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Living it up on a budget

Don’t burn a hole in your pocket buying those studded Louboutins. Make your own

Image Credit: Supplied
Simone Heng in a T-shirt thathas been thrifted and DIYcustomised
Tabloid on Saturday

Inundated with celebrities flaunting their Harry Winston jewels and Dior dresses, it is very easy to reach out for the cheesecake to indulge in a bout of self pity. And just as you climb out of that personal hell you find out that Christian Louboutin has released a spike range — but you just spent the last of your salary on groceries and the electricity bill.

Do not reach out for the tub of ice-cream just yet — go the Simone Heng way and make yourself a pair, adding your own personalised touch. Heng is the creator of, Dubai’s first do-it-yourself fashion and lifestyle blog — where she shows you how she lives “a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget”.

What prompted you to start the blog Cheap Chic?

I had a conversation with my former boss and he asked me, “You have a lot of pretty clothes Simone, are you saving your money?”. When I told him how much money I had saved since moving to Dubai, his jaw dropped. I realised I was selling the wrong perception to my fans and followers and that I was encouraging many of these young women to be silly with their finances and spend beyond their means, when the reality is I am very thrifty and frugal but have a strong aesthetic eye. was the perfect way to send out a positive message about how to scrimp on the pretty yet frivolous pieces in your wardrobe and home by being creative.

In a city like Dubai, where luxury is so commonplace, were people open to the idea of DIY fashion and bargain hunting?

You’d be surprised. There is a huge segment of the population who are expats who are not earning megabucks. For these people the idea of luxury is aspirational, they like the look of luxury items but are in no way capable of affording them. In recent years, expats are staying longer and longer in Dubai, they are leading more sustainable lifestyles, raising their children here. Creating a “real” life with more thought about where they spend and these are the people who follow the blog.

I am not at all antiluxury, many luxury brands ask me to work with them but I think I am against buying luxury items if it’s beyond your means. There is nothing glam about credit card debt, especially in a country where it can land you in jail.

Do you think the negative stereotypes of discount shopping are starting to disappear?

I have never felt that discount shopping was negative, I think it’s smart. I have always been open about where my outfits are from in press. If you study magazines, blogs and street style enough, you’ll learn to create beautiful outfits regardless of where the items are from. It takes some study but I think everyone can learn to wear discounted goods; it’s only when you’re not practised that you choose the wrong items and the pieces look cheap placed together.

Why is the new woman moving away from shelling out so much for that designer purse or dress?

I think women have largely become independent and self-sufficient. This means no man is going to “save” you. You need to have saved for your retirement, your own home and health insurance and plenty of things higher on the totem pole than a designer purse. So I think women are getting smarter, they’re seeing divorce rates and many of their peers unmarried and the need to be completely secure on their own terms has really impressed itself upon them.

Do you think fashion itself, with the advent of websites selling pre-owned designer wear, is moving towards being accessible to all?

I think with the advent of celebrity culture and it permeating everything we do, we now look to these key influencers a lot more (who look a lot more like us than models). Celebrities are showing us how to wear that extremely expensive bag in an everyday context. There’s Jessica Alba with an it-bag, on the move, driving her kid to school. This has made it more accessible for women than seeing the same bag in Vogue on a model, and women want to “live” in that picture, wanting to look as good as Jessica, doing her ordinary day in designer duds.

What are your favourite places to go bargain hunting in Dubai?

I am all about crafting pieces yourself, inspired by designer looks — that’s the easiest way to find a bargain. I have just created Dubai’s first do-it-yourself directory where we’ve gone to Satwa, catalogued 90 stores and now people can search by the item they need and find a list of stores to grab their DIY supplies. This means a lot less time in Satwa running around, especially for busy people who find the district a maze. I’ve also ranked the stores in terms of service, stock and command of English. For many of these stores it’s the first time they’ve ever been on the internet, some of them are the oldest independent businesses in Dubai.

Some tips on how to look fashionable by not burning a hole in your pocket?

Colour choice is really important, whether you’re doing a fashion DIY or sale shopping. Try and go neutral if you’re a novice. Black, nude, white or cream is always going to look more expensive in high street quality when teamed with a nice feature necklace than a neon green top and jewellery piled on top. You can perfect a more colourful, edgy look when you’re practised, but if you’re starting out and don’t want to impulse buy (remember you can’t refund sale items) then opt for a simpler colour palette and pattern choices.

I have a pretty good formula for my work-week and event-wear that works quite well. During the week, for meetings, it’ll be a bright block coloured top (with sleeves) teamed with a feature necklace or collar and jeans or trousers with flats. This formula makes me look “done” and “groomed” for meetings without too much thought when busy.

When I am busy for events and don’t have time, I usually grab one of my many vintage dresses — because I know no one else will be wearing these (Check out Bambah here in the UAE or shop those fabulous vintage boutiques when you’re overseas) and slap on fake lashes, liquid eyeliner and bright red lipstick and I’ll know I won’t have to worry about anyone being in the same dress. Even designers can’t guarantee you that someone else won’t show up in the same outfit as you, but with vintage you can be sure.

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