Diff 2017: VIP Lounge gifts prove a hit with celebrities

“We like to focus on regional brands, and also brands that have something new to talk about. It has to be more than just giving celebs stuff," Lounge founder Katherine Raso says

Patrick Stewart attends the VIP Lounge at the Dubai International Film Festival. Courtesy Diff
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The exclusive VIP Lounge returned to the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) for its sixth year this week, providing a haven of peace for celebrities away from the crowds at the festival outside. There were plenty of goodies on offer for the celebs in attendance, from luxury breaks in The Maldives, courtesy of the Amilla Fushi, Huvafen Fushi and Finolu resorts, to the less extravagant, but equally popular, Burj Khalifa-shaped soap from local brand The Shower Tower Company.

Lounge founder Katherine Raso insists The Lounge is about much more than simply showering A-listers with gifts, however. “We like to focus on regional brands, and also brands that have something new to talk about. It has to be more than just giving celebs stuff," she says.

Raso says the Lounge is also a vital stop-off on the celebs’ journeys to the red carpet. “Helping the celebs get ready for the red carpet is also a big part of what we do for the celebs at Diff - from mani/pedis from Sugar Beauty to dresses from United Designers to shoes from IO and jewellery from INTISARS and Villa Yasmine – it’s all about getting the regional brands some love. “

Stars showing their love this year included Cate Blanchett, who wore a ring from Kuwaiti jewellery designer INTISARS, as well as doing her bit for the environment by wearing a pair of upcycled earrings from Ken Samudio.

Indian star Sonam Kapoor, meanwhile, was the recipient of a Maldives vacation, and also developed a taste for Balqees Honey in the lounge, while her Bollywood contemporary Irrfan Khan was also spotted checking out its attractions.

Crowd favourite and Lifetime Achievement honoree Patrick Stewart was bowled over by regional brand Carter and White, who specialise in products made from finest Egyptian cotton, while IWC Filmmaker Award winner Haifaa Al Mansour, whose film Mary Shelley screened at this year's festival, opted to walk the carpet in a gown from UK brand Issa, not technically a regional brand, but making its debut in the region at Diff. Issa gifted celebrities with its latest collection to wear throughout the week during their appearances, press junkets and dinners, while the Lounge hosted an exclusive event for VIPs to celebrate the regional launch of the coveted label.

Read more from Diff 2017:

Matt Damon on ‘Downsizing’

Haifaa Al Mansour won’t get the hump after winning funding for camel movie

Local industry reacts to Saudi cinema opening announcement


Closer to home, United Designers, a collective of designers from Turkey and Morocco, were a hit with the stars, with Egyptian actress Bushra among those to hit the red carpet in one of their gowns – fans of the brand who don’t have access to the VIP Lounge needn’t worry. The United Designers range is also available at House of Fraser in Abu Dhabi.

Another big attraction this year was an exclusive bottle of a Mexican beverage designed by the acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro. The limited run of highly collectable bottles were exclusively available in the Lounge for the duration of the festival, with one being sold to a mystery buyer for US$7,000 (Dh26,000).

Despite the abundance of high fashion and luxury breaks on display, however, Raso insists that, at heart, the stars’ tastes are quite humble. “Everyone's favourite, though, was The Shower Tower - soap in the shape of the Burj Khalifa," she says. "And of course, Sugar Factory. No matter how much we focus on luxury brands, everyone wants the fun souvenirs like candy, soap and cookies. They love it.”