It is no secret that the modeling industry has, for decades, been Euro-centric and severely lacking in diversity. The specificity of the criteria with which models are often chosen for international brands, magazines, and modeling agencies, has often ventured into the arena of problematic; for the longest time, the traditional definition of 'model' included fair complexions, incredibly skinny and tall figurines, and – quite often – blonde hair.
The overwhelmingly white beauty standards have been on many incidents exclusionary, and prevent many aspiring models - who come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and crucially, ethnicities - from visibility and recognition. When it comes to Arab models, everyone knows the Gigis and the Bellas of the world, and even the Halimas but there's a whole new slew of up-and-coming talents who are starting to make it big.
Modelling was something which only ten years ago was a rarity for Arabs and now, they are booking shows, and breaking boundaries. So we’ve gathered a few of the biggest names who have been changing the face of the industry in the past few years, and look like they will definitely continue to do so for years to come...
1. Imaan Hammam
Photo courtesy of Patrick Demarchelier for Vogue China.
Photo courtesy of Ethan James for WSJ Magazine.
Imaan Hammam is right now, one of the most famous models of Middle Eastern descent; the Dutch-Egyptian-Moroccan model has featured on three American Vogue covers, and garnered almost a million followers on her Instagram, which she uses as a platform to embrace her Arab heritage. “I want to be a role model for young girls who are struggling with racism or with their looks or skin color,” she says. “There aren’t many Arab models. As a North African Arab model, I’m trying to open doors for more Arab girls."
2. Shahad Salman
Photos courtesy of Shahad Salman.
This Saudi model, often heralded as a Winnie Harlow doppelgänger, hails from Mecca and has made waves across the world with her distinct look and unconventional story, which began with a make-up artist looking for a girl who had “the same skin condition as Harlow” – vitiligo, the loss of pigment in certain patches of the skin – and ended with her being on a Vogue Arabia cover with the Canadian femme. She later scored a spot on a Paco Rabanne campaign, and has started walking runways ever since.
3. Azza Slimene
Photo courtesy of Aaron Lippman for V Magazine.
Photo courtesy of L'Officiel Russia.
22-year-old Tunisian model Azza Slimene has joined Hammam as one of the very few Arab models to walk for Chanel (at Paris Fashion Week in 2018), and has already signed with NEXT Models Paris, Milan, and New York’s The Lions, some of the foremost modeling agencies in the world.
4. Ahmad Kontar
Photos courtesy of Siampaolo Sgura for Man About Town.
A dancer-turned-model, 23-year-old Syrian Ahmed Kontar has come a long way from Soueida, the small city where he used to play sports, long before war erupted in his country. Now signed to the global model network (the largest in the world) Elite Models, Kontar has appeared on the covers of magazines such as L’Officiel Homme and Man About Town.
5. Nora Attal
Photo courtesy of Alexander McQueen.
Photo courtesy of FMD.
20-year-old Moroccan-British fashion model Nora Attal has already – at the start of her career – proven herself as a force to be reckoned with on the runway, walking for the likes of Chanel, Alexander McQueen, and Dior. She’s also been on the cover of British Vogue and Vogue Arabia, and has been chosen as one of the world’s top 50 models on models.com; proving her place in the international modeling scene and as one of the most promising new faces of the industry.
6. Qaher Harhash
Photo courtesy of Julien Tell for Highsnobiety.
Photo courtesy of bonjour garcon studio.
Featuring on Versace, Diesel, and Hugo Boss lookbooks is Palestinian model Qaher Harhash, who’s been credited as the first Palestinian male model in modern history. While facing difficulty making a name in the industry back from his hometown, East Jerusalem – a sad reality for many aspiring Arab models whose countries' politics are far from stable – he later moved to Berlin where he was signed to a prominent agency – Iconic Management.
7. Tilila Oulhaj
Photo courtesy of MAISON ARTC.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Kho.
Hailing from Azilal in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, Oulhaj has been inspired by her culture’s rich fashion heritage since she was a young girl, rifling through magazine pages and family photo albums. Fast forward a few years, she’s now the face of Yves Saint Laurent’s newest cosmetics collection, and she currently graces the first cover of Vogue Arabia of the year. Although she works heavily with local fashion brands, she’s recently also been heading towards global success, having modeled for the likes of Moncler and Burberry.
8. Sonia Ben Ammar
Photo courtesy of David Slijper at Chris Boals Artists, for Harpers Bazaar Arabia.
This French-Tunisian model – and daughter of renowned film producer Tarek Ben Ammar and actress Beata – has taken the world by storm since her emergence on the scene both as a model (a few years ago) and a singer (last year). Leading spring fashion lines for everyone from Miu Miu to Dolce & Gabbana, the 20-year-old is now also signed to Next Management Paris. Although originally scouted on the streets, her debut on the runway and rapid subsequent success make her one of the most important young models to watch.
9. Malika El Maslouhi
Photo courtesy of FMD.
Photo courtesy of Francesco Scotti for Vogue Arabia.
Moroccan-Italian model Malika El Malhousi was named by Vogue as one of the best performers at NYFW for spring 2020, where she walked for brands like Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, and Oscar de la Renta. “It’s important to be visible. I think I have something to say and I want to be an example for the new generation,” she says to Mille Magazine about her work, which involves participating in the occasional shoots (the most recent being for Dior) in her home country.
10. Ali Latif
Photo courtesy of Lucie Hugary for Versace.
This Tunisian model has graced the pages of Vogue Spain and Fantastic Man, and has been the face of a Balmain hair products line as well as walked for French labels AMI and Haider Ackermann. Besides being signed to multiple agencies, models.com also ranked Ali Latif among the “men of the season” in 2017.
11. Deba Hekmat
Photo courtesy of Yolanda Y. Liou for Celina Bassili.
Photo courtesy of GCDS.
One of the emerging fashion models who is very closely tied to her Middle Eastern heritage, Deba Hekmat — now based in the U.K. — is signed to Anti-Agency and known to champion diversity and inclusivity in the modeling industry. She has walked for Vivienne Westwood and Vetements, and continues to model for streetwear and sports brands (like Nike and Hoodlab) while embracing her Middle Eastern origins both on the runway and on social media, where Deba (not Debbie, as her Instagram bio proudly proclaims) does shoots for Middle Eastern magazines and projects, and explains in one Instagram post that she “hopes to be part of the change in Middle Eastern media.”
12. Habiba El kobrossy
Photo courtesy of Ismail Sabet.
Egyptian model Habiba El-Kobrossy, although still early on in her modeling career, has been signed to multiple labels across Egypt, France, Italy and the UAE. A Taekwondo athlete, in the span of just one year, she has already walked runways for haute couture label Sara Onsi and Peter Pilotto, and the self-titled “warrior princess” is quickly gaining global recognition.