Her stylish life is followed by almost a quarter of a million fans on Instagram, but Nour Arida is no accidental icon. She’s got savvy strategies and she’s here to stay.
As we gingerly dodge the craggy cracks towards the Hatta Dam, just a few hours away from Dubai’s polished paths, Nour Arida halts on a precipice and carefully composes a shot for Instagram.
She’s wearing high-waisted faded black jeans, hoisted up by a silver buckle belt, with a cropped grey hoodie revealing a cheeky stretch of her pancake-flat stomach. She holds up a paper cup of almost finished coffee in a ‘cheers’ motion, squints her eyes against the piercing sun and juts her angular profile into the brilliant blue sky, when a perfectly-timed strand of her slick Linda Evangelista-like hair curls over the bridge of her nose.
“So now, what is the thought process behind a shot like this?” I ask Nour as she and her brand manager (who also happens to be her husband) volley composition instructions back and forth to each other.
I don’t get a response until the money shot is achieved. Nour contorts her body to get out of the tricky trail of rocks and starts swiping through a burst of photos, deleting and ‘hearting’ possible contenders with rapid head-to-finger speed.
“You know it’s all about what is accessible for my followers,” she says, eyes locked on her cracked (yet beautifully broken, serving as a glitch of art) iPhone screen, cocking her head to each side, analysing every pore of each shot.
“If I am wearing diamonds and saying I am about to do a shoot, they won’t feel like they could be in this position. But with a cup of coffee, it’s more relatable because everyone has and needs their coffee before they do anything in the morning.”
The 28-year-old and I sort of go back – not way back – but back into the trenches of voice notes and WhatsApp calls since the last quarter of 2017. Before this shoot, I had interviewed her for a few features where we kept to a cordial yet convivial Q&A on social media between her nursery runs, fashion weeks and time in the air.
Up until meeting her in person, I felt like I knew her, not least through her burger feasts in what seemed to be a habitual pre-shoot pit stop. I, like all 241k (and counting) followers, consume her life during ad hoc, late-night ‘gram binges and get swept up by her feed of fashion, lifestyle and family, weaving in her gregarious personality in a flurry of fun posts.
Beyond her solid brand, Nour in the flesh has a presence as warm as her endearing posts give off. My favourite to date was her ‘This is how you get kicked out of a supermarket’ post, where she necks back a box of Cap’n Crunch’s All Berries cereal with growling but cute rebellion right in the middle of the breakfast aisle. All I could think of was how much mess did she make and who cleaned that up?
“I’m not a Victoria Secret model that only eats kale and quinoa – no, I’m a blogger. I don’t want my followers to be tricked into thinking that you have to be vegan just because it’s a trend. I don’t believe in this, it’s all about balance. But it’s obvious not all my posts are spontaneous. I want to inspire people and I can’t do that last minute,” she tells me, sitting in the backseat of a car, as a blaze of orange hue eyeshadow is spread on thick before the first shot of the day.
There’s no accident in an Insta-shot, “we plan the editorial content a month in advance and also we know how many posts with family (her two-year-old daughter, Ayla, makes monitored and controlled appearances) we’ll have for the whole year,” interjects her hubager (husband cum manager), George, who “loves photography and encouraged me to become a blogger” she notes.
No need to ask who takes her photos, anymore. “We use Snapseed and VSCO to edit the shots” – tools of the trade that help lift her life into a chosen reality with both a vintage and vibrant feel.
She posits realness – food, in your run-of-the-mill chain restaurants, the young modern family where mum, dad and daughter share a mutual child-like spirit and fashion, a less readily available but still aspirational high-octane circuit of big names and associations, furthering the appeal of someone who is “natural in at times unnatural settings”.
Even amongst the fashion dynamos, her followers feel like they can still emulate and buy into that life – because just before she crosses the line into the ‘sell out’ zone, she’ll always bring it back down to earth by clawing into some greasy grub in a non-descript local joint with no traces of dripping diamonds or pearls.
From couture to cookies, she’s got us in hot anticipation for what’s to follow. As far as hair transformations go, the reward is only as great as the risk. But her new ‘do’ was a very calculated risk – one that has now become her USP (unique selling point).
