In recent years, the Middle East’s fashionable jetsetters have turned their lifestyles into careers by parlaying thousands of social media impressions into brand collaborations and partnerships. In turn, photoshoots, press junkets, campaigns, and product testing have transformed the region’s most stylish women into sought-after influencers. With such fertile soil, untapped potential, and luxury buying power, the Middle East’s bloggers have emerged as the new generation of creative voices, each placing their own individual stamp on the lifestyle scene.
Enter Dana Hourani, a naturally gorgeous Lebanese songstress whose “on-screen” life appears saturated with glamour. Amid the rapidly growing influencer roster, Hourani stands out from the rest, particularly with her artistic spin on personal style and her true musical talent. Browse her Instagram account or her newly launched website D-Tales, and you’ll see a life filled with travel, music, a gorgeous wardrobe, and a beautiful family. However, in Savoir Flair’s exclusive interview with Hourani, you’ll get to know the real Dana, the one who confesses to being surprised at her own success, and who might even have gone back and done things differently if given the chance. Hourani’s honest and compelling insight demonstrates one woman’s determination to tangibly ignite the passions of others by inspiring them with her art and her unique perspective on life.
You recently celebrated your 30th birthday! Happy belated birthday! What did you learn from your 20s?
I don’t have any regrets, but I feel like there is a big part of my 20s where I tried to grow up too fast. Now, I’ve learned that I should have slowed down a little bit. You know, when you’re older you want to be younger and when you’re younger you want to be older. Basically, I met my husband at 22 and then spent the next five years dating before getting married, so those five years were dedicated to him. If there was any piece of advice I would give to my younger self, it would be to do the things I have always wanted to do in my 20s. I can’t really do things like go abroad for a year now because I have a daughter, but I could have then and I wish I had. I’ve only ever lived in Beirut and Dubai. I would have loved to live in London or Paris for a year. I would have loved to go through that phase of self-discovery.
What expectations do you have for your 30s?
I am planning on having more children, but along the way I really want to focus on myself and the passions that I have. I am getting back in the studio. I used to sing and write songs, and then I went through six or seven years of not doing that because of writer’s block. It happened when I moved to Dubai, because when I moved here I did not see any inspiration around me. I didn’t feel motivated to write anything. It is such a corporate environment here. But, that changed when I had my daughter Zoe. I wrote a song for her, which started the ball rolling on me getting back into music. I am currently in the studio, writing an album, but I’m taking it one song at a time. I am hoping to get that done by next year. In my 30s, I am also going to continue to work on self-expression through fashion as well.
Your personal style and your musical talent speak to your creative personality. And your sister, Donna Hourani, is a talented jewelry maker. Were you raised in a household that valued arts and creativity?
Yes, and it all started with my mom. I am not being biased when I say that my mom is one of the most talented painters of her generation. She is so talented, she paints so beautifully, and she also has a beautiful singing voice. Growing up, she would drive me to school in the car and she would put on Fairuz, Umm Kulthum, and Abdel Halim Hafez, which got me into music. My sister paints and draws beautifully as well, which she got from my mom. My brother is also a guitarist and a drummer, and my dad, even though he was a businessman, appreciated art in every way. He had to be a businessman in order to raise and support his family, but he was always passionate about the arts.
When you were growing up did they encourage you to seek out a creative field as a career?
We never really spoke about the arts becoming a career, but they were so supportive of my music and my guitar playing. They were the ones pushing me to get in the studio, to write more, to make a demo. Sometimes I would stop, but they would always encourage me to pursue it. My family is extremely supportive. In the Middle East, parents typically don’t encourage their children to go into creative fields. They want you to be a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist. But my parents encouraged us to go into art. My sister was even a tango dancer at one point, and lived in Argentina for six months and learned Argentine tango. When she moved back to Beirut she opened a dance school! My parents wanted us to love what we do.
What do your parents think about your career now as a blogger?
To be honest, making money at this is all very new to me. When I started doing this I never expected to make money from it, or that it would become a career. Of course, my family is so supportive of what I am doing with D-Tales, but it is still a surprise to me that this is happening because it feels almost like I got here by mistake.
