cover story

Sharon Stone Talks About Aging, Sexism, Women’s Rights, and More in Her Most Unfiltered Cover Story to Date

Sharon Stone Talks About Aging, Sexism, Women’s Rights, and More in Her Most Unfiltered Cover Story to Date

Enjoying a 40-year career that shows no signs of slowing down, Oscar-nominee Sharon Stone reflects on taking agency over her rich life.
Dress, shoes, Zuhair Murad Haute Couture. Photo: Nima Benati. Vogue Arabia, September 2022
Close your eyes and think of Sharon Stone, the glamorous Hollywood star, the preternaturally beautiful icon, and AIDS-research crusader. A household name in almost every household, one word I’m certain you would never use to describe Stone is “invisible.” But that’s exactly why the 64-year-old actress tells me she recently posted a picture of herself poolside in her West Hollywood home on Instagram. My first question to Stone, as a way to break the ice on a crackly Zoom call, was what she’d made of the huge reaction to what I described as a photo of the star “topless.”
“I wasn’t topless,” she corrects me rather sternly. “I had on my bikini bottoms and a beach towel over my shoulders. I posted it because I feel like women become invisible once we become moms and you’re 45 and people walk by you like you’re not there,” she tells me of the photo taken by a friend. I can hear the frustration in her voice grow as she describes how women feel tossed aside after a certain age, at the dreaded intersection of ageism and sexism. In response, she says, she and some of her friends have made a conscious decision to form a “joyful sisterhood” to support each other, instead of responding in anger, because “life doesn’t always make you feel like a winner as you grow older.”
It’s hard to imagine someone who appears on magazine covers, wearing couture looks by top designers like Zuhair Murad and Dolce & Gabbana, feeling anything but delighted with her appearance. “At one point I had a wire cage that came down over my face all the way to my nose that had plucked feathers on it,” she describes excitedly of a Valentino look during her Vogue Arabia shoot for this month’s issue. Photographed by Nima Benati, the shoot took place in the legendary Dawnridge estate, the California home of late set designer Tony Duquette. Stone lives just next door to the abode once belonging to the behind-the-scenes icon of Hollywood’s golden age. Perhaps that’s why for so many women, especially those who’ve reached middle age, the Oscar-nominated actress is such an inspiration: her staying power and glamor still give the rest of us hope that we can be striking at any age.
Coat, Ashi Studio. Photo: Nima Benati. Vogue Arabia, September 2022
No one lasts four decades in cut-throat Hollywood on looks alone, and Stone has always been about much more than her beauty. She regularly makes waves by speaking her mind in the kind of unvarnished way that might make her publicists a bit nervous. When I reached out to designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who used the star as the face of their Devotion handbag collection, shot in Venice and with Stone flanked by hunky male models, they told me she is a “timeless beauty, embodying a daring, authentic femininity.”
Why, I ask her, is she considered brave? She mulls her answer so long I worry our Zoom call dropped. “Because I’m comfortable with myself,” she answers deliberately, “and I don’t feel personally oppressed. I think I can probably speak for you and the rest of the female planet when I say that there’s a giant effort to make us not feel free and to feel oppressed. And I don’t go for it.”
This is the Sharon Stone of today. The woman who’s been in the entertainment industry for over 40 years, but who’s not always had the status – and hindsight – she enjoys now. In her 2021 memoir The Beauty of Living Twice, I found myself getting progressively angrier as Stone, even at the height of her fame, describes shocking behavior from male industry bosses, including one director who refused to shoot her scenes if she didn’t sit on his lap. Or that the actor approval clauses in her contracts were routinely ignored. She also writes of being advised to sleep with one of her male co-stars to establish on-screen chemistry. The power she describes men had in the industry in the pre-#MeToo era struck me as being about more than creative control – it was also used to demean and infantilize women.
Coat, tights, Schiaparelli Haute Couture. Photo: Nima Benati. Vogue Arabia, September 2022
Stone’s upbringing probably helped the star push back against some of the most egregious behavior she faced on the road to becoming the established Hollywood veteran she is today. In her memoir, she describes growing up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, a tough American town “where hookers and heroin and everything bad got dropped off and no one looked back.” There, Stone learned not just to fight back, but to fight on. After a first small role in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories in 1980, Stone appeared in dozens of films – some better than others and some worse than – before starring in Basic Instinct at the age of 34.
When I mention in passing that I am taking a break from my job as a CNN TV anchor and correspondent to write a book, the conversation turns to being a woman in the news industry. I tell her I’ve never worked at a network led by a female boss. “Insane,” she remarks, “and I’m sorry. I was married into the news business and I know exactly how masculine and oppressive it is.” [Stone was married for six years to former San Francisco Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein, with whom she adopted her eldest son Roan shortly before she suffered a stroke in 2001.]
Surely, I tell Stone, we’ve made progress in the post-#MeToo era? “When they’re saying that rape victims have to have their baby, I think you have to be very clear that women’s rights are on pretty thin ice,” she says, referring to the Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade in the United States and efforts at the state level to pass laws restricting a woman’s right to have an abortion. “What’s happening now is the absolute, dramatic backlash to #MeToo.”
Cape, Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda. Photo: Nima Benati. Vogue Arabia, September 2022
“So, what needs to happen now?” I ask her. “I really grew up in the country and if you get kidnapped and put in a hole in a barn by a hillbilly, that’s when you’re in real trouble. That’s kind of what’s happening now. We’re like in a hole in a barn with a bunch of hillbillies,” Stone says. The backlash to #MeToo is like a “rabid animal: you step back from it and, you know, wait until someone puts it down.”
