‘Samar Breitem’ is a name everyone should know. She’s bilingual, talented, gorgeous…. oh did I forget to mention she modeled for high-end fashion brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel. Should I go on?! Samar tells The Samar Project about her road to discuss, the inside scoop of the fashion and presenting industry, her thoughts on the Oscar mixup and much more. If you’re an aspiring model, MC and/or presenter, this interview is for you! Prepare to be entertained…
Can you tell me more about yourself and your background?
I was born and raised in Dubai, and I am half-Armenian, half-Palestinian. I did my university degree in McGill, Montreal, and spent a little time in the US before coming back to Dubai.
How did you get into the presenting and modeling business? Is it tough as many people think?
When I was in high school, I had a friend who asked me if I’d be interested in hosting a kid’s game show around shopping malls in Dubai, for the first ever Dubai Summer Surprises. At the time, it seemed like a fun thing to do, so I did it. Then I went off to Canada to do my degree, worked full-time for a while, and then was spotted by the founder of a modelling agency in Dubai, who asked me if I’d ever considered modelling. Again, I thought it’d be a fun thing to do, so I went for it!
One time, I was booked by Cartier for what I thought was a regular modelling job, and when I turned up at the venue, I was asked if I’d host the evening, which was attended by entrepreneurs from all over the world. After the initial hesitation, I decided I was up to the task and did it, and found the challenge exciting and enjoyable. So I asked the agency to book more events for me to host… and here we are!
Modelling can be tough. You need to put yourself in a position where people are judging your appearance, and while you will get compliments, you will also get negative comments (I once had an audition where the lady wrote on my card that my walk was great but my face wasn’t “top”), so you need to be able to brush those off and keep going. The hours can also be long and tiring. It’s not all glamorous.
What well-known brands have you worked for as an MC and model? How was the experience?
From the modelling perspective, I’ve been fortunate to have worked with the most amazing designers and jewelry brands, including Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels, Yves Saint Laurent, Piaget, Chaumet and many more. The experience was incredible. I can say I’ve worn the most exquisite necklaces worth millions of dollars, with the most gorgeous settings. I’ve played characters in dresses that would make any woman feel incredible, and seen the hours of work that go into making a dress a masterpiece. Fashion is truly a work of art that you wear.
As a presenter, my clients range from fashion (Grazia magazine, Ahlan! Middle East, Mouawad Jewelry, Dior for Sephora) to corporate (Jumeirah Group, BMW, Porsche) to governmental (DP World, Etisalat, Jebel Ali Free Zone). I love presenting: the challenges it throws up, the mental stimulation, the feeling of accomplishment when a show goes well and when the audience is engaged and the client is happy!
What does it take to become a great presenter and model?
Professionalism: It’s simple, but I would say professionalism has taken me much further than my looks ever did. I was always on time (meaning 15 minutes early), polite, and I followed instructions. A good attitude also helps. This applies to both presenting and modelling. Also, you need to be comfortable on a stage or in front of the camera. In person, I’m quite shy, but once the makeup is on, hair is done and the fabulous dress and high heels are on, I’m ready to get out there.
Where it diverges is where modelling emphasizes appearance (height, clear skin, slim physique), presenting requires brain. On a stage as a presenter, I’m usually the first face the audience will see, and the first representative of the brand they will hear, sometimes in two languages. I need to have some knowledge of the industry, whether it’s technology, cars, makeup, or government. I research as much as I can before meeting a client to find out more so I am more informed, even though a lot of events are scripted. It’s always better to know more than less.
What are the hard bits and what are the fun, easy bits on the job?
The hard bits are when things are a little rushed, or even last-minute. When something goes wrong on stage, people will assume, naturally, that it’s your mistake, when it could be technology letting you down, or something not in your control.
The fun bits are the excitement of standing backstage, when the lights dim and the music starts, and you’re raring to go! And when the audience laughs at a joke, or claps enthusiastically, and when the event ends with a great audience and a client that is super-happy. Dressing up is also always fun for me!
