x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

'I like to take space for myself'

This much I know Nadia el Barka is a personal shopper at Marni, Dries Van Noten and Villa Moda in Dubai.

Nadia el Barka, a personal shopper, at the Marni store in the Gate Village Retail
Nadia el Barka, a personal shopper, at the Marni store in the Gate Village Retail

Nadia el Barka is a personal shopper at Marni, Dries Van Noten and Villa Moda in Dubai. I was born in France, in Strasbourg, and raised in Montpellier. I started in fashion 10 years ago, when I moved to London, aged 20, and I couldn't speak English. But you just have fun at that age. I enjoy the psychology of fashion. Every time I am able to make one of my clients happy I feel good. With some jobs you make money, but with others you can really help people. You start dealing with VVIPs, princesses and queens, and start being implicated into their private lives.

I lived in London for five years, and my friend from there came to Dubai, loved it and said, "You should come here". I trusted her and she was right - she obviously knew me very well. I see fashion as inspiration, a way for people to express themselves - it's more than just that artificial way of life. It's like Dubai: people say it is artificial, but if you really look at the people who live here there is so much going on.

For any woman, fashion is first about fun, second about confidence and third it's a reflection of her. I first came here with Villa Moda and then I worked for a VVIP in Jordan as a private stylist. With that kind of job, you can see how fashion helps a country to communicate with people - it's like a prop. Working in Knightsbridge was superb, but here it's another story: it's passing on a message, bringing two worlds together.

My interest is to have the right people around me; my friendships and my family are very important. You can't just go out and try to make money and make the world better. I'm 30, single, I don't have my mortgage paid, so how can I make myself happy? By taking pleasure in my job, which is making other people happy. I'm like a middle man between the designer's creativity and the life of the client.

I'm able to visually cut a body into parts like a surgeon and improve all the parts of a woman's body. You have to be very happy to do it, very open to understanding society: by knowing fashion it helps you to integrate into society, to understand culture. I'm an observer - I'm always studying behaviour and looking at people's dress. I used to be wild and wouldn't know what was going on but now I'm quieter and more about watching what's happening. I still try to get inspired and to look at different body shapes. In my spare time I just live life. I like people - I'm always out and about in society. But I like to stay in sometimes. I like to have about four books on the go at once, to go into my bubble, take space for myself.

Living in Dubai is interesting - I think it's a stronger place than London, but it's difficult, maybe because the world is going too fast or because we miss greenery, but for me, I'm a spiritual person, so you just go with the flow. I have North African roots, and I love to cook and have people to come and eat with me. I live alone, but I often want to have a houseful of friends. I have two cuisines, North African and French, so sometimes I'll cook a tagine of lamb but with a French twist, or I'll make magrets de canard. If I'm cooking for myself I might just want quiche or salad. When I cook, I approach the ingredients in the same way as I approach the clothes - I like to mix it up.

Thirty is a really great age: you're more comfortable, more experienced, you know your job well... When I was younger I was scared even to pick up a book because if someone was so intelligent as to write it, I would think maybe he would have too much influence on me. A lot of women question themselves, but I'm like a cat - you can throw me from very high, and I'll land on my feet. I surround myself with people who care. You don't take anything with you when you go, so you should just make things much happier when you're here. Living here, you can recreate yourself all the time: another outfit every day - sexy, comfortable, casual - whatever you want. You have to take your emotions and, even in a city as hard as Dubai, use that energy as creativity.