Despite the setbacks and what Stone calls “a very weird time in the world,” she says women can be more empowered now more than they have ever been. She and some of her female friends, she tells me, decided that now was the time to take creative risks. Stone is currently writing her second book, a thriller. “I’m, like, at 190 pages so I’ve just hired an editor to put some meat on the bone and finish it.”
She’s also taken up painting again after giving herself the “gift” of a studio during the Covid lockdown. She tells me that she worked until 6.30am on her art the night before our interview. An exhibit of her abstract expressionism watercolors is in the works this fall, possibly in Switzerland, with up to 50 of her pieces. She is also writing a country music album for Quincy Jones Productions.
Dress, Elie Saab Haute Couture. Photo: Nima Benati. Vogue Arabia, September 2022
As for acting, Stone has appeared in successful television series with guest roles that have not gone unnoticed. Ryan Murphy cast her as the eccentric heiress Lenore Osgood in the dark and moody Ratched, and she played Kaley Cuoco’s mother in the second season of The Flight Attendant. During a particularly emotional scene, Stone’s character strikes her on-screen daughter in what Cuoco publicly called an “unscripted” slap. “Kaley turned it into a very big deal,” Stone tells me, adding that she warned her co-star she might hit her before the scene. “I actually wrote to her and said I felt like if she was going to discuss the process in public, she could have discussed it with me first, particularly in a cancel culture period.” Through her agent, Cuoco emailed me that Stone “didn’t miss a beat” and that playing opposite her made her “raise her game.”
I ask Stone about life in LA with her three sons, Roan, Laird, and Quinn, whom she adopted after being unable to conceive. (Twenty-two-year-old Roan trained as a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education.) “I have four,” she offers bluntly. “I took in another kid during Covid whose parent died. It’s my son’s friend, and he came to live with us when his father died.” Her path to motherhood was arduous and painful. In an Instagram comment she posted in June, the Basic Instinct star said she’d suffered nine miscarriages, traumatic experiences that women sometimes “bear alone and secretly with some kind of sense of failure.” A British miscarriage association campaigner described Stone’s revelation as a “gift” that could help support women as they grieve the loss of an unborn child.
“I think I would have had more kids if I had a partner,” she muses, unprompted. So how does one of the most desirable women in the world date? Two years ago, she made headlines when the dating app Bumble deactivated her account because they thought someone had opened a catfish profile with stolen Sharon Stone photos. She eventually closed her account anyway because she’s not what she calls an “algorithm dater.” Dating must come naturally, she tells me, “when you meet someone, and you have things in common and you have chemistry.”
Cape, body, headpiece, shoes, gloves, Valentino Haute Couture. Photo: Nima Benati. Vogue Arabia, September 2022
The subject of Stone’s romantic life came up again when I asked her how someone so at her peak deals with the inevitability of aging and of her looks fading. It’s painful enough for us mere mortals, I say, but is it more difficult for stunners like her? “There were periods in the super fame when I got Botox and filler and stuff and then I had this massive stroke and a nine-day brain hemorrhage and then I had to have over 300 shots of Botox and filler to make the one side of my face come up again,” she says. The near-fatal experience in 2001, an event she wrote about in the powerful first chapter of The Beauty of Living Twice, gave her a new outlook on anti-aging procedures that went from being a “cute luxury to some kind of massive, painful neurological need.”
Incidentally, it was the subject of injectables that contributed to ending what she describes as a casual romantic relationship the Oscar nominee had with a younger man over the last couple of years. “‘You don’t use Botox or anything, do you?’ he asked. And I said, ‘It would probably be really good for your ego and mine if I did,’” she tells me. “I saw him one more time after that and then he wasn’t interested in seeing me anymore.” There is a quiet duality at play here when Stone, outwardly confident and in control, tells a story highlighting the agist undercurrent that underpins so much of a woman’s life beyond middle age. “If you don’t see me for more than that, you’ll please find your way to the exit,” she adds.
My husband, who’d helped me set up the Zoom call, was listening intently. I’d heard him chuckle a few times at some of the things Stone said. Her turn of phrase, her candor, her sometimes filterless observations slightly altered a picture I had in my mind of the glamorous actress. Beyond the movie star and the glitz, she is just a fun gal to chat with for a while. As we approach the end of the interview, I ask her if there is anything she wants to leave in the past or is tired of talking about. I put the question to Stone, almost certain I know the answer. I don’t wait for her to say it: “Basic Instinct?” I offer tentatively. “Well, I don’t know the point. It was 30 years ago. I don’t have anything left to say. There are many more things to talk about from, you know, this century,” she chuckles. Now, Stone says, is the time to embrace the next chapter. “I feel like this is the most exciting and creative period of my life. I feel really, really happy. I’ve never been this joyful.”
Originally published in the September 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Paris LibbyFashion director: Amine JreissatiHair: Sebastian ScolariciMakeup artist: Amy OresmanPhotography assistant: Luca Trelancia and Juliet LamberOn-ground production: AGPNYCCreative producer: Sam AllisonLocation: Tony Duquette’s Dawnridge
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Supermodel Shanina Shaik on Her Saudi Roots, Battling Racism, and Becoming a Mother

Supermodel Shanina Shaik on Her Saudi Roots, Battling Racism, and Becoming a Mother

Dress, Atelier Zuhara; earrings, ring, Ana Khouri. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales
Supermodel Shanina Shaik is a force to be reckoned with. The 31-year-old model, who is of Saudi Arabian, Australian, Lithuanian, and Pakistani descent, just announced her pregnancy to her 2.8 million followers on Instagram and she couldn’t be happier. There’s a lot she’s looking forward to — a new baby and a personal product line expected on shelves next year. One look at her Instagram profile, and one imagines how idyllic herlife is — poolside weekends, sandy beaches, and lots of travel. But the reality is that her journey is not without its hurdles.
