Lebanese celebrity stylist Khalil Zein on why honesty is best policy for fashion advice

Say Yes to the Dress Arabia TV show host shares his top fashion tips and reveals why he is sometimes 'too honest'

Lebanese stylist Khalil Zein, host of TV show Say Yes to the Dress Arabia, does not always say what his clients want to hear. Photo: Warner Bros Discovery
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Khalil Zein doesn't care too much for trends. “The Khalil Zein style is big and bold,” the Lebanese celebrity stylist tells The National. “But most importantly, it's different.”

With a decorated career, Zein's work speaks for itself. He's collaborated with a long list of Arab celebrity clients, from Lebanese stars Nancy Ajram, Maya Diab and Nadine Nassib Njeim, to Iraqi singer Rahma Riad.

He is, however, partial to Lebanese pop star Haifa Wehbe who, he says, opened a lot of doors for him. “Haifa is one of the most beautiful women in the world,” he says. “We've now been working together for ages.

Zein's “go big or go home” approach to style is also his philosophy in life. “I always aim big,” he says. “I wake up every day, look in the mirror and tell myself to always step it up. I'm a fighter.”

This feisty approach has translated well on TV, too. Zein hosts the Arabic version of the reality show Say Yes to the Dress, in which he helps brides find their dream dress. The show, which aired on Starzplay in 2022, returned for a rerun on TLC this month.

Filmed at Hazar Haute Couture in Dubai, the show presents a collection of bespoke bridal dresses, catering for budgets from $615 to $14,000.

“The women featured on the show come from different backgrounds and it's fun getting to know them and their culture,” says Zein. “There are times when I get emotional on the show because the brides-to-be also tend to get emotional. They are choosing a dress for a very special day. I feel happy when a bride is happy.”

While wedding wardrobes tend to follow wider fashion trends, Zein says this should not necessarily be the case. When working with brides, he pulls out a long list of criteria to ensure he offers the best advice – asking about the venue, the theme and personal preferences.

“Some will ask to be a princess, others want to be a mermaid,” he says. “I always have to understand what the bride needs and wants on her big day.

“If I see something oversized or metallic on the runway, I don't always have to follow. Some people can't pull these pieces off. My philosophy is that people need to follow what's suitable for them, whether it's their silhouette, complexion or body type. You can't just wear what's trending.”

This philosophy applies in Zein's wider body of work too, especially working with celebrities who attend different types of events in various places. The pressure is stronger in this regard, says the stylist, because the style “can go viral” for all the wrong reasons.

“I always have to be careful when working with celebrities and really understand what they are doing or attending. Is it an indoor or outdoor venue? Are they going to a boardroom or a club? Are they going somewhere conservative? These things are very important.”

Honesty still the best policy

When we ask his secret for a successful career, Zein quips: “I'm a workaholic and I love my job – that's why I'm successful.”

Zein's business, as well as his reputation, relies on his honesty, he says. “I'm too honest and straightforward, and I sometimes lose jobs,” he says with a chuckle. “Even if you are a star or a VIP client, if I don't agree with the look, I'm not going to do it. I'm known to be like this in the industry.

“I believe if you are real and truthful about who you are and what you want, you can achieve success. Be honest, be real and be confident.”

Asked to offer a style tip to regular people who are not part of his star-studded clientele, Zein says with his trademark honesty that, for most, simplicity is key.

“Always be safe and avoid going too wild,” he says. “Choose a good accessory, whether it's a nice bag or a chic pair of shoes. It can be dangerous to mix patterns and layers, and not everyone can pull that off.”

Say Yes to The Dress Arabia airs every Wednesday at 9pm on TLC

Updated: May 24, 2024, 6:21 AM