Meet Esther Quek, Dubai’s most stylish girl-about-town – who is actually from Singapore
With her bleached blond pixie cut and bold style sense, fashion maven Esther Quek – the editor of CitizenK Arabia – is shaking up the style scene in Dubai and beyond, but still dreams of eating wanton mee in her home country
A meticulous eye for detail and knack for predicting cultural trends are the linchpins of Esther Quek’s Dubai-based work life. But it doesn’t hurt to have incredible personal style and a conversation-stopping platinum blond haircut – as she discovered on a recent work trip to Paris.
“A young Russian lady came up to me in a cafe and she couldn’t breathe,” says Singapore-born Quek, the editor of luxury lifestyle magazine CitizenK Arabia. “She stood in front of me and told me – whilst panting – that she had the same haircut and bleached hair because she loved my style. So I calmed her down and asked if she wanted a cup of coffee. All she wanted was a picture with me and, of course, I obliged. If I can make someone happy with a snap, why not?”
Quek’s distinctive look has drawn admiring and inquisitive glances since she stepped onto the media scene in the United Arab Emirates five years ago. Turning heads at runway shows in the UAE and around the world is now very much the norm for the 34-year-old as she takes it all in her stride.
Much like the identity of the quarterly magazine she edits, Quek’s style is contrarian, assured and unshrinking. With her sharply tailored suits, fearless styling and gravity-defying platinum locks, she’s a paparazzi’s dream and an endless source of inspiration to her legion of Instagram followers.
Quek’s unique aesthetic is not the only reason she is highly conspicuous in the Middle East.
“I’m usually the only Asian or Singaporean editor at Gulf-related events,” she says, “I’m like a white elephant in the room. Being Asian definitely sparks conversations, and when I talk about my roots and upbringing I realise how proud I am of Singapore.”
She heads back to her homeland up to three times a year to visit friends and family where, far removed from the fashion industry’s champagne-fuelled parties, simple pleasures and home comforts hold the most appeal.
“An ideal day would be waking up to my mum’s home-cooked food in my pyjamas,” she says. “I would then visit my grandma and relatives, bringing them figs and dates from Dubai. I would eat local food – chilli crab, chicken and rice, wanton mee, fried carrot cake – the list goes on. And I would hang out with my childhood friends in Chinatown, Little India, Haji Lane, Tiong Bahru and East Coast.
“I love my country so much and every time I arrive back, I appreciate its efficiency, the smell of rain and the sight of greenery – things I used to take for granted.”
Quek considers Dubai a home away from home in one respect: its surprisingly similar style sensibility to Singapore. The cities share a mutual appreciation for modest dressing, and their hot and humid climates have given rise to functional, lightweight apparel and a love of layering.
Both Dubai and Singapore are also cultural melting pots – the influence of traditional, regional embroidery and artisanal craftsmanship can be seen in the work of local and foreign designers who have launched their brands in the two cities. But while there may be many parallels, both places also have much to learn from each other in their bid to develop respected and sustainable fashion industries.
“Singapore and Dubai are emerging quickly and getting noticed on international platforms,” Quek says. “I feel that Singapore is still quite a practical city, where design is not rewarded or celebrated as much as in Dubai. We need to encourage the exchange of international and local fashion scenes through more established trade shows, exhibitions and regional fashion weeks. That’s how we can reward and celebrate the rising stars: give them opportunities to learn from the veterans and support them financially.”
When Quek is not globetrotting, interviewing designers or thumbing through pret-à-porter collections that the rest of the world won’t see for another six months, she likes to do something sporty. But despite being a dedicated gym-goer and avid wall climber, she finds herself in trainers less often than she would like.
“The most challenging part of my job is achieving a work-life balance,” she says, “Too often, I spend more than 60 hours a week working and I neglect my personal life. But, of course, the most satisfying part of the job is when I see someone reading our glossy pages of hard work.”
Whatever she is doing, her thoughts are never far from her home and the prospects it still holds for her.
“Singapore is small and packed with intelligence and energy,” she says. “There’s an energy to strive, to succeed and to enjoy life. I will go back, that goes without saying. It’s my home. I’m just temporarily working in Dubai. I miss my family and friends, and feel it more so every year. Perhaps it is part of ageing.”
Esther Quek’s top picks in Dubai...
Restaurants: The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill, Peyote Dubai, Katsuya by Starck
Nightspots: Miss Lily’s, Little Black Door, Socialista Dubai
Neighbourhood: Jumeirah Beach Residence. Everything that I’d need for a weekend of leisure
...and in lifestyle
Latest designer purchase: Gucci mid-heel leather moccasins
Fashion faux pas: Scrunchies, I hate them.
Current perfume: Les Exclusifs de Chanel 1932
Most overused word: Seriously
Next holiday: Cuba