Shaik for Victoria’s Secret. Photo: Getty
Raised in Australia, Shaik describes her youth as somewhat tumultuous. “I had a difficult time in school dealing with bullying, but overall, I loved my childhood. I loved the weather, playing sports outside, the food, and much more.” She credits her mother with being her biggest cheerleader during tough times and admits her journey would have been different without her support. Although Shaik’s been modeling since she was eight years old, it wasn’t until she finished as a runner-up in the Australian reality show Make Me a Supermodel in 2008 that doors started opening for her. At 17, she moved to New York, where she felt she would be more accepted as a model.
Shanina Shaik, sat on her grandfather’s lap, with her family in Singapore
Due to what would have been considered unconventional looks at the time — wide, high cheekbones that create an almost feline appearance, olive skin, and a hard-to-pinpoint heritage outside the usual white, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed models — breaking into a world that is often criticized for its lack of representation was no easy feat. “I have a diverse ethnic background — it wasn’t accepted or recognized in the modeling industry, which still had to make a lot of changes and celebrate diversity. I was part of a slow movement that has come a long way today.” But Shaik didn’t let racism break her spirit — if anything, it made her more resilient. “Luckily, I received a modeling contract with a New York agency after being scouted on the model search reality show — that’s when my career kick-started, and I felt accepted. No one should ever deal with racism in their work environment.” Since then, there’s been no stopping her. In 2011, she was cast in the Victoria’s Secret show, where she walked with other supermodels like Joan Smalls and Chanel Iman, and later walked the runway for some of the biggest names including Jason Wu, Tom Ford, and Chanel. “Walking in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show has been the highlight of my career as has working with top renowned fashion designers and photographers. As a little girl, it would have been surreal if you told me this would be my future.”
Shanina Shaik’s Pakistani grandfather and Saudi Arabian grandmother on their wedding day
Despite her multicultural upbringing, Shaik resonates most with her Middle Eastern culture and Saudi roots. “My grandmother was from Saudi Arabia. I’ve seen pictures of her, and I resemble her in so many ways,” she says. The model visited the Kingdom last year to mark the opening of the Red Sea International Film Festival. “It was an extremely special trip to travel to Saudi Arabia. I wanted to see my family’s culture and understand my heritage. Additionally, it was an important historical event to be a part of and witness the international film festival.” She was seen on the red carpet in a dazzling sequined gown by Lebanese-American designer Eli Mizrahi of Monôt, one of her favorite Middle Eastern labels.
Top, dress, shorts, boots, Simone Rocha; pearl earrings, Ana Khouri. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales
For her personal style, Shaik gravitates to high-low fashion. “I like to find cute vintage pieces and incorporate them into my daily dressing.” Her aesthetic features cool, oversized looks — a silhouette she gravitates towards with vintage tees being her favorite find now. “My everyday look consists of t-shirts, baggy jeans, or suited pants, with a blazer and boots. I also like Eterne, vintage Chrome Hearts, and IRO for daily dressing.” For the red carpet, she prefers figure-hugging looks and works with her stylist to pick the perfect outfit. During her pregnancy though, comfort is key. “My bump has been growing rapidly,” she exclaims. “I want to have fun moments showing my bump during the summer season, and I’m not afraid to wear heels either.”
Dress, Prada. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales
Physical and mental wellbeing is important to her, and Shaik switched up her self-care routine to suit the pregnancy. She’s steering clear of any retinols, fragrances, and benzoyl peroxide and wearing sunscreen to avoid pigmentation — “I can’t live without my Liberty Belle SPF 50+ Superstar sunscreen. It’s a staple product in my skincare bag.” Some of her favorite skincare brands include Biologique Recherche, KORA, 111 Skin, and Rodial. For body care, she applies Belly Oil by Hatch, Trilastin’s Maternity Stretch Mark Prevention Cream, and Vitamin E oil. When it comes to exercise, Pilates has been her go-to as she loves the results. “Currently, I only do prenatal Pilates classes. I work with my favorite trained Pilates coaches to guide me in a safe workout.”
Dress, coat, Maison Margiela; gloves, Handsome Stockholm; earrings, Ana Khouri. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales
As Shaik’s body changes during her pregnancy, she’s in no hurry to bounce back into shape right after birth. “It’s a shame that society and pop culture have placed pressure on women to ‘bounce back.’ It causes stress and unnecessary worry that could lead to mental health issues. More importantly, your body needs to heal.” Instead, she’s amazed to see how her body is changing to bring life into this world. “Your body is doing what it needs to do to create a healthy space for your baby. It’s important to listen to it during this time.” In the age of diet culture, it’s refreshing to see her spread a positive message, especially for the next generation.
Dress, Sportmax; earrings, rings, Anabela Chan; shoes, Christian Louboutin. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales
When asked if she has considered a specific parenting style she wants to follow, the model answers, “I don’t believe there is a ‘textbook’ way to be a parent. I haven’t met my child yet, I don’t know its personality. I know I will give my baby unconditional love, safety, support, and guidance.” An animal lover at heart, Shaik will pass on some valuable life lessons to her child, especially when it comes to standing up for what’s right. “I feel like it’s our rightful duty to care and be a voice for animals,” she adds. “Humans make inconsiderate choices that cause irreversible changes to ecosystems and living creatures. Our future and our children’s futures look scary.”
