I first met Fatima Ghobash over five years ago during a private event held at her home in the presence of uber-blogger-turned-fashion-mogul Chiara Ferragani of The Blonde Salad. Amidst the quirky atmosphere that you would expect from any event by S*uce, the infamously idiosyncratic company that Ghobash founded more than ten years ago with Zayan Ghandour, she has a distinctly composed presence, much like, I notice, her home – the towering raw-travertine walls of which are lined with a museum-worthy art collection.
Two years later, I’m sitting across from Fatima, who is clad in a beautiful design by her business partner Zayan’s label, once again in her living room. This time, we’re discussing her journey as an entrepreneur. Adel El-Siwi’s ‘Triptych’ painting looks over us and a long black table peppered with oversized blackcurrant-scented Diptyque candles, lush potted plants, and a bronze statue by Egyptian sculptor Adam Henein separates us. Sunlight pours in through the sliding glass doors, through which 20-foot palm trees lining a Thai-inspired infinity pool and the Burj Al Arab’s crown can be spotted.
In the entrance to Fatima’s home sits Lebanese painter Chaouki Chamoun’s ode to the Abu Dhabi skyline – the very city where she was born and raised. As Fatima explains, it is through an encounter with her artwork that one already comes to know her. “My husband and I have always been absolutely mesmerized by Middle Eastern artists. I feel that their artworks reflect who I am and who my husband is. I would say each piece talks to us. There is always a story behind it,” she shares.
When you sit down with Fatima, you’ll notice that she takes time to answer questions thoughtfully. In fact, she’s pre-printed the interview questions I’ve sent over and has two copies, including one for myself, at the ready. When I ask her about it, she laughs almost bashfully. “It is so funny, but one thing about me is that I am very punctual and very organized. It’s painful. But I just can’t deal with it. I can’t deal with people who are late and I can’t deal with people who don’t respond to things or who are not organized. I believe organization is the key to so many things.”
Coming from a woman who has helped transform the regional fashion industry via the S*uce brand, which currently has ten outlets in Dubai and counting, it seems the quality of organization has paid off. But perhaps more pressing is Ghobash’s passion for what she refers to as “the experience” – the critical importance that a retail store be more than just about clothes, but that it capture all aspects of “whatever it is that makes your heart beat a little faster”.
[My home] was designed for comfort, for leisure, for pleasure, and for happiness.
“One of the major contributors to the success of S*uce is the fact that it wasn’t built to make profit; it was totally about the experience, from the shopping to the shopping bag. You know we change our shopping bags multiple times per season. The tissue paper, the smell, the music, the hangers, the designers – those all have to excite.” Her eyes light up as she explains, “I really believe that you have to have passion for what you do in order to actually deliver it, because, whatever you deliver, it needs to have love. If there’s no love, there’s no beauty”.
At the young age of 13, Fatima’s passionately detail-oriented eye for fashion was sparked; “I grew up always looking at all of my mom’s friends – all of the women of Abu Dhabi society. The first thing I would look at is what they wore, their fragrance, their hair. I was mesmerized by it.” In her late teens, she began looking towards travel and television for inspiration. “Growing up in Abu Dhabi, none of the high-street stores existed, so I had to wait until I traveled to visit Topshop or Miss Selfridges. I was always curious to see what pop stars were wearing. What Madonna wore to her concert. Paula Abdul. The supermodels of the 90s.”
When I ask her to share her thoughts on the evolution of the international retail industry, she replies, “Whether its fashion, beauty, perfume, or even food, it’s all about the packaging. Twenty years ago, you would go buy a pack of crisps, but today it’s all about how it’s presented. You’ve got designers collaborating with lifestyle brands.”
Within her personal universe, Fatima practices what she preaches, and her attention to detail and passion carries over from her professional pursuits to her home. “My office, which is a rather grand title for my desk, nobody dares to touch. A friend of mine jokes that I’m like Diana Vreeland who apparently had a drawing of exactly where everything had to be on her desk should anyone ever knock any item out of place.”
Despite being extremely low-profile herself, Ghobash has designed her space with others in mind. “I am a very family-oriented person. I dream and breathe my family. When I decided to build my home, I wanted it to be a comfort zone where, if I were entertaining family, it would be fabulous. If I were entertaining friends, it would be fabulous. If the kids had their friends over, it would be fabulous. If I was alone having a cup of coffee in the garden, it would be fabulous. It was designed for comfort, for leisure, for pleasure, and for happiness.”
Surprisingly, it’s not the beautifully gnarled 100-year-old Egyptian olive tree in the neatly manicured courtyard or the dining room blooming with Baccarat chandeliers that Fatima loves most about her home; it’s her kitchen. Why? “It’s a space with no formal fuss or expectation,” she says, before kindly offering me a cappuccino refill in one of her delicate porcelain Hermès coffee cups.