The Arab world introduced many famous names to the modeling industry in the eighties. They were elusive legends until Arab radicalism came along and chastised and disgraced them. But the light of Farida Khlefa and Iman has yet to dim. Where are those Arab models today and how have they managed to defy the Arab veil of obscurity?
Haya & Sama Abu Khadra
Haya and Sama Abu Khadra attended their first fashion week in Paris at the age of fourteen. Photographers hovered around the twins taking their pictures and thrusting the unsuspecting Saudi-born Palestinians into the fashion world. Haya and Sama caught the eye and hearts of many fashion designers who recruited them to launch their collections. The twins, now 21 years old, grace the covers of some of the most coveted magazines and websites. Karl Lagerfeld – whom the twins count among their friends – is simply in love with them. Chanel wants them to promote its collections, and their latest photo-shoot was for “Jamalouki” magazine in Dubai to launch the Chanel collection Métiers d'Art Paris-Dallas for the June 2014 issue.
Haya and Sama’s mother owns the lifestyle boutique “The Art of Living in Riyadh,” and the twins always accompanied their mother on her travels. And so, Haya and Sama – also known as the “It-girls” – discovered the mysteries of fashion and went on to become the most famous Middle Eastern models in the world. They have since moved to Los Angeles to pursue their studies at the University of Southern California (USC) and while they see their style as “more formal” than other students, they have learned to appreciate the simplistic American collective fashion.
Hanaa Ben Abdesslem
Hanaa is the first Arab face of Lancome. Her debut was in 2011 in a Vivienne Westwood fashion show, moving on to Givenchy, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, and French Vogue editorial. Hanaa did not settle for an ordinary modeling career, but rather sought to alter her nation’s misconception about modeling; she is proud of her Tunisian origins and considers her country as the land of traditions, culture, and history. Today, international brands, like Lancome, are expanding the borders of the fashion world by diversifying their pick of models and targeting different cultures. Hanaa Ben Abdesslem, comparable to Isabella Rossellini, is the symbol of the Arab woman that modeling agencies look for to circumvent classic beauty.
Two years ago the Arab-Israeli model Huda Naccahe stirred controversy when she was featured on the cover of an Arabic-speaking magazine clad in a skimpy bikini. Huda, then 22 years old, found the photo to be nothing beyond ordinary, explaining that it was taken solely in the context of the Miss Earth competition. Huda may be on point in her argument, but the public opinion was split between outraged and supportive, the latter camp praising Huda for “shaking the earth” with her audacity. Huda was not afraid to be the first Arab to undertake such a bold step and to represent the emancipated Arab woman: “I am a professional model, this should be normal,” Huda said.
The Egyptian beauty of Italian and French descent is one of the most famous Arab models. Elisa owes her success to her ambition that goes beyond her visible beauty. She entered the fashion world in her teens and her career culminated when she was eighteen years old with a role in her first Italian feature film. Elisa was introduced to the modeling scene in London where she was part among others of Chanel, Cavalli and Diane von Furstenberg promotional campaigns. She was also featured in European movies but recently focused her attention on the Elisa Sednaoui Foundation, which she founded to promote creative learning and after-school programs for kids. The foundation’s first project targets the children of Luxor, Egypt – a city close to her heart – with art workshops that teach the children values like equality, tolerance and women empowerment. Lisa sees herself as a global citizen; she is fluent in five languages including Arabic. Her passion for life, earth and humans drives her to achieve that which is impossible for others. Elisa has a son, Jack, with Alexander Dellal, whom she allegedly recently married. She lives in London where she runs her foundation, as well as her modeling and movie directing careers. Her most recent work focuses on designing her Little-a-Like collection for mothers and children, whose profits go to the support of Egypt’s children.
Born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, Jelena Noura (or Gigi) Hadid is the daughter of Palestinian businessman Mohammed Hadid and Dutch reality TV star Yolanda Foster. Gigi carved her own way through the modeling world despite her privileged upbringing, to become one of the most sought after models. She began modeling at the age of two when Paul Marciano of Guess discovered her. She modeled throughout her childhood and only stopped to concentrate on horseback riding and volleyball. Her mother eventually allowed her to resume her passion at the age of seventeen. She made her debut in New York Fashion Week in 2013, which propelled her onto the fashion scene. She is now mainly involved in sports fashion shows, for Guess of course, in addition to several appearances in short film productions.
This article is also published in Arabic