Three extraordinary voices from the Middle East share their creative references, style inspirations and messages of a renewed sense of purpose for the future.

Words: Chekii Harling


Three extraordinary voices from the Middle East share their creative references, style inspirations and messages of a renewed sense of purpose for the future.

Words: Chekii Harling

At Selfridges, we can’t wait to celebrate the good times ahead, as well as enjoy some much-needed quality time with our family and friends again. With this renewed sense of optimism in mind, we reached out to three multi-disciplinary creatives from the Middle East to find out about their unique creative practices, how they navigate the modern landscape, and the fashion and beauty brands they can’t wait to rediscover in a not-so-distant future full of joy.


Photographer and Film Director, based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Hayat Osamah’s compelling visual world is grounded in her Middle Eastern surroundings – from cover stories shot in a temple complex in Diriyah for Vogue Arabia to her photographs of larger-than-life characters dancing in the desert at MDL Beast, one of Saudi Arabia’s major dance-music festivals. “I usually shoot people that I meet randomly, or they reach out to me via Instagram DMs,” says Hayat of her approach to casting for her photography projects. Hayat, who grew up in Jeddah, took her first picture at the age of 16, using a camera gifted to her by her mother. “It was a journey through channels such as YouTube to teach myself the basics. It took me a while to have the confidence to publish my work online after so many years of self-teaching,” says Hayat, who recently won GQ Middle East’s Breakthrough Artist of the Year award.


The past year has taught me to open my eyes and mind to things I’d never been able to see and realise, it’s provided me with a different perspective which is something I am grateful for.

– Hayat Osamah
Behind the scenes shooting VOGUE Arabia's cover story in Diriyah, December 2020 / Self-portraits

Hayat’s recent commission for Vogue Arabia’s December 2020 issue was her first cover story and a project she was “thrilled and honoured” to work on. So, what’s the dream? Shooting a full campaign for Maison Margiela, of course – an unsurprising goal for a photographer who’s looking forward to hanging out at her granny’s house in an archive Jean Paul Gaultier suit. “I always lean towards archive pieces because you can wear them forever, and I find it easy to express myself when wearing Helmut Lang, Comme des Garçons and Rick Owens,” she says.

Despite the rollercoaster ups and downs, Hayat puts a positive spin on the past year. “It’s taught me to open my eyes and mind to things I’d never been able to see and realise. It’s provided me with a different perspective, which is something I am grateful for.” 


Henna Artist, Chiropractor and Designer, based in Dubai

Azra is a shining example of how today’s young creatives are navigating the modern landscape. Unrestricted to just one profession, Azra works as a chiropractor two days a week while juggling her accessories designs and henna art. “My chiropractic education helped me to understand and see the body differently – movement plays a huge role in my creative work,” says Azra, who focusses more on her henna designs – inspired by nature, architecture and contemporary art – during Ramadan, Eid and other special cultural occasions. In 2019, Azra collaborated with Gucci on custom henna designs and has also worked with a range of other luxury brands on international campaign shoots, where her henna art helped to bring jewellery and watches to life.

Azra started practising the art of henna in 2017 using plant-based inks, for the cultural festivities of Ramadan and Eid, using her own hands as a creative canvas – applying simpler designs straight onto the body and illustrating the more complex using an iPad first. “Since Covid-19, Ramadan and Eid celebrations have really toned down, but we’ve spent a lot more time together as a family. I hope that things ease up a little so that we can visit our family in South Africa again soon. It’s been a long year of video calls,” says Azra, who has used this period of reflection to strengthen her faith.


What I wear reflects how I feel – sometimes I want to communicate that I am tough, other times I want to look relaxed. I love that through fashion I can express these feelings.

– Azra Khamissa
Azra Khamissa surrounded by her henna art 

To celebrate Ramadan this year, Azra collaborated with local illustrators and graphic designers in the region to create henna stickers. “I am very excited to see how the project unfolds; I never thought that henna could be translated into so many mediums. In the future, I would love to create a henna design for an international magazine such as Vogue, with a regional female icon whose values align with my own.”

So, which fashion and beauty brands does Azra rely on to complement her fluid henna designs that decorate her own hands and fingertips? “I love how Acne Studios and Issey Miyake experiment with texture and shape, and Aesop for their branding and how subtly fragrant each product is.” And accessories? “When it comes to handbags, I design my own, which are minimal to suit my daily lifestyle. I love a bit of streetwear, supporting local brands and clothing that is loose and cool since we live in the desert.”


Fashion Designer & Content Creator, based in Dubai

Leena previously worked as a graphic designer and art director before realising that fashion design and content creation were her callings. They’re a natural fit for someone with a unique approach to personal style – her outfits are a mix of masculine suiting, streetwear and modest layering pieces. “I love shopping for vintage items – since I always layer up, I make use of my old pieces instead of leaving them in my closet. Sustainability is very important to me,” she explains. “Since quarantine, I’ve been wearing a lot of loungewear, but just recently I’ve been experimenting by mixing it with other pieces. I’ll wear sweatpants or a hoody with a leather jacket, for example. I can’t live without loungewear now; I wear it all the time.”


My plan for the future is to keep creating content and staying authentic. I also want to grow my business, and experiment with new ideas – most importantly in a sustainable way.

– Leena Al Ghouti
At home with Leena Al Ghouti

Having mastered the art of juggling multiple projects, what advice would Leena give to creatives currently working from home? “Try and experiment with new work methods – you might find another, more productive way that suits your style best! Also, since you’re not in the office anymore, play some music,” she suggests. “I’m loud and social – an alien most of the time! Which results in a space that feels like me – bright, loud and a bit messy.”


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