We all have our off days. And so it was with the present world tennis No1 Serena Williams when she met an Emirati designer as part of her contract as a Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship ambassador.
But it didn’t take much for the 31-year-old, who pulled out of the tournament on Wednesday, to perk up. Dressed in a pink Nike top — she has a $40 million (Dh146 million) deal with the apparel maker — Williams had barely sat down when she saw the traditional Emirati hand jewellery laid out for her on the table in a penthouse suite at the Jumeirah Creekside hotel.
“I love these,” she gushed as Hind Beljafla, who along with sister Reem are behind Das Collection, put it on for her.
Settling down on the sofa, Williams quickly and confidently immersed herself into her role as a presenter for the Dubai Duty Free promotional video.
“I love fashion so we’re going to talk design and compare notes,” she said to the camera, before she shot a volley of questions at Hind.
“So what’s your inspiration this season? What kind of silhouettes do you usually do? Is it mostly black for abayas?”
Hind matched her word-for-word, explaining the significance of the abaya, and what she and her sister set out to do with the label, which recently went international.
“We started [it] after we found that there were very few options for us to wear,” she explained. “We were really into fashion so we wanted something traditional yet glamorous.”
Looking through the latest collection of dresses and abayas set up on a rack especially for her, Williams, a designer herself for her label Aneres (Serena spelled backwards), looked impressed.
“I’m really into red this season so I really like this,” she said as she singled out a gown. “You guys have really bold colours. I love your stuff.”
She seemed intrigue by the flowy abayas. “These are very well draped. Is this high-waist? Is it a two piece?”
Urged by the camera crew to try on one, and assisted by Hind, Williams obliged.
“This is edgy,” she said as she picked an abaya. “Do you get hot under this? And where would I wear this? What would I wear underneath?”
She wasn’t much of a sport though when asked to twirl a bit for the camera. “No, I’m OK,” she apologised. “Sorry, my hair is a mess and my confidence is really low right now with my hat.”
She’d just come from an “all-access” interaction with the media and she was starving, she explained.
Then, after a few more questions, she was ready to leave.
“Well I hope you have found this as interesting as I have,” her piece-to-camera script read. “Thanks for joining me talking about my passion for fashion and design and thanks to you Hind for sharing your ideas and culture with me.”
She also answered a few rehearsed questions about the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Tour Championships, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
“Billie Jean King stood up for us,” she said of the legendary WTA founder who fought for gender equality in tennis. “She’s an amazing woman. Thank you Billie Jean.”
We will never know if Williams understood the significance of her presence at that suite: world No 1 in a sport, which has always been at the forefront of women’s emancipation, talks about a female sporting legend in the presence of an Emirati designer whose label has been known to break taboos about women and fashion in the Gulf.
But she was in a hurry to leave.
“I’m gonna go,” she said as soon as she mouthed her final lines for the film. “I’ve been doing interviews a lot today. But thank you very much.”