NOTAtalia Shustova remembers cutting off the sleeves of her school uniforms. She was never a conformist. “I always wanted to stand out,” says Shustova. Today, the 44-year-old Belarusian lawyer is part of a creative revolution in the shiny city of Dubai.
Dubai has a reputation for being a luxury business, but not exactly the kind of eccentric risk-taking that accompanies more artistic endeavours. Many of the region’s high-end businesses only set up shop in Dubai once they proved to be lucrative. Shustova followed this pattern, but her business was her own creativity. After building a reputation as a fashion influencer on social media, she launched her creative floral design company, Goshá, in Dubai in 2020 with almost instant success. His very first order? Flower displays for a Louis Vuitton fashion show.
The resilience needed to create a new life and business in a new city comes from Shustova’s upbringing. She grew up in a town 140 miles from Chernobyl, which when she was just 7 in 1986 was the site of a nuclear meltdown and a huge radioactive leak. Life immediately changed for his family. “We only ate canned food. It was very traumatic,” she says. “Forty percent of my classmates are now dead.”
The family moved to Siberia, where Shustova’s love for nature was born. “We had 10 months of winter, then 40 days of spring, summer and fall where everything blooms and then dies,” she says. “The power of nature is incredible.”
Shustova first arrived in Dubai in 2006, a trained lawyer unable to speak English. “I was a fashionable, blond, 26-year-old Russian [speaking] girl with no idea who she was,” she says now. A local real estate law firm hired her to work with Russian-speaking investors, and she eventually became a partner, allowing her to indulge her passion for luxury fashion. Her creative style as well as her extravagant extravagance were quickly noticed by Prada, who invited her to sit front row at its Milan show in 2016. “The shows were the most beautiful theater I had ever seen. and I wanted to be connected to that world,” she says.
Social media provided the platform, and as her online presence grew, paid collaborations with big brands followed. By 2016, she had left law and decided to devote herself full-time to floral design. “I saw Natalia arrive, and she stayed authentic, which is really cool,” says Pratyush Sarup, chief content officer at Architectural Digest Middle East. “She has a good eye for design and also good taste, and the two are linked by an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion.”
Since launching Goshá, Shustova has become a well-known presence in a growing boutique art community in Dubai. The city, she says, was the perfect environment to develop her unusual career. “Nothing is impossible in Dubai. No one is there to stop you, they are there to keep you going,” she says. “Creatives are welcome here.”
TIME’s Destination Dubai Series is presented by DUBAI
Watch the video at time.com/DestinationDubai
This appears in the July 04, 2022 issue of TIME.
More Must-Try Stories from TIME