A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘fashion’ Category

Syria’s fashion police

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 24, 2009

I know: today was meant to be installment number two in Diamond’s Origins of Jihad series. But I can never resist a fashion update. This article, which focuses on Syrian traffic police and their new uniforms, comes from the UK’s Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

Changing uniforms isn’t on the same level as changing policy. But clothing is more important than many people imagine – and breaking the connection between ‘police’ and ‘military’ that seems to plague so many Middle Eastern countries is an important step.

(And who doesn’t love seeing men in crisp white shirts?)

In an attempt to make some of Syria’s police look less like soldiers, the government has decided to change traffic policemen’s uniforms from military olive green to more civilian white and grey shades.

However, many critics of the authorities have dismissed the move as cosmetic, with some asserting that it comes amid growing state repression.

[I do think that the state is and has been cracking down – but that doesn’t mean that the decision to change these uniforms was meant to either make up for that or distract people from increasingly repressive measures in other spheres.]

The decision on the change of uniforms was implemented in Damascus in September, with the rest of the country due to follow later. It included also the uniforms of customs officers at Damascus international airport and on the borders with Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

[Oh, the border officials. I’m not sure that uniforms are enough here, but surely anything that might improve their attitudes is worth a go.]

The new outfits are composed of grey pants, a white shirt with yellow shoulder patches and black belt and shoes.

[Vogue agrees: yellow is in this season! Good choice, Syria.]

It is the latest in a series of moves in recent years to shake off the image of Syria’s socialist, militarised society.

Four years ago, the authorities substituted military green school uniforms with other colours like grey, dark blue and off-white depending on the pupils’ grades.

Mandatory military service was reduced to one and a half years from two years in another move in the same direction.

[I would say that these are two very important changes. Children and adults both take cues from their uniforms, and primary school should not feel like basic training. And reducing the mandatory military service might be a way to start gently downsizing the overweight Syrian military. Might be, says the optimist, but even so.]

The government appears to be conveying an image that it is moving away from the militarisation of society, said a lawyer living in Damascus who also requested anonymity.

In schools, officials have toned down the practice of conditioning pupils not to be concerned with personal issues but to focus on broader regional topics like the liberation of Palestine and the struggle for Arab unity, which were slogans that students had to repeat every day, he said.

In a way, students are now treated less like soldiers and more like just students, he added.

An Arabic language schoolteacher from Damascus who also asked to remain anonymous said that since the new school uniforms took effect, students’ behaviour had improved, especially that of high school students. They had become “more polite”, he said.

[Hugely important – not the politeness, but the evolving attitudes toward students and what they should be learning.]

Similarly, the move to modify the uniforms of policemen and customs officers comes as part of a government plan to change the way people view civil servants.

Mona al-Ahmad, a journalist who works for a Syrian website and usually reports on social issues, said the decision was made by the new interior minister, Said Samour, in an effort to separate officials in charge of maintaining security from those tasked with serving the Syrian people.

The authorities have retrained officials in charge of traffic by instructing them on how to address citizens and deal with them in an appropriate way, she said.

[The idea of service – as in, civil service, civil servant, serving the nation, serving at the pleasure of the people, etc., etc. – would be GREAT. And once Syria gets it down, could they please send a delegation to Lebanon?]

Several websites hailed the decision. The pro-government website Damas Post said the new uniform “resembles that of French traffic police”.

[Oh for heaven’s sake.]

But many critics remain sceptical that changing the appearance of some police officers would solve core problems.

Some anonymous web commentators said that it was more important to stop traffic policemen from seeking and taking bribes.

Others said that the focus should not be on fashion but on the creation of a state where officials respect institutions and laws.

[Yes, but I would suggest that the two go hand in hand. Fashion that emphasizes service rather than state power might be a real help in this process.]

It is a far-fetched dream to expect Syria to become a really civilian-oriented country, said a Damascus-based civil rights activist, who preferred not to be named.

He argued that the tight security grip on political dissent along with the intimidation and imprisonment of intellectuals and journalists was increasing.