I am not going to be a blogger for the rest of my life, but I hope, along the way, that I figure out the next step.
I would say it was less a mistake and more that it happened organically.
Yes, organically! That’s what I mean. Because it came out of social media – Instagram – where I was posting outfits and interiors and started getting a following from that, although I did not plan for that to happen. Brands started contacting me for collaborations, which is when I started getting paid for it, but this was not in my five-year plan. Right now, I don’t consider it my full-time job. Being a mother and a wife is my full-time job, my husband and my daughter are my priority. I don’t have the liberty to be fully invested in this because I am dedicated to being a wife and mother as well. However, I want to continue to do what I am doing because I find it creatively fulfilling. I want to continue to inspire, and to show people the world from my perspective. I am not going to be a blogger for the rest of my life, but I hope, along the way, that I figure out the next step.
Walk me back to a time before social media, before Dana Hourani was a brand. What was your life like then? How much has your life changed since then?
Oh my god, life was so chill back then [laughs]. The amount of freedom and free time I used to have…I really took that for granted. Back then, I was working with Virgin Megastores headquarters in the Middle East at a record label signed under Virgin called Daxar. I was responsible for signing local artists in the region, and producing their albums, artwork, and distributing their music. That was so fun. I did that for three years. I loved being in the music industry only until I realized it was very political and it was more about the business of music than the creative side. So, I quit. A year later I got married, and then I got into blogging gradually.
What was the moment when you decided to pursue it more seriously?
When I got my first paycheck. I thought, ‘Wow, people are paying me money to do this. I need to deliver!’ At the end of the day, everything I’m doing is based on art, but I’m performing in a corporate world.
So, you are completely responsible for running all D-Tale related operations?
I don’t have any help, but I wish I had an assistant, although my husband does help me with the contracts between myself and brands that I am collaborating with. I am barely managing [laughs].
Influencers were the new thing, but what came after influencers was influencer managers. I have gotten approached by many influencer managers who want to set me up with brand collaborations and get a commission for it, but I am not interested in doing that. I know exactly what I want to do, I know exactly what direction I want to head in, and I don’t feel that I need an agent to tell me what kind of projects to take on because I know what kind of projects I want to take on. I also don’t want to take on that many projects. I am not in this for the money. What is more important to me is to maintain my brand identity and to reflect my style and music personality through the projects I do. Even if a project had a big fat paycheck attached to it, I wouldn’t do it unless it aligned with my brand identity.
Even if a project had a big fat paycheck attached to it, I wouldn’t do it unless it aligned with my brand identity.
Let’s talk about your style identity. There is such compelling geometry to how you construct your outfits. You use a lot of asymmetry, negative space, and odd proportions for a personal style that is truly unique. Does this talent for style come naturally to you? How much thought do you put into your outfits?
I don’t spend a lot of time planning my outfits, but I spend a lot of time researching online. I am always researching trends, types of style, and street style around the world. I’m looking for inspiration all the time. Styling myself doesn’t take much time, but researching it does. I don’t think anyone should take long to dress up. It should come naturally because it is part of who you are. I don’t just follow trends.
What other elements go into your identity?
When it comes to style I have two personalities. One is the classic with a twist, with a unique edge. Like I love to wear a classic button-down shirt, but I like to put it on backwards. You see? The other personality is very rock chic. I love leather, for instance. That reflects my passion for music.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I lean mostly toward indie and folk music, but my favorite artist of all time is John Mayer.
You have these wonderful, thoughtfully constructed playlists on D-Tales…but you yourself are a talented singer and guitar player. When can we expect some original musical content from your on your site?
That’s happening soon! I’m in the process of recording in the studio doing instrumentation on my first track that I wrote about my daughter, Zoe. I have finished the lyrics and melody, but now I am doing the arrangements. Everything I am doing is being recorded on video for a “making of” video that will actually be the music video! I am going to release that on YouTube on a new YouTube channel I am creating.
What studio do you use?
