Deena Al Juhani Abdulaziz has lived various lives. Born in California, she was the daughter of a prominent economist and traveled between the US and Saudi. She was the owner of a fashion boutique, and married a prince, and is perhaps most well- known in media circles as the original editor of Vogue Arabia. While that endeavor was short-lived, it has brought her international recognition and a more global platform. Her instagram account, @deenathe1st, chronicles her deeply chic day-to-day, and at fashion weeks around the world, street style photographers still flock to get a shot of the Princess Editor. Spending more time in New York to be closer to her three college- busy kids, Deena is taking stock. The world is changing apace, and she is stood, excited, on the threshold of whatever’s next.
Q: Deena, tell me everything.
A: Everything? Well, I guess I’ve been experiencing a rebirth of sorts, that’s what I’m going through these days, which is actually fabulous. I find myself at 44 being an empty nester, so all three children are no longer children, all three are in college and I’m spending more time in New York, more than anywhere else, so it’s almost full circle, because I used to live in New York 20 years ago. I had my daughter in New York.
Q: What are you rebirthing into?
A: In life we try to plan for things, but we can’t always predict what will happen. I feel like New York is the right place to be, and creatively an opening or a next chapter. I don’t know what that is right now, I just know it is that. And it’s a very good place to find oneself. What I love about New York is that it changes, it shifts. Right now the energy in the city is wonderful.
Q: Will that opening or next chapter include fashion?
A: Well, the fashion landscape has changed a great deal, and that’s true across the board, not just in New York but everywhere. I’ve had two sets of bad news recently: that Barney’s and Zac Posen have closed. It’s devastating. Because the structure has completely collapsed – the idea of people reading about something they saw in the shows six months ago and aspiring or desiring to wear it now is no longer feasible.
Q: But even so, do you see the new fashion landscape as something you’d like to be involved in?
A: What I do miss, and what I will forever love, and forever be excited by, is the creative process. For me that’s always been the case. I’m a lot more interested in the making of the collection, the makeup, and the hair, and the models, and the process of selecting, editing, styling etc than any show. For me, I’ve always loved what the process involves, and I truly believe that imagery, when done right, can stay with you, can be timeless, with no particular context. Whether it’s in a glossy magazine or on a billboard or on Instagram. If the image moves you, it moves you.
Q: How do you feel about fashion with regards to Saudi and the increased visibility we’re seeing?
A: Well, wait a minute, let me put it into perspective: Saudi women are some of the chicest women in the world. They’ve been fashion consumers for the longest time. They’ve been wearing couture since the 1960s – this is what people fail to understand – these are women who are very well-versed, very well informed, and very well-connected. They’re different from other women, because they’ve always felt like they didn’t need to be visible, but they’ve been chic all along, and they’ve been creative all along.
Q: So I guess the world is discovering that?
A: As you know, societies take time to change – it doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve spent my entire life between the West and the East so I’ve seen the parallels and I’ve seen the differences and you’d be surprised at how much more we have in common than what we don’t. I don’t think we’re any better or any worse than any other nation in the world, but the media goes after us. This is something that I’ve witnessed all my life. Women in America were only able to vote in 1920, and the country’s been around since 1776. We’ve only been around since 1932, but we get no slack at all.
Q: Do you think it’s that invisibility that fuels the media?
A: Yes, that’s a part of it, and look, we have faults just like anyone else, but one of the most remarkable laws that passed in Saudi – even more important than driving, and there was a lot of media attention on the driving because it’s symbolic – but last summer they issued a decree saying women no longer need the permission of a guardian to travel or to conduct business. That is a game changer. But the Western press apparently didn’t think it was provocative enough to sell issues.
Q: I guess part of the success of fashion capitals like Paris and New York, though, is their visibility. How can people look to a country for fashion direction or inspiration if they don’t even know about it?
A: That’s true, although designers knew – designers definitely knew – and fashion houses knew. I remember when John Dempsey, the head of Esteé Lauder was talking to me about the “Ramadan rush” in London at the Mac counter; he was well aware of the power of the Arab spend in fashion, but because we’re discreet, designers just look at it as a great way to make money without having to talk about it.
Q: Do you think this recent progress will change things?
A: Listen, comparatively, the progress in Saudi is happening at the speed of light! It’s unbelievable. I never thought that in my lifetime I would see such amazing things happening so quickly. It really is incredible – I’m so excited – I cannot wait to see how this manifests. You do realize that the youth of Saudi Arabia is pretty much the majority of the population? It is incredible that they are finding and using the tools to be able to do what they need to do creatively and otherwise. We’re lucky to have a visionary generation of people that see progress as something that is necessary and inevitable. We have a very brave and young and dynamic and ambitious leadership, but it takes guts to do that, it takes bravery, and it’s amazing.
Q: WHERE IS YOUR HAPPY PLACE ?
A: With the ones I love. Home isn’t always a place, sometimes it’s people or a person.
Q: DO YOU HAVE ONE UNUSUAL HABIT ?
A: My strange knowledge of pop culture is unusual. Does that count? I always have a reference.
Q: DO YOU HAVE ANY SUPERSTITIONS?
A: No, I’m a very practical person.
Q: THREE FAVORITE FASHION BRANDS ?
A: Dries Van Noten. What he did last season with Christian Lacroix killed fashion month for me. My friend Mary Katrantzou, who I truly believe in, who I adore, and with whom I have the pleasure of being part of that process. And I really admire Haider Ackermann. But, my all-time favorite will always be Azzedine Alaïa. I flew him to Riyadh 20 years ago to design my wedding dress.
Q: THE LAST FILM YOU LOVED ?
A: Parasite. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Q: THE LAST TIME YOU LAUGHED UNCONTROLLABLY ?
A: Last night at a LACMA gala afterparty
Q: ONE THING THAT YOU MISS MOST IN THE WORLD ?
A: My children.
Q: ONE THING IN THE WORLD THAT YOU WANT TO SEE THE MOST ?
A: I would love to go to Antarctica. I haven’t been and I know it’s very cold, but just to be at the end of the world like that.
Q: WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE ?
A: It would be unpredictable – it could be a Happy Meal from McDonald’s or a tuna sandwich or a hotdog. It’s so weird but I enjoy really simple things as well as very sophisticated things.
Q: FAVORITE FLAVOR OF SORBET?
A: Passion fruit.
END OF STORY