Oscar’s Girl in the Middle East
After working at Oscar de la Renta’s New York headquarters, Haifa Snobar recently returned to Saudi Arabia to take on her new role as de la Renta’s regional brand executive and communications manager for the Middle East. I sat down with the young Saudi to discuss her journey in fashion.
Were you interested in fashion from a young age? And did you ever think you would end up working in New York at a big label someday?
I always enjoyed dressing up and looking at my mother and her beautiful wardrobe, but fashion was not as readily available at the time, in my hometown, as it is it today. Both kids and adults looked forward to traveling to Europe and the U.S. for the latest brand names and trends. When I moved to London, at 13, that is where I really learned to appreciate style from such a diverse city. From that age onward, my travels around Europe during holidays—to Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and France, as well as to the U.S.—played a big role in making me appreciate the different ways people interpreted style.
How did you find your way into the fashion industry?
If you asked me when I was young what I wanted to do, I would have said fashion. I just wanted to be a part of it. The stigma back home was that New York City and the fashion industry are hard places to break into for us, so it was not an initial consideration I had.
I started off at Boston University, majoring in finance and minoring in French. I knew I did not want to work in banking, but my brain definitely was good at logic and math. I then needed a master’s, which lead me to Istituto Marangoni in London, to study luxury brand management. I had been in touch with [someone at] Oscar de la Renta, through an old posting on a social network, and soon after I left London, I reached out to her and an internship position became available. I flew to New York to interview, and a week later I was an intern for the international sales team. This internship developed into a full-time job a few months later. I am lucky to say that I fell into the fashion house of the designer I admired the most, Oscar de la Renta.
What did you do at the label?
In New York, I worked with the international sales team, where I helped in managing international partners and businesses. We sold the collection eight times a year: once in Paris and once in New York each season. Apart from selling, we would analyze sales and work hard to fulfill all the additional needs of our clients. This meant interacting with all different departments of the company. The most rewarding part of the job is the fact that all departments work under one roof. We all have access to one another, and therefore the ability to establish relationships with everyone.
The culture at the company is very welcoming between departments. We are able to watch Oscar fit every piece in the collection on our fit model. Seeing the collection come to life from the first muslin fittings to the final embroidered and draped looks is truly amazing.
Is there a difference between the way Western and Middle Eastern buyers approached the collection?
Definitely. To work on the international team, you must have the ability to switch thinking caps. We take different approaches with all the different regions of the world, according to climate, culture, and lifestyle. Europeans and Americans enjoy all Oscar de la Renta’s ready-to-wear categories, whereas the Middle Eastern customer loves a glamorous Oscar gown, and that is no secret. Having said that, the Middle East is full of concept stores that attract tourists and expats. Buyers have been recently looking into the true lifestyle offering at Oscar de la Renta, including home, bridal, children’s wear, fashion jewelry, shoes, and handbags.
What did you enjoy about living in New York?
My favorite restaurants in New York are in the West Village. Sant Ambroeus would have to be my favorite for any meal. I love Bergdorf Goodman and Jeffrey, but what I really love is to walk on Madison and around Soho, in and out of different stores and exhibits. Central Park is a beautiful spot in the city, full of all kinds of people: power walkers, families at the zoo, friends having picnics, or even just pedestrians crossing to the other side. New York’s theaters and shows, whether classic or modern, have always been a great source of education and entertainment, to take visitors or to go to with friends in the city.
Can you talk about your new role at Oscar de la Renta?
Our brand is very well established in the region; we are in sixteen stores throughout the Middle East, including one ODLR store in Dubai, one in Riyadh, and one opening very soon in Jeddah. In my new role, I will be representing the brand in the Middle East. I plan to help strengthen our existing partnerships and seek out new relationships in the region, with customers, press, and influential women. Ideally, I can speak for the brand locally, as well as speak for the Middle Eastern customer to the head offices in New York. I hope to help our communications team talk to our customers more directly, as well as help inspire new fans of Oscar’s work in this very important part of the world.