After growing tired of the homogenous bob cut sported by every influencer at some stage, she went for the chop. The big reveal was set a month and a half in advance in which time a virtual makeover involving a cosmetic surgeon to assess whether the cut would suit her face shape or not, preceded celebrity hair stylist, Georges Mendelek’s work of art for assurance on the 180-change.
“Ninety per cent of my followers were against me getting a haircut. I asked them what they thought of me doing it and most said no, don’t do it. But of course, I did it anyway.”
When I ask what she would never post, she doesn’t offer up an answer. She sits in pensive silence. The whir from the car exhaust turns what could be an awkward pin-drop silence into a bearable beat for us both to bide some time and fill in the gaps. “I don’t want people to mix me up as a mummy blogger. I never was and I never will be,” she says gliding away from any impromptu controversy and leaving it at that.
As accelerated as she is now, Nour didn’t have an Instagram account until 2014. “I was against it and actually I was private until 2015.” But she didn’t wake up one day and decide to sprinkle some influence. Fashion is her first forte, as her previous fashion buying experience lends to the clout she’s built where her informed opinions are respected. Fashion know-how in blogging is important, but business acumen is essential.
As Nour and George shift gears into algorithm speak – to my ears it’s like binary code – and say that they know the proven strategy to get up to one million followers based on the ‘performance’ of her posts and consumer behaviour. It’s hard to believe that we’re still talking about a person here.
“Out of all the different kinds of posts I put up, when it’s just me, it will get the most number of likes, up to 25,000.”
The like button is valuable social currency on Instagram – a currency which she has maximised by “training her followers”. Nour decided that she was going to put up two posts per day from the beginning of her blogging career, something that was deliberated before setting a precedence so as to not shatter her followers’ hopes but rather “train them to expect what I want them to expect,” because had she started on an unrealistic high, “we wouldn’t have been able to go back”.
What she can push back on though, are the luxury fashion brands who approach her with an ill-fitting message to disseminate.
“I don’t give people what they want. I said no to one of the biggest brands when everyone else in the region said yes. It was too rigid and stuck up, there was no creativity. I know myself. If I won’t wear or use the products, why would I collaborate? That wouldn’t be a collaboration, would it?”
Being on the other end of the industry, after years in the fashion buying world, Nour says can be “the dark side”. “There’s much more criticism because I am the brand, I can’t hide behind a name, it’s only me,” she says, when our conversation is cut short as she’s pulled away to trade one loud outfit for another in the changing tent.
On the sidelines, George steps in and reveals to me that she has an unapologetically fearless approach to trolls who leave unsavoury comments on her posts.
“It doesn’t bother her. She won’t ever talk back unless it’s to tell people who ask stupid questions to ‘get educated’. If we’re in a meeting and someone is giving her attitude and is trying to change her, she gets up, calls a car and walks out. No fights, nothing. She’s tough. I’m the one who gets defensive.”
When Nour returns in highlighter yellow tights and an ’80s gold shimmer top, I carefully ask if she ever feels like throwing the towel in (a disguised way of asking, ‘Aren’t you tired of yourself?’) to live a life where work is work and life is just life, not blurring the two together in a beautifully curated post.
Very matter of factly, Nour insists she puts her work and life in two very separate camps: “My followers think it’s blurred but I know for myself it’s not. I have created this idea. It’s my work.” She knows exactly what she’s doing.
Right now, she’s “studying the market” to work on the brand at large – removing herself from the nucleus of her empire in the years to come.
Output on Nour “as a person will reduce and attention will move towards my ideas, projects and business” (there’s a hint of hair in the ideas she doesn’t want to reveal just yet), which could mean less Instagram posts but it will be gradual, as part of reconfiguring our expectations of her.
As we wrap up the shoot, her mop of hair still has as much life in it as when we started, as does Nour, who star-jumps into the air for a book-end shot of the pre-shoot post, scrunches her hair in fierce fervour, pretends to scream at the top of her lungs in celebration and then slides back into her casual separates and is “off for the biggest burger ever”.
She knows what she wants and she always gets it.
Photography: Mazen Abusrour
Styling: Carmel Gill