So Chic, Very Chic: Dubai Drama-rama

So Chic, Very Chic: Dubai Drama-rama

This is So Chic, Very Chic, PAPER’s examination of Bravo’s sprawling cohort of fashion obsessives. From haute couture to TJ Maxx, they’ve literally worn it all. Sometimes they stunt, sometimes they turn the look, and sometimes they burn holes in retinas my ophthalmologist says might never heal.

The Real Housewives of Dubai is back on television. I wish I wasn’t so conflicted about it.

Bravo’s latest franchise has been beset by controversy from the very beginning. Emirates natives and expats criticized the network from both sides of the debate, for flaunting the “morals” of its residents, or for sanitizing the image of a city perpetually mired in claims of human rights abuses. That said, the city is built to be a playground for the rich, who fly in from everywhere to float above the myriad claims of horrific living conditions for the working class, or worse, claims of “modern day slavery” levied by human rights watch groups critical of the UAE’s “kafala” system, which ties migrant laborers into exploitative contracts with employers.

Such things are kept far out of sight of Real Housewives cast members languishing poolside after dropping thousands at Chanel, and so the franchise takes on this almost Truman Show quality, where the audience is aware of what’s happening just behind a closed door, however naive or willfully ignorant the women are. The dissonance makes for tough viewing, made tougher by the strictures put in place by the local government that tamps down on drinking, excess cursing and catfights: staples of the franchise, perhaps even the backbone of it.

So instead, we’re treated to meandering diatribes over recently built homes, new skincare businesses and who had the better VIP tickets to see Beyoncé perform at a new casino. Chanel Ayan keeps the whole thing chugging along with her patently absurd outfits and camera-ready personality. Still, the show struggles to reach even cruising speeds while it buckles under the weight of all that excess baggage.

That said, there are fashions to discuss. Almost too many fashions, if you ask me. Check it out below.

The Real Housewives of Dubai

Chanel Ayan

Ah, how I’ve missed Chanel’s quest for couture on television. I tried to get a designer ID on this look, but came up short, and that’s fine. While it is ostentatious and dramatic, I’ve grown a bit bored of this ensemble, only because we’ve seen it so many times. Most famously on Parker Posey in Josie and the Pussycats, and even Drag Race and various catwalks paying homage to the original designs that inspired Posey’s wardrobe — namely, avant-garde fashion imagery from the ‘60s. (Although Valentino did have similar headpieces in Pierpaolo Piccioli’s 2018 couture collection.) Obviously, we’re not afraid to reference and be referenced here at PAPER, but by the time it’s reached the Real Housewives, the look has lost its luster. And that says more about the design itself than Ayan’s unmatched taste level.

Here’s what I love about this scene: the numerous photos of Ayan staged around the background. I’m also compelled by the way it is draped across the rug like a queen arranging her gown around her throne room’s dais. I’m similarly fascinated by her complete re-invention of what it means to wear clothes on the Real Housewives at all. But in the constraints of this show, garments like this Michael Cinco dress look cheap, even if they are not. It is not only the curse of television, but the curse of Bravo. A curse that had many fashion aficionados question whether or not Dorit Kemsley’s vintage Vivienne Westwood corsets were real at all, just from how poorly they read on camera.

Outside of the confessional booth is where Ayan really shines, when we can see these outfits interact with the real world. This custom Ali Karoui dress is fabulous and fun and ultimately quite silly. That she wore it with the classic Versace “Medusa” pumps to a beach party is even sillier, and also editorial, like a slightly gussied up version of those off-kilter Juergen Teller photos he takes of celebrities around the Hollywood Walk of Fame every year. This is the Ayan I’d like to see! Get my queen out of the confessional booth and into the shade!

Lesa Milan

Everywhere I look, I see Madonna! This Weiz Dhurm Franklyn look gagged me a bit,when I first laid eyes on it. Not because it’s necessarily groundbreaking, or very interesting, but because I did not believe my eyes that a Housewife would deign to have conical boobs on camera. Ayan’s couture rampage must have spurned her to level up between seasons, and good on Ayan! Milan’s glam is beautiful, and the dress fits her exquisitely. I don’t like these wide shots very much, though, because seeing them in off-kilter greenscreen rooms unnerves me. I also don’t think I’m ready to see the Housewives’ feet this often, expensive shoes notwithstanding.

Later, at that aforementioned beach party, she threw on a Versace corset top and leggings with a scarf around her hair — a classic Real Housewives uniform, except I wish she’d tied the scarf around her neck like a kerchief, instead of putting it in her hair. I understand it was probably a practical move on her part and respect that, but it throws things out of whack for me, and its odd placement was all I could stare at when the drama finally started.

Caroline Stanbury

Something wicked this way comes! Something extremely wicked, and in head-to-toe Dolce & Gabbana to boot. I don’t have much nice to say about this Ladies of London castaway, and while that’s never stopped me before, I’m trying to be a more positive person these days. So let me start with a compliment: I appreciate that the look was so eye-catching. I didn’t immediately google if it was fake or not. Let me start with another compliment. I appreciate that her hairstylist put in such an effort that I was stopped from googling if this look was fake or not, because I was temporarily waylaid by the hairpiece piled up on top of her head. Ok, I actually have one more compliment: I love that of all the women in all the world, Stanbury is an army of one, fighting to defend bygone makeup trends, like the all-around smokey eye. Wow! This feels positively electric, to spread such positivity. I should do this more often.

Sara Al Madani

Sara here has quite a few interests: reiki, therapy, speaking engagements, talking to people on podcasts, telling her friends to find their inner peace. Of course, chief among them is her new obsession with frilly, off-the-shoulder gowns. She wore multiple in this episode alone, each being essentially the same garment in different fonts. I’d say my favorite is the black with ostrich feathers, but it reads so poorly on camera, seeing how the entire thing is crushed by the color grading. The lavender Aavva dress isn’t worse by comparison, it’s just that we’ve seen it before, like Ayan’s petal dress before it. There’s a specter haunting Dubai ateliers, and his name is Pierpaolo Piccioli!

The Real Housewives of New Jersey

Rachel Fuda

With the premiere of Dubai center stage this week, I’ve temporarily shelved New Jersey. That said, I’d like to formally declare that I would ride into the Pit of Doom for Rachel Fuda, who simply delights me. In contrast to the outfits seen in Dubai, this could have cost her about ten dollars. Despite this, though, I only had eyes for her when looking back at my notes. There’s just something about the way she carries herself, her profile, her commitment to the Nordstrom prom section. Brava!

This is So Chic, Very Chic, PAPER’s examination of Bravo’s sprawling cohort of fashion obsessives. From haute couture to TJ Maxx, they’ve literally worn it all. Sometimes they stunt, sometimes they turn the look, and sometimes they burn holes in retinas my ophthalmologist says might never heal. The Real Housewives of Dubai is back on…

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