usual—Qatar, to be exact. If you haven’t heard of it already, Haute Muse is the first international fashion magazine based in the Middle East. But don’t think that means the content will be any less edgy or exciting, because Haute Muse’s founders have had their fingers on the pulse of high fashion for years.

Before the magazine, Fatma and Noor Al-Thanis were dishing out their fashion picks with Fatma’s HauteCouturista street-style blog and Noor’s Noorziestyle blog. Both blogs have a combined 261, 1417 page views and followers from all over the world who enjoy scrolling through colorful abayas and jalabiyahs, visits to a Missoni showroom, Dolce & Gabbana shoes, red carpet coverage and Fashion Week updates. Noor’s blog was even profiled in Harper’s Bazaar Arabia in November 2010.

Eventually, blogging and day-to-day life got boring for the two university students (Fatma in media at Qatar University and Noor in fashion design at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar) and they became interested in pursuing a business in magazine and event planning. They found a lack of interesting magazines in the Middle East and thought that Western ones were hardly relatable, especially regarding holidays.

“They’d have swimsuit edition or prom edition. But we want Eid edition and Ramadan edition,” says Fatma. “So we needed a magazine that would cater to Middle Eastern women and international women.”

With the support of family and friends, the Al-Thanis decided to host a launch event in Qatar with Matchesfashion.com, an online shopping site, to garner interest for the magazine. The event was a huge success, with 600 guests, including the hottest designers from London and model and socialite, Olivia Palermo. It was there that Noor and Fatma met with Muneera Al-Mosallam, who agreed to join the magazine staff.

Shortly after, production of the quarterly Haute Muse magazine began shortly with Fatma as editor-in-chief, Noor as co-editor and Muneera as managing editor. The first issue had Olivia Palermo grace the cover in an elegant black-and-white abaya by Aab and came out in May 2011. Fatma says that they invited Olivia to be a part of Haute Muse’s debut after she attended their fashion event.

“She showed a lot of interest in exploring Middle East and she has a big following here,” Fatma says.

Olivia’s photos were shot at Katara, a new cultural village built in Doha. The rest of the magazine features international fashion designers in Europe and America but especially highlights local talent like shoe designer, Darmaki, jewelry designer Noor Alfardan and photographer Faisal Al-Thani. This is an important part of Haute Muse’s mission– to show off Middle Eastern artists who often go abroad to show off their collections instead of gaining popularity in their own countries.

The second issue was just recently published with a dramatically made up Bonnie Wright, Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter film series, not too soon after the final movie’s release.

“Vogue included Emma Watson and transformed her so no one thought it was her.  We wanted to show off Bonnie Wright,” Noor says. “We wanted to transform a celebrity to a different degree and show them what we have.”

Fatma says the first issue included more PR shots rather than original spreads, but in the second issue, everything was done in house with editorials in Paris and couture archive collections and beauty shots in London. The magazine has an international staff of freelancers, photo editors, art directors and production assistants split between London and Qatar.

“That’s the difference we have between other magazines in the Middle East. We have the capabilities with our magazine that other’s don’t. That’s what’s exciting,” Fatma says.

Elan got an exclusive reveal that the third Haute Muse issue coming out in November will feature two “It” celebrities on the cover in New York.

Haute Muse’s rising fame hasn’t gone unnoticed. Fatma announced they just signed a distribution deal in the United Kingdom with CondeNast, the publishing giant behind Vogue, Allure and Instyle, making it the first Middle Eastern magazine to do so. Haute Muse is also doing very well in Doha with 1,000 subscriptions. So far, the magazine is sold in more than 40 countries, including the US, Turkey, China, Spain and Italy.

But the Al-Thanis want Haute Muse to be more than a magazine. It’s on track to be an enterprise with an event planning service called Haute Concierge, partnered with a London company. The two say they will still update their blogs but not as frequently as they did before since they are all juggling schoolwork and the magazine. The ladies keep up with their emails 24/7 on their iPhones and Blackberries, go straight to the office after class and keep working when they go home until past 3 am.

“It’s all worth it for us,” Noor says, assuredly.

So what’s hot in the Middle East according to these young fashionistas? Blake Lively, Lea Michele, Elizabeth Olson and Selena Gomez are becoming influential style icons in Qatar, according to Fatma. Muneera says a mix of H&M, Topshop, Urban Outfitters and Chanel is currently trending. Brand-name bags are losing popularity, while unusual, unique bags are gaining favor.

“A lot of people think we don’t have much in the Middle East. They all think we don’t have fashion. But now with the magazine, they are changing their minds and saying, look at Qatar!” Noor says.


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