Dress, gloves, necklace, Saint Laurent. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales
While taking on the role of a mother is one she’s most looking forward to, she also has a few words of wisdom for the next generation of upcoming models — especially those of color. “Always believe in yourself and make sure your voice is being heard. Protect your mental health and surround yourself with a team who love, support, and want the best for you.”
Originally published in the June 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Danyul BrownFashion director: Amine JreissatiHair: Miles JeffriesMakeup: Michael AnthonyDigital tech: Meredith MunnLighting: Maya Sacks, Sandy RivasSet designer: Lucy HoltSet assistants: Scott Morris, Aryn MorrisStyle assistants: Molly Mundy, Adam ChiaProducer: Alexey Galetskiy
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Hijabi Modeling Star Ugbad Abdi on Welcoming Her Younger Sister Hani in Fashion

Hijabi Modeling Star Ugbad Abdi on Welcoming Her Younger Sister Hani in Fashion

Modeling star Ugbad Abdi’s career has been shaped by faith and family – and now, her younger sister Hani is joining her in fashion.
Hani (left) wears jacket, Dries Van Noten; earrings, Alexis Bittar; headwrap, stylist’s own. Ugbad wears bodysuit, Balenciaga; dress, AZ Factory; headwrap, stylist’s own. Vogue Arabia, April 2022. Photo: Luigi and Iango
Transformation is an essential part of being a model, but Ugbad Abdi appreciates every moment she gets to be herself. The 23-year-old star has spent most of the year so far traveling for work, jetting from one destination to the next as she brings designer fantasies to life. On paper, the job is glamorous – one day, she’s a Versace beauty in Milan, the next an urbane muse for Tom Ford – but the ceaseless nature of fashion’s current calendar means every spare minute is precious. Fresh from a trip to Miami for a shoot and blessed with a rare evening off, Abdi could explore the city, but she’d rather call her mom. “I’m always checking in, giving her little updates on how things are going,” she shares on the phone from Manhattan. “My family was just here over the holidays. I loved it. We spent so much time going to parks, riding our bikes, or hanging out. They’re such a big part of my life.”
Vest, skirt, Luchen; headpiece, JR Malpere; earrings, necklaces, bangles, and bracelets, Alexis Bittar. Photo: Luigi and Iango
One of five siblings, Abdi is part of a close-knit Muslim family in the Somali community of Des Moines, Iowa. A hub of activity in the American heartland, the city has been the star’s home since she was nine. Born in Kismayo, Somalia, Abdi and her family fled the nation’s civil war in the 90s, relocating to a refugee camp in Kenyan suburbs. Though far from the bustle of fashion capitals, she dreamed of seeing the world and taking her loved ones along for the journey. “I was always telling my family that we should travel. I was in love with anything that took me beyond my hometown,” she says. “There was just so much I wanted to see and experience.”
Abdi’s family understood that implicitly. “They’ve been my biggest supporters from the beginning,” she says. “Everyone is exposed to so much information, positive and negative, about fashion, and people can have a hard time grasping what we do as models. I was fortunate to have a family who understood. My mother saw how happy this made me and that having a career where I get to experience different cultures and continuously learn was so important to me.”
Dress, leggings, shoes, Fendi Haute Couture; helmet, Heather Huey. Photo: Luigi and Iango
In modeling, a support system can mean the difference between success and failure. A highly competitive field with long hours and high turnover, the business of beauty is daunting. Abdi, who was discovered by a scout from Next Management after posting images of her makeup artistry on social media, relied on her mother to navigate the ups and downs of her new career. “When I started, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she says. “All through high school, people told me that I should model because I’m so tall, but in Iowa, you can’t just walk into an agency. Modeling was jarring because I didn’t grow up looking at people in the spotlight.”
Abdi’s inspirations hewed closer to home. The women in her family were the people she looked to most, and their influence informed many of her earliest accomplishments. “I remember calling my mom seconds after I walked Valentino,” Abdi says of her debut at Pierpaolo Piccioli’s SS19 couture show. “I sent her a video before I even stepped out of the building, and I could hear her excitement and pride. Booking my first Vogue Arabia cover (October 2019, in Peter Lindbergh’s last editorial fashion shoot) was such a big deal because she loves the magazine, and I was thrilled for her to see it in print.”
Jacket, skirt, tights, boots, Alexandre Vauthier Haute Couture; gloves, Causse; helmet, Heather Huey; earrings, Alexis Bittar. Photo: Luigi and Iango
Sharing her second cover with little sister Hani was a full-circle moment. “What is so rewarding is finally being able to take my family into what I do, instead of sharing the outcome with them,” Abdi explains. “Very few people get to experience working on a project like this and having Hani on set with me was amazing. Watching her have so much fun reminds me of how I felt when I first started. When I looked over at her while she was shooting her singles, I was in awe. She was serving face! I had to pull her aside and tell her how proud I was.”
Hani (left) and Ugbad wear jackets, dresses, baseball caps, gloves, shoes, Marc Jacobs
Though they’d discussed posing together in the past, Abdi never envisioned their first collaboration would result in a Vogue cover. “We’ve been talking about it forever. I’ve always wanted to do an editorial with my family,” says Abdi. “Of course, neither of us could have predicted it would happen so soon. “Hani is only 18 and just stepping into this world. This is her first shoot, so I wanted the experience to be as comfortable as possible.” Accomplishing that meant giving her little sister a crash course in modeling basics. To outsiders, posing for a portrait might seem intuitive, but after years of working with photographers and stylists, Abdi understands how much preparation goes into each image. “I gave her a little pep talk, especially about heels,” says Abdi. “Shoes are part of the learning process. There are still times when I still struggle with them, but she adapted so quickly. The moment she got in front of the camera, she had it down.”