Soundstruck Studios, which is close to my house. The guy who owns it is an old friend of mine – we used to be in a music club together, and we have performed together at outdoor university concerts. His name is Charles, and he is one of the most talented guys in the Middle East when it comes to music. He studied audio engineering, and now records for some of the biggest artists here.
Why did you choose to launch D-Tales now? Why was now the right time to do this?
I’ve been working on launching my website for months, but doing the playlists was holding me up. I didn’t want to launch my website without music because it is part of my identity – I didn’t want to be just another blogger posting outfits – but I didn’t know how to include music without providing original content. But, then the idea for playlists came to me, and then I merged it all with style, so it took a few months to get it all finished. I was really just waiting on the extra factor to come to me. I realize that I am relatively late to the whole website thing; I kind of did it backwards, you know? Usually, the website comes first and then the Instagram.
What photographers do you like to work with?
I have one photographer that I absolutely love. She is so talented, and she is not just a photographer but also a creative director and a web developer. Her name is Banan Alawneh. She is so natural with the way she takes her photos. She captures everyone’s personality so well.
Do you ever work with stylists?
I always style myself. What’s the point, otherwise? I’m trying to inspire people, so it has to come from me, not someone else.
Who was the first brand to approach you for a collaboration or partnership?
Bloomingdale’s was the first brand to approach me for a collaboration, back in 2015. However, my first paycheck came from Persil! They approached me because of my music, and wanted me to help with an ad they were doing for an abaya detergent. They wanted to do a campaign around National Day, so they wanted me to sing the Emirati National Anthem in a modern way. So, I went into the studio and worked with Charles on it, and we made it into a cool acoustic track.
Bloomingdale’s in 2015! So, this is all fairly new for you!
It is fairly new for all of us, I think. There has been increased interest in Middle Eastern influencers in the past few years, I guess because of the buying power here.
As the mother to a daughter, what are your hopes and dreams for Zoe’s future? What life lessons do you hope to impart to her?
I always think about that, and I never have the right answer, but all I do know is that I want her to be raised with the same kind of support and love I was raised with. I want Zoe to follow her dreams, whatever they are. I want her to do what she wants, rather than what society says she should do.
Your Instagram and website reflect a well-traveled life. What makes you choose the locations you travel to?
My husband and I have a lot of cities on our bucket list, so we’re trying to scratch them off the list one at a time. Granted, I am having to go out and take pictures for my social media because that is part of my life now. But I make sure that our days are filled with things just for us, but I may have to sneak off occasionally to get a good shot, if I think it will make good content.
Who is taking the pictures that you appear in on vacation?
My husband! Well, I take the scenic photos, flat lays, and interiors, but he takes the photos of me. Everything else I do practically without him noticing. [Laughs] Our trips don’t revolve around me taking photos, though.
What does your husband think about your Instagram following?
He is so proud of me and so supportive, but he’s also not involved in it, which I love. He grounds me because he’s not in this fashion-y world, you know? He can give me an outsider’s perspective on what kind of content would be good, but he never tells me what I can’t do. People talk – especially in our part of the world – and they’ll find ways to be cynical, especially if I post photos of my daughter on Instagram. He is my conscience, telling me, ‘this is how this photo could be perceived’, which is helpful to hear.
What are your bucket list travel destinations for 2017?
Tokyo! But that all depends on if my mother can also come into town with us to watch Zoe, because I hear that Tokyo is very difficult to navigate with a baby.
From your perspective, how has the fashion world in the Middle East changed over the years?
I feel like everything changed when Instagram came about, because it provided a window into the world of the Middle Eastern girl, and people could see for the first time that we’re not all wearing hijab. You’d see girls who really understand fashion, and who had amazing personal style. It changed the perspective of women in the Middle East. There’s hype around us now! And it keeps getting bigger and bigger. I believe that everybody has their own identity and their own right to make their voice heard. Everyone is unique in their own way. I don’t think we are in competition with each other. If it’s a passion and you love doing it, and you’re not doing it just to have a big following on social media, you will stand out. I’m doing this because I want to inspire others.