With that whole envelope mix up at this year’s Oscars with La La Land being mistakenly awarded Best Picture, what would you have done if you were in Jimmy Kimmel’s position as a presenter? Would you have done the same?
Interestingly enough, as a presenter, in one aspect, you’re running the show, but in another, the show is running you, because you are one cog in a big wheel full of other cogs. So yes, he kept it going in the best way he could given the circumstances.
Of course everyone makes mistakes. We’re all humans after all. Has this somewhat similar occurrence happened where you’ve made an error? How would you try to smooth out the awkwardness and/or the mess up?
I have found myself in some sticky situations, where sometimes, as mentioned previously, technology fails you. I’ve had a microphone die on me at an event at the World Trade Centre ballroom. So I did the intro by speaking louder and projecting my voice as best as I could, then was informed that the issue had been sorted out, only to go back on stage to find out that it hadn’t and that the mic still wasn’t working, so I did the rest of the presentation by voice only!
Twice, on two other occasions, the autocue (those screens we read off at some events), froze, or died completely. These happened at awards shows, where I was listing nominees for each category and then announcing the winners, so it wasn’t something I could’ve just made up on the spot. So I apologized to the audience, explained that there was a minor issue, and got the problem solved, in one case by signaling to the autocue person, who thankfully understood me and sorted it out, and in another by finding the hard copy and using that.
As with most work, sometimes the event will not go smoothly, even when you’ve rehearsed. You just deal with it as with most things: you keep going till you get to the end, and you try to do it with calmness and grace, and all will be well.
What was the most memorable experience you had during your career?
Oh, so many great memories! I’ve introduced Saad Lamjarrad to a VVIP fashion and celebrity film crowd, only to have them all get on their feet, go nuts and start dancing on chairs and tables. I’ve launched a car to an audience that was watching the show from a fleet of yachts on some balmy nights in Abu Dhabi, while I was standing on a platform built over the water. I have presented in front of royalty: the Sheikhs of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ajman, and the princess of Belgium.
People everyday are always auditioning for roles, whether it’s as an MC or model, what does it take to reach that desired level?
A great attitude, enthusiasm, and professionalism. For many clients, whether it’s a fashion show or an event, it’s the culmination of months of work they’ve put in, and it’s lovely for them to see you invested in their vision and creation as much as they are. We used to do so many shows, sometimes several in a day, and yes it was tiring, but to give it 100% every time means a lot to a fashion designer/ event organiser.
What tips or advice do you have for those starting out in the industry, something you wish someone would have told you?
Dita von Teese said it really well: You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there will still be somebody who hates peaches. You can’t please everyone all the time, and to attempt to do so is futile. Just be confident in what you are bringing to the table, realise its value, and you’ll go far.
Who do you consider as your role model? Why?
I admire the eloquent speakers: Hanan Ashrawi used to fascinate me when I was younger, Barack Obama, Tony Blair. Politics aside, they are incredibly well-spoken, articulate people.
How do you stay in shape?
I’ve always been on the slim side, but with time, I realized that slim doesn’t equate with healthy. I do a lot of weightlifting (and no, it doesn’t make you bulky!) and recently discovered a love for running (I did the 10k Dubai Standard Chartered Marathon 2017).
How can we achieve that model pose that us non – models fail to perfect?
Thanks to the wonders of Instagram, most people now seem to get it right. The only slight adjustment I would make is to elongate the neck. A lot of people nail the one leg out and slightly bent with one hand on the hip, but forget to push the shoulders back and stretch the neck out to achieve that beautiful, graceful long line. Although my common mistake is to smile too wide. My agent is always telling me not to smile too much!
What’s next for you?
I have a bit of travel planned for this year, but I’m hoping to work on some collaborations for some corporate clients on different platforms.
I am also working on some interviews with people from the fashion industry, but I can’t say too much. All I can say is: Stay tuned!
Thank you for taking part in this interview! Is there anything you’d like to add or share with our readers that we haven’t covered?
Thank you for reading! (I have a huge smile on my face typing this… yes, the one my agent tells me not to do!)
You can follow Samar Breitem on Instagram @samarbreitem
note: all answers are original and unaltered