Bodysuit (worn throughout), Balenciaga; bathing suit, skirt, earrings, bracelets, bag, Chanel; headpiece, JR Malpere; gloves, stylist’s own. Photo: Luigi and Iango
Stilettos aside, Abdi’s highlight was seeing Hani interact with photographers Luigi Murenu and Iango Henzi, whose work she’d long admired. “She loves to take pictures and capture special moments, so I understood how much connecting with Luigi and Iango would mean to her,” says Abdi. “On set, they’d discuss the cameras they use and their techniques, how to set up a shot or retouch an image. She loved every minute, and it allowed me to see her exploring one of her passions.”
Dress, gloves, neck scarf, necklace, Marc Jacobs; earrings, cuffs, bangles, Alexis Bittar
At present, Abdi’s own goals center on advocating for her community. Her roots have informed her career trajectory, and as one of fashion’s most prominent hijabi models, Abdi’s influence extends beyond the catwalk. Keenly aware of how her presence in the industry reflects broader social change, she wants to be a force for good. “It’s about challenging perceptions about what a Muslim woman can and can’t do,” she says. “I don’t take for granted how difficult that can be, but we all have a voice and opinions. I’m lucky enough to also have this platform. When I get messages from women saying that they feel represented by me or that for the first time they see someone who looks like them in a magazine or runway show, it’s so meaningful. “For me, that’s what makes the work worthwhile.”
Dress, leggings, shoes, Fendi Haute Couture; helmet, Heather Huey. Photo: Luigi and Iango
Fittingly, their images of two confident, elegant women in hijab speak volumes. Though the shoot went off without a hitch, Abdi and her sister haven’t told their family about the big moment. With the issue centered on family and releasing during Ramadan, the pair decided it would be best to wait to share the good news. “The holidays are so special for us. We’re a big family, and it’s a time when we all come together and take a moment to appreciate each other, which has been so important during the pandemic,” says Abdi. “This means so much, and we wanted to wait until Ramadan so that we could share it with everyone.”
Keeping the secret under wraps required some sleight of hand. “My mom and I talk almost every day, and sometimes I just want to blurt it out,” says Abdi. “Seeing her reaction in person will be worth the wait. I know she will be so excited once we present her with the hard copy. This was a moment I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life and to be able to see her experience it for the first time surrounded by our entire family makes it even more meaningful.”
Dress, gloves, neck scarf, necklace, Marc Jacobs; shoes, Alaïa; earrings, cuffs, bangles, Alexis Bittar
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Originally published in the April 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Gaultier Desandre NavarreSittings editor: Michael PhilouzeHair: Sasha Nesterchuk using KérastaseMakeup: Sil BruinsmaLighting director: Dean DodosStyle assistant: Liv EklundStudio manager: Kristian Thomassen

Rita Ora and Donatella Versace Discuss Their Coming of Age, Breakthrough Moments, and Living Their Passions With Purpose

Rita Ora and Donatella Versace Discuss Their Coming of Age, Breakthrough Moments, and Living Their Passions With Purpose

Singer, songwriter, actor, philanthropist, Rita Ora is a 21st century self-made superstar. In conversation with Donatella Versace, the two icons divulge on their coming of age, breakthrough moments, and living their passions with purpose.
Cardigan, shirt, skirt, jewelry, Versace. Photographed by Jeremy Cho for Vogue Arabia February 2022
It’s only a few days into the new year and outside, in Sydney, Australia, the sunlight is burning – another hot summer’s day. Rita Ora has been Down Under for some months as a judge on The Voice. As the lights are adjusted for her cover shoot, she reflects on her own early days as a singer. Born Rita Sahatçiu 31 years ago in Pristina, Yugoslavia – now Kosovo – to Albanian parents, she started out life as a refugee, the persecution of Albanians having forced her parents to flee to London when she was a baby. Attending a performing arts school, Ora began testing her talent at local gigs, “singing everywhere,” she recalls, even her father’s pub. “Breaking into the industry was difficult,” admits the singer-songwriter. “It took a lot of discipline and faith in myself to feel confident that this was the right path for me.”
Jacket, Prada; dress, tights, Yousef Akbar; shoes, Christian Louboutin; headscarf, stylist’s own; necklace, sunglasses, Cara Mia Vintage. Photographed by Jeremy Cho for Vogue Arabia February 2022. Photographed by Jeremy Cho for Vogue Arabia February 2022
While she heard her fair share of “No,” she persevered. Her debut album, Ora, debuted at number one on the UK charts, certifying platinum. Her latest co-written four-track EP, Bang (2021) features modern pop, 80s and 90s club culture, and house music, and is co-produced with Grammy-winning Kazakh DJ and record producer Imanbek. The EP comes after her 2018 album Phoenix, which has amassed more than 4 billion streams worldwide. That record holds three platinum singles, including “Lonely Together,” her collaboration with the late Swedish DJ Avicii. Ora dabbles in acting too, landing roles and serving notable performances in the Fifty Shades of Grey and Fast & Furious franchises; Southpaw alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams; Pokémon Detective Pikachu; and last year’s crime drama Twist alongside Michael Caine. “The best advice I can give young girls is to always believe in yourself and the vision you have for your art, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve your dreams,” underscores Ora.
