Ayoub: a beautiful
life - at last
one of the most popular Lebanese faces on the world scene and
probably the most controversial woman in the Arab world today.
You see her everywhere – at the front row seat next to
His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Monaco at the World Music
Awards in Monte Carlo, at countless charitable events, at the
Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film Festival… and certainly at
every major fashion show in Europe and New York.
Ayoub… For years, the name of this Lebanese beauty has been
associated with elegance and style.
But look deeper, and you’ll find a woman with incredible
perseverance, determination and strong beliefs.
her interview with Today’s
Outlook, Mouna Ayoub opened up her heart, discussing her true
feelings for Lebanon, her family, her aspirations and all that she
Ayoub is often described as one of the richest women in the world.
Ayoub is mother to five children from her previous marriage to a
Saudi man, whom she divorced in 1996. During their 18 years of
marriage, Ayoub had an extravagant lifestyle. She lived in a
30,000-square-meter palace, wore exquisite jewelry, had a collection
of the world’s most expensive cars, private jets, and one of the
biggest yachts in the world – the Lady
Mouna. However, after living for 18 years beneath a shador
that veiled her from head to toe and obeying the extreme rules
imposed on women in Saudi Arabia, Ayoub began to yearn for the
freedom she had been used to during her adolescence in Lebanon and
is something money can’t buy in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,
though. The yearning, combined with marital problems, made her
decide to start a new life, all on her own.
In 2000, Ayoub wrote La Vérité
(The Truth), an
autobiography that shot to the top of France's bestseller list and
is still selling well today as a pocket size book. Based on this
success, the book was later translated into Italian, Spanish and
Romanian, and sold out shortly after publishing in all three
countries – Italy, Spain, and Romania.
divorce as well as her book made her one of the most controversial
women in the Arab world. Some
despised her for daring to speak out – something very few Arab
women would do – while others sympathized with her struggle for a
normal life with some degree of freedom.
“It’s hard to be judged by people who don’t know you,” said
Ayoub. “What was written about me in some magazines in my own
country is totally false. This proves the shallowness of some people
as well as their laziness in their research into people’s real
life and hardship. It also tells me that they lack integrity, a
quality that is very important and certainly very essential if a
journalist wants to gain respect from others. Only my book, La Verité,
tells the truth.”
recoils from pretentiousness. “I’m humble and respectful to all
kinds of people,” she said.
“I can be humorous, but sometimes sadness and certain
memories hit me very hard and I stop laughing. Mostly, I consider
myself to be a good mother and a very hard-working person who tends
to put others ahead of herself.”
for haute couture
owns one of this century’s richest collections of haute couture.
For the past 24 years, she has amassed more than 1500
luxurious garments designed by the world’s most renowned
couturiers including Jean-Louis Scherrer, Yves Saint Laurent,
Gaultier, Chanel, Christian Dior, Atelier Versace, Carven, Balmain,
Givenchy and Christian Lacroix. She also owns unique pieces by
Lebanese couturier Robert Abi Nader and Saudi designer Yahya
name is on every fashion show’s A-list, allowing her to keep an
eye on the latest, most alluring designs.
year, Ayoub adds about 20 new designer outfits to her already
enormous collection. Many of these sumptuous pieces have never been
worn, residing instead on wooden mannequins around her living
dresses are hand-made. They are pieces of art that can either be
worn or just displayed and enjoyed.
I use the most beautiful ones to decorate my living room
while I keep the ones that are most meaningful to me in my
bedroom,” she enthused.
get personal satisfaction from couture dresses, but it’s also my
way of appreciating and supporting an art that’s disappearing. I
am really fascinated by the hands that do this beautiful work.
Sometimes it takes a dozen people spending a total of 1000 hours to
produce these magnificent pieces,” added Ayoub.
several occasions, Ayoub has loaned out some of these unique couture
dresses to promote art events. In 2000, more than 120 dresses were
exhibited at the Musée de la Mode de Marseille. Another exhibition,
entitled Collection Mouna
Ayoub, is currently being planned for the opening of the costume
museum in Bilbao, Spain.
it comes to her daily wardrobe, Ayoub defines her style as casual
and modern; sometimes sexy but unusual.
