Inside Out: Kelly Smith and House of Bazaar

How Kelly Smith's illustrations have brought style and elegance to House of Bazaar, a major Dubai fashion event hosted by Harper’s Bazaar Arabia

Between 9 and 13 October, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia are taking over the central gallery in The Mall of the Emirates with an amazing installation called the House of Bazaar.

Configured like a house, and themed on the main pillars of the magazine’s content, there will be rooms for fashion, beauty, wellness and children, plus a special atrium. A key visual element of the event, and its coverage in the magazine, will be a series of stunning fashion and beauty illustrations created by Australian artist Kelly Smith.


A floral Valentino dress set against the backdrop of the atrium

While last year’s event went for a mid-century look, for House of Bazaar 2018 Kelly’s clients at Harper’s Bazaar Arabia have had a more modern structure created, with more glass and a clean and contemporary visual style throughout.

This theme had to resonate through the illustrations in a realistic way, with Kelly providing a touch of poetry via her brushstrokes. “This way the house feels more magical, more inviting, more intriguing and draws the viewer in, willing them to visit,” says Emily Baxter-Priest, deputy editor at Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and it formed the basis of Kelly’s approach.


“It was about simpler silhouettes and fabrics rather than lots of texture and pattern,” says Kelly. “The house itself has a minimal look, but the figures still needed to be engaging and aspirational. Arabian women have a very beautiful and luxurious look so we wanted to reflect that in the styling – long luscious hair, dramatic eyes and elegant, sumptuous outfits.”

Fashion and beauty

As well as a key theme image for each ‘room’ in the installation, Kelly was commissioned to create portraits of celebrated regional fashion influencers who were invited to walk in the House of Bazaar fashion show. For these she set herself a template to ensure continuity across the series, with a focus on keeping them simple and impactful. So she concentrated on clear and beautiful facial features, adding flourishes of colour.

“I really loved the portrait of the style influencer Karen Wazen Bakhazi,” says Kelly. “It was the first portrait in the series and shaped my approach for the rest. It was quite pared back which allowed me to emphasise certain facial features, hair, coloured brush strokes and some small details that might otherwise get lost. Karen has these incredibly beautiful eyes so it’s one of my favourites.”

Style Influencer, Karen Wazen Bakhazi

With a tight deadline, time was of the essence but Emily and her team found that Kelly’s work required little revision. The key feedback given related to cultural awareness and how women in the region like to dress. “For example, we cannot show exposed skin around certain parts of the body, hemlines are lowered and necklines raised,” says Emily. “We also talked in detail about how voluminous women’s hair is here, how beautiful their olive skin is and how stunning their dark eyes are.”

Wherever changes were needed, Kelly showed her flexibility, quickly and creatively adding and removing elements as required.

Illustrations everywhere

The illustrations Kelly has created are being used in a variety of ways to promote the event and to tie together its visual themes. They are appearing on the invitations, marketing collateral, social and online media, merchandise such as goodie bags, and the images will have a key roll to play in a 24-page section of the magazine centred on the House of Bazaar event.

“There was a very clear idea of what needed to be executed for each layout from the beginning, and I was provided with a rough mock up of the print section so I was able to see clearly where each illustration would be placed,” says Kelly. “It also helped that we were all on the same page about how everything would look and likewise I was given a lot of freedom to do my thing based on the information and references I was given by the team.”


A tight deadline can force an artist out of their comfort zone, but it often gives a project extra impetus when creatives are thinking on their feet and finding innovative solutions. On this project, literal depictions of rooms were neither practical nor desirable, but spot illustrations helped to quickly fine tune the right feel for each space, like adding a stick of lipstick or a botanical element.

Lovely floral patterns

This inventiveness helps keep things fresh for an artist, and this project was exciting for Kelly, who is in her element when the topics are fashion and beauty. “I loved the Atrium image. The architecture of the Mall of the Emirates is so beautiful and the emerald colour it reflects is so lovely. I also loved dressing one of the girls using the Valentino collection. Such beautiful floral patterns - I probably didn’t heed my own less-is-more advice when it came to choosing the girls’ outfits!”

The verdict from her clients at Harper’s Bazaar Arabia has been positive. “We had wanted something authentic and contemporary but still poetic and lyrical, and that’s what Kelly delivered,” says Emily. “She beautifully managed to balance the two worlds of realism and fantasy so that the illustrations told the story of House of Bazaar in a poetic way.”


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