Rita Ora with Donatella Versace. Photo: Getty
On the other side of the world, in Milan, fashion’s own platinum icon, Donatella Versace, is overseeing the finishing of the latest bespoke Atelier Versace pieces. Designing is a role Versace, the daughter of a salesman father and dressmaker mother, dutifully stepped into since the shocking death of her brother Gianni in 1997 on the steps of the Versace mansion in Miami. In the years that followed, she would master it. Proving to be an audacious couturiere in her own right, Versace’s efforts did not go unnoticed. She designed the infamous jungle dress worn by Jennifer Lopez to the Grammy Awards in 2000 and was named fashion icon of the year by the British Fashion Council in 2017. The following year, she took home the CFDA Fashion Awards International Award. Her sensual and rich signature has gone beyond fashion, seeping into luxury hospitality with the opening of Palazzo Versace Gold Coast in Australia in 2000 and the Palazzo Versace Dubai in 2016. Today, the house of Versace is as much a favorite of stars – a regal Angelina Jolie in a liquid silver gown; Zendaya in purple and citrus chiffon; Dua Lipa seemingly molded into a baby pink crystal-encrusted bustier; and Winnie Harlow fierce in a leather blazer, to name a few – as it was during the years of Gianni, when a young Donatella served as her brother’s muse and fiercest critic. Ora counts herself among Versace’s devotees, admitting that she loves to express herself through fashion, and having turned to Versace numerous times. She made headlines in a slick leather pencil skirt suit, pop-print body-hugging looks, and an orange mini dress held together by a coiling rope recalling the threads of Medusa, the very symbol of the house of Versace.
Photo: Getty
In a candid conversation, the two icons reveal a mutual soft power and their desire to devote parts of their respective platforms to the service of the less fortunate, remembering very well that they, too, have witnessed dark days and survived.
RITA ORA What do you remember from the first time we met?
DONATELLA VERSACE Your energy, the way you laughed, and your sense of humor. I have always been drawn to people with a sense of humor and who are aware that we are blessed for being able to do the jobs that we do, to share with the world our creativity, and do so with a smile on our faces.
RO Well, fashion and music go hand in hand. You’ve always designed for powerful women. What do these women want and value from their clothes today?
DV I think women have finally realized that clothes can be used as a weapon to our advantage. Ultimately, we all want to be heard and be taken seriously for what we bring to the table – and it is a lot. Fashion can help us do that and many other things. When we dress, whether we do it consciously or not, we send a message to the world and, as a supporter of other women, I want to give them the tools so that even through their style choices, they are able to convey respect, credibility, and strength. Nowadays women have become more aware of their place in the world, they are fighting for their spot, and they have learned to support each other to achieve what they want and deserve. This is not about empowerment. No one gives them anything. And when these women wear my clothes, I want them to feel strong, in charge, and self-confident. These are women who catalyze the attention and fill the room with their charisma. Who inspires you the most nowadays?
Dress, boots, Dolce & Gabbana; coat, Max Mara; gloves, Paula Rowan; belt, Pierre Winter Fine Jewels; earrings, bracelets, Dinosaur Designs. Photographed by Jeremy Cho for Vogue Arabia February 2022
RO I’ve been taking a lot of inspiration from Cher, Madonna, and Tina Turner. All three of them are the absolute queens of reinvention. Their evolution as artists consistently inspires me to take risks with music, fashion, and performing.
DV Meanwhile, you are a Unicef Ambassador.
RO Working with refugees has always been a passion of mine. Given my own experience as a refugee, I’m very dedicated to working with those who have experienced similar struggles. Unicef is such a wonderful organization and being able to work with them on issues close to my heart has been an extremely rewarding experience. You have been vocal about your support to refugees. Why is the Syrian refugee cause so important to you?
DV I’ve always worked to help less fortunate people and now I’m actively trying to relieve the suffering of refugees. The Syrian refugee cause is very close to my heart, especially because we see every day the amazing work at the UN’s disembarkation point in Sicily, close to my homeland Calabria, being done to help refugees’ safety in Italy. It is intolerable that in 2022 people cannot feel safe in their homeland. This is why we all need to act and do something. The time for talking is over, we must act and sometimes individuals act faster than governments. As a society we must stick together and protect those who need to be protected.
Knit, shirt, top, skirt, Miu Miu; earrings, Dinosaur Designs; necklace, Pierre Winter Fine Jewels; belt, stylist’s own. Photographed by Jeremy Cho for Vogue Arabia February 2022
RO What would you say to someone who doesn’t support refugees and who doesn’t consider forced human displacement their problem to solve?
DV I am not sure I would enter a discussion with them. Some people seem to think that because something is happening far away from them or doesn’t touch them directly, that it isnot their problem. In 2022 no one has this luxury. Everything that happens in the world has an impact on our lives and it would be irresponsible for those that can make a difference to turn their backs. What would be your best piece of advice to future generations?
RO Be fearless in whatever path you choose to follow. Give yourself permission to take chances and don’t be afraid of what others will think. You’ve got this! What is the best and worst part about being Donatella Versace?
DV There was a moment when being “Donatella Versace” was not easy. I was suffering from a great loss. I was put in a position I knew I had to take, but I was not ready to do so because all I wanted was to be by myself and hide from the world. Or when I was in a room full of men who dismissed my ideas even before I had the chance to explain myself. Those years were hard, but I have learned a lot as well. They made me stronger because there is one thing I will never do: give up. Today, it is much easier. I have come to terms with my demons. I say what I think, and I fight for my ideas and what I believe in. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
RO The best advice always comes from my mother, she is such a strong source of support and is always there for me when I need someone to talk to. She has given so much good advice over the years, but probably the most important is to approach situations with an open mind and heart.
