Irena Medavoy's Whirlwind Qatar Diary: "Chicest Event I've Ever Attended in the Middle East"
The Hollywood insider (and wife of producer Mike) reports on the inaugural Fashion Trust Arabia Awards, a museum opening and an opulent palace party: "Hotel du Cap on steroids."
The rule for the evening: No phones allowed inside the Al Wajba Palace at the start of a three-day, headscarf-optional itinerary celebrating the new Jean Nouvel-designed National Museum of Qatar and the inaugural Fashion Trust Arabia (FTA) awards (the FTA was my glamorous host for the proceedings). For social media addicts, seeing paradise — beginning with the drive past beautiful gardens — and not getting to post about it was torture. Was anyone really there? Did it really happen?
While I tripped on a stair early during my stay and sprained my ankle — leaving me tied to my hotel room and devouring details of the events from friends and live coverage — the organizers suffered no such mishaps. At this small VIP welcome party March 26, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser welcomed guests including Diane von Furstenberg and U.S. Ambassador to France Jamie McCourt (attendees from L.A. were flown in on Qatar Airways' suite-style business class, QSuite), who enjoyed caviar and coconut mocktails (alcohol is banned almost everywhere in the country). Consensus: They were delicious.
One of my well-traveled friends, who's in a position to compare the palaces of the Middle East, said that the residence was the most beautiful she had ever visited. Think Versailles. Hotel du Cap on steroids. Elegance. Opulence. And birds — all kinds of exotic birds.
The next night marked the opening of the museum, itself a piece of art designed to look like a desert rose — the name for flower-like crystal clusters that form in the desert — where the likes of LACMA director Michael Govan and artists Jeff Koons and Ai Weiwei mingled with Johnny Depp and Victoria Beckham. "Lightning only strikes once and it struck here, creating a museum that won't ever be replicated in its beauty," Omar Sharif Jr. (actor, artist, gay rights activist and grandson of Omar Sharif) told me.
We stayed at the W Doha Hotel and Residences, and during off-hours our group explored Qatar: My son went kayaking with Omar and Koons' son. Fashion designer Monique Lhuillier and her family went on a safari. Elizabeth Chambers, CEO of Bird Bakery (and wife of Armie Hammer), saw Richard Serra's kilometer-long public art in the desert.
The place to hang out during the trip was Nobu at the Four Seasons, which is right on the beach. To prep for evening festivities, there was a glam squad available at the newly opened Galleries Lafayette ("There was a Picasso in the dressing room," said floral designer Eric Buterbaugh), while dermatologist Barbara Sturm had a pop-up spa for her in-demand facials.
What was significant about the final night of our visit, the nonprofit FTA awards, was that three women were behind it: Sheikha Moza, Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani (the emir's sister) and Tania Fares, co-founder of the British Fashion Council's Fashion Trust. Tania, who is married to the Lebanese financier Fares Fares, first took me to meet these two Qatari powerhouses in the South of France last July, when I first learned about FTA.
The awards were held at the Doha Fire Station, a former civil defense building turned art center. Tania and the sheikhas pulled together the glitterati from every corner of the world to shine a light on a new guard of Middle East designers. The winners — a cadre who hail from Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon (and will now be mentored by and stocked at MatchesFashion.com) — were feted by Beckham, Depp, Robin Wright, Ron Burkle, Hailee Steinfeld, Darren Criss, Luke Evans, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and wife Carla Bruni, and models Natalia Vodianova and Alessandra Ambrosio. Jacob Andreou, vp of product at Snapchat, even created a customized FTA Snapchat filter for the evening, which was hosted by his girlfriend, entertainment reporter Carly Steel.
"In a region that far too often has its ugly side portrayed in the media, the whole weekend brought art and beauty center stage," Omar said. The festivities made a powerful statement for the country of inclusivity and building bridges of understanding, and seeing these strong, dynamic women make a difference for a new generation through art and culture felt like a game-changer for the 21st century. And on top of that, said Maye Musk (mom of Elon and, at 70, one of the world's most sought-after models), "It was the chicest event I have ever attended in the Middle East."
A version of this story first appeared in the April 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.