[Ouch. Clearly, the state is treating dissidents more harshly. But describing Syria’s capacity for change as a “far-fetched dream” sounds like this man has written off his fellow citizens entirely.]


Posted in Arab world, clothing, fashion, Syria | Leave a Comment »

eau d’abaya

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 16, 2009

Americans whose knowledge of the Arab world – and particularly the Gulf – comes solely from television and other media miss out on one crucial aspect of life in the region: the delightful way that women smell. This is a perfume-friendly region, and while walking past a man has often left me choking in a plume cloud of the local version of Drakkar Noir, walking past a woman has more often left me just plain envious.

The perfumes I smell aren’t ones I associate with Americans – and certainly far from the ones I wear (Opium, Narcisse, Liberté). They’re full of baby powder and light florals, which should smell nauseatingly sweet but instead smells delightful. And they instantly make me feel that my perfumes smell heavy and overdone.

So when I found myself at the Four Seasons spa in Doha, cleaning up after spending an afternoon on its beach, I clustered around the grooming table with several abaya’ed women. We dried our hair, fussed with face creams, and … tried on the spa’s suggested perfume.

It wasn’t anything like my usual perfumes. It was full of baby powder and light florals, and it had a name that suggested both a spa experience and an ESL moment: Pure Treat Blossom. I loved it.

I smell like an abaya! I told my aunt happily when I returned home. She smiled – she knew exactly what I meant. And I was even happier later that evening, when a short Amazon search told me that I could smell like an abaya for some time to come, for only $12.99 plus shipping:


Pure treat, indeed :).

Posted in fashion, Qatar, women | 3 Comments »

the Lebanese takeover begins with skincare

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 5, 2009

Last night I was talking with H about a number of things, all somewhat Lebanese’y, when the conversation took an unusually cosmetic turn.

I forgot to mention to you before, H said, but last night I saw this infomercial for a new Cindy Crawford lotion, and her secret Hollywood facialist was a “French” guy called Jean Louis Sebagh. One more piece of the puzzle is now in place for the eventual Lebanese domination of the world.

Let’s leave aside the larger puzzle of just why H was watching an American infomercial rather than the Arabic news broadcasts he usually favors, and ignore entirely the fact that this was an infomercial addressed to middle-aged women looking for ‘hope in a jar’. My initial reaction was to laugh: after all, who tries to take over the world through skincare?

But when I turned back to the magazine I had been reading, I saw this advertisement:


There was another Lebanese man, Dr. F. Frederic Khoury, advising me that “Your cosmetic surgery is only as good as your cosmetic plastic surgeon.”

I’m not in the market for any of his services, thankfully (“ear plasty?”). But I am starting to wonder now whether H’s comment was less of a jest, and more of a warning :).

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, fashion, Lebanon, Paris | 3 Comments »

Islamic silver, Christian gold?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 16, 2009

I ran across this advertisement in a regional publication this morning (yes: the tasks of my current job can indeed be somewhat eclectic) and am stumped:


What makes silver Islamic? Is there anything wrong with un-Islamic silver?

What am I missing here?

Posted in advertising, Arabic, fashion, Islam | 4 Comments »

Syrian delight: discount shopping in the boroughs

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 16, 2008

This morning at the gym I decided to recover from the latest Business Week (basic message: yes, the economy is bad; and yes, it will get worse :S) by ending my workout with something lighter: a fashion magazine.

Appropriately enough, the magazine had a small feature on bargain/resale shops in Brooklyn, including one in Gravesend. I’ve never been to Gravesend – actually, I’m not sure I could find it on a map –  but apparently it is a “wealthy Syrian-expat enclave”. And that means bargains that are both high-end and well-tended:


“What you won’t find at this high-end consignment store is a single frayed hem, stained sleeve, or scuffed heel” – I’m not surprised. Even if this were a middle-end store, or even a low-end, I doubt you’d see frays, stains, or scuffs – not to mention scratches, fades, or even wrinkles. Lebanese may have the region’s reputation for stylishness, but Syrians, rich or poor, are the most impeccably groomed people I have ever encountered.