Jacket, Prada; dress, tights, Yousef Akbar; shoes, Christian Louboutin; headscarf, stylist’s own; necklace, sunglasses, Cara Mia Vintage. Photographed by Jeremy Cho for Vogue Arabia February 2022
DV There has been a lot of talk recently about women taking on more powerful roles in all industries. How do you face it in the times we are living?
RO Of course there is still significant change that needs to happen. Women still struggle with being taken seriously in various industries, and we are constantly fighting for our voices to be heard. We all must do our part wherever we can.
Jacket, pants, belt, jewelry, Roberto Cavalli; shirt, Sportmax; bodysuit, Wolford; watch, Chopard. Photographed by Jeremy Cho for Vogue Arabia February 2022
Read Next: Inside Vogue Arabia’s February 2022 Issue
Originally published in the February 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Senior fashion market editor: Amine JreissatiStyle: Fleur EganHair: LokMakeup: Stoj Bulic Creative producer: Laura Prior Local production: Camille Peck

Penélope Cruz: “I Don’t Think of Myself as a Role Model for Anyone Other Than My Children”

Penélope Cruz: “I Don’t Think of Myself as a Role Model for Anyone Other Than My Children”

As she sets foot in Dubai this month, Penélope Cruz opens up about her loves and life’s work.
Penélope Cruz wears accessories by Chanel. Photographed by Luigi and Iango for Vogue Arabia November 2021
It is hard to believe that for an actor who has earned an Oscar, a Bafta, multiple Goyas, and a César, among many other awards, winning a prize still makes a big impact. However, for Penélope Cruz, emotions took over when she received the call that revealed that her performance in Parallel Mothers, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest movie, was to be awarded the Volpi Cup for best actress at the 2021 edition of the prestigious Venice film festival. “I was shocked when I was contacted by Pedro’s team, informing me that I was the best actress in Venice this year. I couldn’t believe it and I started to cry,” she confides. “My daughter was with me and said, ‘Mom, why are you crying if you are getting a prize?’ I had to explain to her what this award meant to me. I love this festival; it’s so significant, and I attended it for the first time 30 years ago. To win with a movie by Pedro’s side was an incredible dream.”
With her Volpi Cup for for best actress at this year’s Venice film festival. Photo: Getty
The partnership between Cruz and Almodóvar is one of the most celebrated in cinema history. Cruz, from Madrid, was a young but already known actor in Spain, when she teamed up for the first time with the iconic director in 1997. Live Flesh was the first of eight movies they’ve since done together, all incredible successes, such as All About My Mother (1999), Volver (2006), and Broken Embraces (2009). In Parallel Mothers, their latest venture, Cruz delivers one of her best performances to date, in the role of Janis, a pregnant photographer who meets another mother-to-be in a maternity ward–a less prosperous teenager–with whom she becomes close. The acting is raw and powerful, and shows Cruz in a completely new light, as noted by the stellar reviews so far. “I feel grateful with all the characters Pedro gave me, as they allow me to do things I’ve never done before–this happens over and over again,” she says. “We’ve worked together eight times and it’s always a big and complex challenge. Janis was the most difficult character of them all, as so many difficult things happened in her life, almost like climbing a mountain every day. I loved every second of it and my end goal was not to disappoint Pedro and his trust, making sure he was happy. Just going through this experience and learning by Pedro’s side was already an award itself, so winning on top of it was more than I could dream of.”
Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz at this year’s New York Film Festival. Photo: Getty
When asked to select her favorite Almodóvar movie, Cruz cannot choose. However, she reinforces that he is her “main teacher,” and although they consider each other “family,” the relationship on and off the movie set is quite unique. “We have a close relationship, but we separate things. If you see us having dinner, the tone is completely different from when we are on a set. Even without planning, there’s some sort of distance. I think we created this to protect our work and relationship. But at the same time, it’s a distance full of trust, and full of love and respect for each other.”
Cruz wears jacket, top, pants, accessories, shoes, Chanel. Photographed by Luigi and Iango for Vogue Arabia November 2021
We are now in a photography studio in the center of Madrid, not to meet Penélope Cruz the actor, but Penélope Cruz the fashion muse. The Spanish star is coming to Dubai for the third time this November, this instance to attend a replica of Chanel’s Cruise show, making it the perfect opportunity to grace Vogue Arabia’s cover. At the age of 47, Cruz is petite and impressively beautiful, moving with full ease in front of the cameras of Luigi and Iango, wearing Chanel and a few looks from regional brands to pay a thoughtful homage to the Arab world. When we sit to chat, she tells me how she became an ambassador of Chanel, a journey that started decades ago. “The first time I went to a show for Chanel was in 1999. Then, years later, I was told that Karl Lagerfeld wanted to see me in Cannes, so I went for dinner with him and Virginie [Viard]. During the meal they started speaking in French about offering me a campaign. I pretended I didn’t understand, but I got it,” she laughs. “The next day, they called me to confirm.” It was after a first campaign for the 2018/2019 Cruise collection that Cruz was appointed ambassador of the brand, becoming extremely close to Lagerfeld. The actor reveals that they loved to talk to each other, and had hours-long discussions about everything, not only fashion. “I feel I was always connected to the brand, as I’m Chanel’s biggest fan. Ever since I was a little girl, I always dreamed of wearing their clothes.” This dream became reality, with Cruz delivering spectacular Chanel fashion moments at the Oscars in 2008 and 2020, at the 2019 Met Gala, and at the 2018 opening night of the Cannes Film Festival. “I’ve had all these magical moments with Chanel being part of my life, with dresses that were created for me, always so one-of-a-kind,” she reflects. “I even remember sketches that I have from Karl, for a dress he made for me for the Oscars, or the dress that I wore at this year’s Venice Film Festival, designed by Virginie two years ago, but that we felt was so special, we wanted to wait for the right opportunity for me to wear it.”