And although she mostly wears beautiful designs by Dior,
Chanel, Gaultier, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana, and Tom Ford for
Gucci, her most favorite uniform consists of nothing more than a
pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and a pair of tennis shoes.
is currently busy working on a number of projects. “One of my
goals is to create an agency that caters to working women who need
beauty-related services after 6pm either at a beauty salon or in the
privacy of their homes. Beauty salons and hairdressers all close too
early for any working woman to have a chance to get ready for an
event. Therefore, I
want to offer these women beauty services, hairdressing, manicure,
pedicure, makeup, even massages, all at a reasonable price, allowing
them to feel and look beautiful after a long day at work. I see this
as an international concept that could be established in a number of
big cities,” she explained.
project I have is to organize, with the support of big auction
houses such as Christie’s, charity sales of all the couture
dresses that wealthy women have accumulated but don’t know what to
addition to these projects, Ayoub is busy with her business
involving the Phocéa – a magnificent yacht she bought for $5.5 million in 1997
from French tycoon Bernard Tapie. To finance the renovations and
refurbishment, she sold of her jewelry collection, including the
Mouna Diamond, a unique VS1 clarity stone weighing 112.53 carats.
The Mouna Diamond is the largest Fancy Intense Yellow diamond
in the world, and was sold by Christie's in Geneva in 1998 for
$3,258,000 (about $28,773 per carat).
sacrifice of the Mouna Diamond, along with many other pieces of
jewelry, allowed Ayoub to invest $25 million in the Phocéa,
and today, the yacht boasts a gym, eight staterooms, 17 bathrooms
and three kitchens, all uniquely furnished. The weekly rate to rent
the Phocéa is $217,000 during the high season, and $175,000 during the
on all these projects and attending a variety of events around the
world keeps Ayoub on the move. “Before, I used to spend most of
my time in Lebanon, Monaco and the United States, but now I spend
it in Monaco and Santo Domingo, where I plan to buy a vacation
house,” she said. “Of course, I still visit my country. I come
to Lebanon to see my sister but my visits are very discreet. My
sister and I are very close. When I’m with her I find peace and
has spent her life living in a number of countries including
Lebanon, Monaco, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the
Dominican Republic, taking the best that every culture has to
offer. Each country has affected her in a different way, making
her the open-minded, international person she is today. Her
fluency in Arabic, French, English, Spanish and Italian also makes
her feel at home almost anywhere in the world. “I feel
Americanized in some ways, and French in others.
I also feel Spanish in the way I move and look out for
danger,” she said, “but I am first and last Lebanese. In some
respects I also feel Saudi, and I could be easily offended when
news reporters lash at Saudis left and right. Don’t forget that
I have brought to this world five beautiful, smart Saudi kids
who’ll make a big difference once they finish college. I believe
in them profoundly.”
is very proud of her Lebanese heritage and has fond memories of
her childhood and adolescent years in Lebanon. Today, the smell of
orange blossoms, thyme and olive oil immediately evoke memories of
her homeland. “When
I was little I used to enjoy climbing orange trees and bringing
fresh oranges to my mother, who loved them,” she said. “It was
a way to tell her that I loved her more than anyone in the
for charitable causes
Ayoub consider herself a success story? “A success story has too
many meanings,” she replied. “If getting your freedom a
success, then yes, my story is one of success.
But if success means working for a worldwide cause such as
finding peace in the world, then I would say I’m unfortunately
far from being successful. Many wars are being waged. As a result
of that, millions of children are homeless and hungry. There’s
too much misery in our world.
If I can’t, even slightly, affect the lives of those who
are less fortunate, then I am a failure.”
type of conscience has led Ayoub to become deeply involved in many
charitable organizations around the world. Her efforts and support
set an example for other social identities, encouraging them to
try to make a difference in their society, particularly on a
is a Board member for The American Foundation for AIDS Research
(AmFAR), one of the world’s leading non-profit organizations
dedicated to the support of AIDS research. Since 1985, AmFAR has
invested nearly $207 million in support of AIDS research
worldwide. Last May,
along with Elizabeth Taylor, Sir Elton John, Donatella Versace,
Elizabeth Hurley, Meg Ryan, Iman, and many other celebrities,
Ayoub came out to support the fight against AIDS at AmFAR’s 10th
annual Cinema Against AIDS gala in Mougins, France.
has also been using her wardrobe collection to benefit a number of
social and humanitarian events. Twice in the past two years, she
has offered hundreds of items from her collection of haute
couture, luxury prêt-à-porter and accessories for sale at
Christie’s in Paris, giving the proceeds to the Children's
Workshop at the Centre Georges Pompidou in France.