Bring on the January sales – I’m looking forward to my first trip to Gravesend 🙂 .

Posted in Brooklyn, clothing, Damascus, fashion, Syria, vanity, women | 3 Comments »

Hookah for Men

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 8, 2008

This advertisement came in one of the Arabic-English language publications we subscribe to here:


I totally agree about style vs. fashion – but how does this relate to nargilehs?

The gender gap yawns wide 🙂

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arabic, fashion, words | Leave a Comment »

more on platinum dialing: paying for a 70?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 28, 2008

Those of you who were intrigued by my post about Lebanon’s introduction of “platinum numbers” might be interested to know what digits are available at next Friday’s auction. Here’s a list, courtesy of last Tuesday’s Daily Star:

More information about the auction can also be found on the website of MTC Touch, one of Lebanon’s two mobile phone carriers. MTC Touch seems to be sponsoring this auction, meaning that the numbers will all be required to subscribe with MTC. (The charges and services for MTC and Alfa are almost exactly the same, thanks to the government’s stifling of any attempt at market competition, but it is still odd to me that the numbers would not be divided between the two companies.)

In my opinion – and I must admit that I’m not really one for numbers – these numbers are fine, but I wouldn’t pay $200 just for the privilege to bid on them. And what mature government decides that 696969 is an appropriate set of digits for a mobile phone? I hope that number goes to some person with international business or political dealings, whose overseas contacts’ laughter will soon shame him (I’m guessing) into buying a more generic line.

I noticed something else about all of these numbers, which the Lebanese phone users among my readers will also have noticed. They all begin with “70”.

Historically, all Lebanese mobile numbers began with the prefix 03. When the Telecommunications Ministry introduced “70” in 2005 (?), the new prefix was greeted as warmly as the 646 in Manhattan. 212 was for New Yorkers; 646 was for arrivistes.

When I arrived in Beirut in early 2006, I didn’t realize that there were two prefixes, and I bought a card with a 70. What is this number? friends would complain, looking peeved. Do you mean 03 70 xx xx? others would ask. No no – I want your Lebanese mobile, not your foreign one, some people said.

I’m a snob. And a fast learner. So I exchanged my number for a 03 and we were all much happier.

But I’m guessing that after another two years, the 03s are really almost used up. And 70 has won a grudging acceptance from Lebanese dialers – or at least it has become normalized.

But the idea that people might actually consider 70 numbers “pretty” – and be willing to pay a premium for them! – still boggles my mind a bit.

Posted in advertising, Beirut, economics, fashion, Lebanon, license plates | Leave a Comment »

adventures in machine translation

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 21, 2008

As I noted yesterday, I’ve been taking advantage of the mid-August slow-down to address long-neglected housecleaning tasks at my new organization, like the computer defragmenting I mentioned yesterday and backing up our shared files. Neither of which have been done before. Ever.

My colleagues have a fine collection of advanced degrees from well-regarded universities around the US and Europe – which is just another way of saying that we confirm the cliche that some of the brightest people have the least common sense.

Anyway. In between bouts of hausfrau’ing, I have been busily investigating the latest advances in machine translation. When I mentioned this online to our friend B, he responded in kind:

01010111011010000110000101, B wrote.

111001100111? he asked me.

I have absolutely no idea what he was saying – although I’m hoping it was something along the lines of:

Hi Diamond. I’ll be back in New York this weekend – let’s all try to meet up for another spicier-than-anything-nature-intended Punjabi dinner on Curry Row.

In any case, this wasn’t what I meant. Machine translation doesn’t refer to the way in which computers translate ones and zeros into human language – it refers to the way in which computers manually translate one human language to another. You’ve probably had some experience with this, whether through Google’s automatic page translation service or that first-generation standby, Babelfish.