Cruz wears jacket, top, pants, accessories, Chanel. Photographed by Luigi and Iango for Vogue Arabia November 2021
Another moment of major importance but reflecting a less happy moment in the brand’s history, was when Cruz walked the runway for FW19 ready-to-wear, a collection designed by Karl Lagerfeld, but showcased after the passing of the creative director. “It was really difficult not to cry while walking. I remember the runway was very long, and that feeling that I had to make it until the end…” she confides. “After I finished, I saw Marion Cotillard in the hallway behind, and we just hugged each other and burst into tears. There were so many people there that loved him and worked with him for 40 years. It was magical, and it felt like time had stopped.”
Walking the Chanel FW18 runway. Photo: Getty
Although the bond between Cruz and Lagerfeld was so strong, the actor could not be more satisfied with his replacement, Virginie Viard, who had worked with the German designer since 1987. “I think she is the best possible person to continue the legacy of the brand, and to continue Karl’s work. They spent more than two decades together, and she completely understands the essence of Chanel, while adding her own personal touch,” Cruz notes. “She is very rock’n’roll, and very modern. She is also practical, cool, and elegant, and thinks of what women want to wear. On a personal level, I also love that she is a real family person, always so amazing with my kids, and very straight-forward. She is a no-nonsense type of woman.”
As 6pm approaches, Cruz informs us that she needs to leave the studio on time, as she wants to pick up her children from school. After living in Los Angeles, London, and New York, the actor is now fully based in Madrid, where she resides with her two children, 10-year-old Leo and eight-year-old Luna, and her husband, actor Javier Bardem.
Cruz with her husband Javier Bardem at the 2018 Cannes film festival. Photo: Getty
The pair met on the set of the 1992 film Jamón Jamón and also starred together in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), the Woody Allen movie that earned her an Oscar. Having her life based around her family in Madrid means Cruz can also be close to her mother and sister, in a “good place to raise children.” When I ask how Spain’s cinematic royal couple maintains a certain normality at home, far from the glamour of premieres and the red carpet, the actor reveals that her secret is a clear separation between work and personal time. “I don’t take the characters home. Imagine a role like Janis, who made me cry on set for 12 hours straight, for so many weeks… I try to jump in and out of fiction as many times as possible in one day, but when I go home, I’m there a hundred percent for my family,” she shares. “I also don’t shoot all the time. I work on a movie for maybe a couple of months, and then I have a lot of time until I’m doing the next one. And I do maybe one or two movies per year. I also avoid doing movies away from home if it’s not in the summer. If it’s winter, I just do it in Madrid. My focus is being a mother, so I’m blessed I can work while keeping my family the priority.”
Cruz wears jacket, top, pants, accessories, shoes, Chanel. Photographed by Luigi and Iango for Vogue Arabia November 2021
As a family woman and actor, one of the things that concerns Cruz and that she is vocal about is the negative impact of social media on everyone’s lives. And she seems serious when she tells me that she “wished that we stayed in the Nineties, when there was a great equilibrium between technology, pen and paper, and a timing that was more logical for the human brain.” She continues, “I just use social media for my work or for charity, I do not use it for other reasons, it just doesn’t go with me. I feel it’s crazy what is happening in the world regarding children and teenagers using social media. To me, this is big and it’s urgent to be looked at and regulated. It all starts at home, with what each family allows, but it’s difficult to manage if the regulations are not in place. It becomes normal to see a 12-year-old using social media. It’s not normal and it’s not OK. It’s not right for the development of any child. In my house, there is none of that for sure. I am strict and careful, but I don’t see the same when I look around.”
Cruz wears top, pants, accessories, Chanel. Photographed by Luigi and Iango for Vogue Arabia November 2021
Before Cruz bids adios to the studio, I ask her if she feels the weight of being a role model for so many girls who dream of her success and want to be like her. Not only is she Spain’s most international actor, with a vast portfolio that includes comedy, action, and more intellectual movies, but she will also always be the first woman from her country to have won an acting Oscar, from three nominations (Bardem was the first actor, winning in the best supporting category for No Country for Old Men in 2007). She is also the face of Chanel, and one half of her country’s most acclaimed power couple. “When a young girl stops me on the street, I always say I’m no one to give advice, as I’m not very good at that. But if it’s a teenager who dreams of acting, I always tell them to prepare. Study, work on your craft, and have a plan B, just in case you don’t succeed, exactly like I did. And never do drugs,” Cruz concludes. “I don’t think of myself as a role model for anyone other than my children, as they see me every day, and the actions of their mother and father are the most important to them. This is a huge responsibility, and my biggest mission in life is to try to do that well.”
Read Next: “Coming to Dubai is a powerful achievement,” Chanel’s President of Fashion on the Cruise Show
Originally published in the November 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Amine JreissatiHair: LuigiMakeup: Pablo IglesiasNails: Lucero HurtadoPhotography assistants: Daniel Gallar Candela, Luca, Jessica Rodriguez LigeroHair assistant: Stephane BeaverStyle assistant: Esther FiolDigital tech: David GarciaCreative production: Laura PriorProduction: Alana Production

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