Access all areas: ADFF's VIP lounge

We take a sneak peek into the exclusive VIP lounge at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, and we are rather impressed.
From fragrance, to clothing, to electronic devices, VIPs can take their pick from the goodies at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival VIP lounge.
From fragrance, to clothing, to electronic devices, VIPs can take their pick from the goodies at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival VIP lounge.

VIP lounges are renowned as glamorous affairs held in idyllic locations. As well as relaxing and entertaining, a VIP lounge needs to be seen by at least some of the non-VIP crowd in order to maintain its lustre. The jealousy, the longing and the good-natured scheming to gain access is part of a VIP lounge's appeal.

Then again, there is the other kind of VIP appeal: the kind that focuses on the discreet and exclusive - almost like entering a party that requires a secret door-knock.

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival VIP lounge is such an affair. Hidden in a suite in the upper levels of the Fairmont Hotel, it is only through a specially crafted invitation that one knows where it is.

Even with the invitation, some celebrities were caught wandering the corridors of the hotel aimlessly.

When the actress Aimee Mullins and her entourage arrived, it was only when seeing a member of hotel staff wheeling in a tray of champagne that they realised they were at the right location.

Designed by the firm Tactical Connections, the lounge resembles a chic boutique store with freely available designer labels and shoes side by side with high-end confectioneries, electronics and beauty treatments.

No stranger to such soirées, the manager Katherine Raso ran a similar lounge at the Toronto Film Festival and this is her second time designing and running the Abu Dhabi Film Festival VIP lounge.

"We have gone with Middle East culture meets western glamour," she says.

"It's about showcasing and educating the celebrity visitors about the culture and traditions of the region and offering a little piece of the Middle East to take home with them."

Indeed, the lounge is a shopper's paradise. Nearly every single item - from cutting-edge electronic goods such as the BlackBerry 9900 and the Playbook, to high-end fashion apparel such as abayas by the UAE designer label Mauzan - is available for celebrities to freely pillage at will.

A special handcrafted shopping bag is even given to the celebrities in case all those free goods become too heavy to handle. Then again, most of them arrived with assistants, ranging from young staff to patient husbands.

Upon entry is a small Möet & Chandon bar. Just ahead is a tastefully designed shelf housing "no guilt" options by the confectionery brand Candelite, including sweets that are sugar-free and organic as well as boutique chocolatebrands from Roccoco and camel milk chocolates by Al Nassma.

The main lounge room was occupied by the flip-flop brand Havaianas and Tableau; the latter selling the latest sustainability water technology from Canada.

"Would you like some 'love', my friend?" asked a wiry man clad in black suit and tie.

"Excuse me?" I replied. "Don't be shy," he winked.

His name was Abdulrahman and he was merely stating the name of a fragrance by the French perfume brand Kilian. Ranging from Dh150 to Dh1,500, other fragrance titles were equally suggestive: Prelude to Love - invitation. Back to Black - aphrodisiac and Cruel Intentions - tempt me.

There was a sudden flurry of whispers and raised eyebrows when the Emirati actress Huda Al Khatib entered the lounge, followed by a male carrying her belongings.

Al Khatib zeroed in on the shoe exhibition by Abu Dhabi's Sultan Darmaki.

Every bit the diva, Al Khatib didn't hold back her opinions on suggested footwear.

"Certainly not!" she exclaimed when offered a purple platformed shoe. "I am tall enough already but with this... it will be too much."

Behind her was a dazzling blonde model getting her photo taken as she sprawled regally on a chair.

In what was a weird role-reversal, the poor photographer couldn't seem to get it right as she attempted to explain the shot she was looking for.

"It's so 'oh darling, I don't have much time, I have too much to do!" she said in a posh British accent.

In the lounge, the Emirati filmmaker Ali Mustafa was being convinced by a tall red-head from Havaianas to try on a pair of bright flip-flops and perhaps bling it up by pinning them with some Swarovski crystals.

Mustafa had to speak over the shouts coming from behind him as the American director Michael Brandt, here to premiere his action film The Double, was inside a Formula One race car simulator impersonating the driver Michael Schumacher.

Egged on by The Double's scriptwriter Derek Hass, the filmmaker crashed his car at every bend.

"It's like being in the 405!" he whooped.

Outside the lounge was a man pacing the corridors.

While he didn't want his name to be revealed, the local film engineer and sound recordist was ensuring no one disturbed a celebrity interview at a nearby suite.

He said he was miffed at all the free make-up being given away in the lounge.

"We are at a film festival and these things don't make sense," he said.

"Do you know that when you shoot in high definition the camera can see as much as the eye? So when you put a lot of foundation on, everyone can see it. They should be giving less instead of more."

Published: October 18, 2011 04:00 AM

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