Machine translation is usually a poor substitute for human translation – even when moving between relatively close languages like French and Spanish, or English and German. And when it comes to translating between Arabic and English, most manual translators give the would-be reader only a glancing sense of what the original text might say. Individual words translate well, but coherent phrases are relatively rare. (Try translating Al Jazeera’s homepage via Google and you will see what I mean.)

But, as can often be the case with mis-translations, some of the translations that the system I was testing out offered (English to Arabic and vice versa) made me think – like “plastic surgery”.

(This wasn’t a Freudian choice of phrase, honestly. We had been talking about plastic surgery the other day, and I was testing out technical terms – compound nouns or noun-adjective phrases that as a whole meant something different than the sum of their parts.)

The phrase in Arabic that I use for “plastic surgery” is:

عملية التجميل

I’ve never really thought about its literal meaning – so when the machine translator came up with

الجراحة البلاستيكية

my initial reaction was to laugh. After all, a jur7 is a wound, and “plastique”, as in English, refers to explosives. So I thought that the site had erred, coming up with “explosive wounding” – which sounded like a pretty fine critique of plastic surgery to me. (And when I pulled out my dictionary, I learned that “jira7a” means surgery. Also an appropriate term, since surgery does involve making deliberate wounds in the human body.)

But when I thought further, I realized that the “normal” term for plastic surgery is a bit odd, too. 3amiliya al-tajmeel literally means “beautifying operation” – a phrase that lays bare the primary function of today’s plastic surgery procedures.

I’m still not sold on machine translation, but in this particular case, it gave me far more to think about than I had anticipated.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, fashion, friends, health, Lebanon, media, research, science, vanity, words | 3 Comments »

Palestine in vogue

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 24, 2008

In addition to books like Sami and the Time of the Troubles, which I mentioned yesterday, the magic boxes that my parents sent earlier this week also contained six months’ worth of magazines.

I love magazines. Well, not all magazines – I can do without the celebrity-chasing ones. But food magazines, travel magazines, and fashion magazines are all guilty pleasures – as in, I feel a bit guilty reading them rather than more substantive fare, but the pleasures are totally worth it.

The April 2008 Vogue included a feature on local beauty products from around the world, including a mention of olive oil from Palestine:

Woo-hoo Vogue! Its been my favorite fashion magazine since I was 13 and stumbled across old copies in my aunt Sparkle’s living room. I love the elegance of the clothing it showcases and the quality of the writing in its articles.

And I love its “fashion forward” matter-of-fact recognition of Palestine, too.

Posted in Americans, fashion, Israel, maps, Palestine, vanity, women, words | 3 Comments »

fashion: the best defense?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 14, 2008

Saturday morning, while lugging three big bags of groceries home from the supermarket (and thinking nerdily to myself: three bags full), I looked into a boutique window and saw a t-shirt design that seemed more appropriate for Lebanon:

To be honest, I’m not sure why Brooklyn needs defending, or whether the t-shirt is being properly marketed. After all, the only people invading Brooklyn these days are yuppies and self-proclaimed hipsters. I doubt that Brooklyn’s long-time residents, who could legitimately claim to be its defenders, shop at the chi-chi store where this shirt is for sale.

And I bet that few Brooklynites, at least in our little gentrified area, think of that gun as an object they see on a daily basis. Here’s a close-up of the shirt:

I’m not claiming to have stumbled upon a new trend. The shirts have actually been around for over ten years, produced by a company also called Defend Brooklyn.

Portable machine gun … green t-shirt … I think that there could be a great market for these shirts in Lebanon. We could make them in choose-your-own-adventure options: single-affiliation neighborhoods could come in one color, while contested neighborhoods could come in multiples.

Hence for example a “Defend the Metn” shirt could come in several shades, while a “Defend Ouzai” shirt would have, er, fewer.

I think it could be a rich business opportunity – and much more socially conscious than the “Hi, Kifak, ca va?” t-shirts I’ve seen for sale at various Beirut bazaars.

But I’m not sure its the business for us. There’s something about a t-shirt decorated with “Defend Sanayeh” and a gun that makes me ill.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, clothing, fashion, Lebanon, politics, words | Leave a Comment »