I’m mostly involved with Amnesty International in a movement to
stop honor crimes, the UNHCR – the UN refugee agency – the
Centre Pompidou for the Atelier des Enfants, and St. Jude
Children’s Research Hospital,” she said. “I’m becoming
more involved with Care France, too, and so many other
associations it’s hard to name them all.” Ayoub also supports
the Monegasque Red Cross, Action Innocence (which fights
pedophilia on the internet), La Fondation pour l’Enfance, and La
Cinefondation, as well as her children’s schools. “In Lebanon,
I helped build Maahad Beit Chabab for the handicapped. I hope
it’s still going strong,” she reflected.
after having five children, Ayoub still looks as fit as ever. Her
health and beauty routine is, in fact, far from anything
sophisticated. Instead, Ayoub prefers to stick to the basics –
getting regular exercise and drinking plenty of water each day.
be healthy, you have to avoid drinking alcohol or abusing any kind
of drugs,” she said. “The best way to stay healthy is by
staying fit, and making exercise part of your daily routine. I
exercise on a daily basis. My favorite sport is jogging because
it’s a form of meditation, isolation, and you can do it anywhere
in the world. I also enjoy swimming and tennis.”
it comes to beauty, Ayoub says she prefers a natural look. “To
be beautiful, you must be as natural as you can be,” she said.
“I personally use Dior, Chanel, Dove, Cellex X, Mila d’Opiz,
or Shiseido products, whichever is available. My favorite
moisturizer is drinking water all the time. I drink three liters a
day. It always shows on your skin, especially after a long
for perfumes, Ayoub prefers Chanel No. 5, Envy by Gucci, Eau
Fraiche de Bulgari, and sometimes she wears Eternity from Calvin
Klein. And her favorite food? “These days, it’s nothing.
Absolutely nothing,” she confessed.
believes that motherhood is one of life’s most important and
sacred missions. “If you fail in raising a loving and caring family, then I
think you have failed in life, no matter how successful you are in
your profession,” she said.
Ayoub, the principal source of true happiness is, and will always
be, her children. She’s
a person who puts family first and would trade any event in the
world for spending some quality time with her children. “An
evening with my children is my best source of happiness,” she
greatest accomplishment I have achieved in my life, is raising my
family when I was able to,” continued Ayoub. “I know I could
do better and I can be better as a person, but time is not on my
side. Another disadvantage is that I work alone; I don’t like to
delegate responsibility to others, and when it comes to serious
issues, I don’t trust anyone except my children and my sister
changes are taking place in Ayoub’s life at the moment. But like
most of us, she hopes the future will bring her what she desires
the most. “I hope
that five years from now I’ll be helping my children to raise
their children,” she said. “I’d also love to be more
involved in humanitarian activities, and help as many needy,
homeless children throughout the world as I possibly can.”
advice would Ayoub, who’s been through so much, pass on to the
young women of today? “Believe in your abilities whatever they
are, educate yourself, and follow your heart wherever it takes you
but face the consequences. Don’t depend on others, and work hard
until you get things done the right way,” she said.
mothers, I’d say first and foremost love and educate your
children because everything else in life can always wait.
And when stress or misfortune seem to be taking a toll on
your life, pick up The Prophet by Gibran Khalil Gibran and Le Petit Prince by François de Saint-Exupéry. Read them over and
over until you memorize them by heart. They’ll guide you in your
search for happiness.”
came my last question to Ayoub: If you were to ask God for one
wish, what would it be? Her answer: “To be with my children all
the time, to hug them, to kiss them, to tell them time and again
that they are the apples of my eyes and the reason for my entire