Woven throughout the 10th-anniversary issue of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia are a richness of reflections on Arabia; a tribute to the cultural brilliance and beauty of the region. At the time that hijab-wearing model Halima Aden is making international headlines by challenging the expected manifestation of high fashion, Bazaar is proud to amplify the messages of tolerance and diversity that are delivered by the many inspirational people featured in our pages.
For our anniversary cover shoot, Bazaar brings together three models – Shanina Shaik, whose father is Saudi/Pakistani; Tunisian Hanaa Ben Abdesslem; and Hind Sahli, Moroccan – for a celebration of Arab beauty. Shanina, who grew up in a Muslim household in Australia, tells Bazaar, “I’ve always had a struggle with finding my place.” She welcomes the momentum that has been gathering pace following fashion’s embrace of Halima. “She wants to show the world that you can be a Muslim, or a refugee, wear a hijab and conquer so much,” Shanina says. Hind Sahli reinforces the message, telling Bazaar, “The fashion industry is opening up to diversity no matter what your religion, colour or country. Every woman deserves a chance in every industry, not just the fashion world.” Continuing the widening of this dialogue beyond fashion, I am honoured that two of the UAE’s diplomats have penned open letters addressing women of the Arab world for this anniversary issue.
Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States of America, writes, “The women in our region are strong. They are the true backbone of our families, our culture and our society. They are defining their own path for themselves... The sheer power of their presence and independence is a force in itself.” Illustrating the strength of women with an anecdote from his mountaineering adventures, when a female guide saved his life, Omar Saif Ghobash, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the Russian Federation and author of Letters to a Young Muslim, writes that, “Individual males and females can swap culturally assigned roles of strong and weak, steady and emotional, tough and fearful,” recommending that gender stereotypes be reconsidered. “Perhaps we can give each other greater credit, as we build a more inclusive Arab and Muslim world,” he urges.
As with all anniversaries, it is enlightening to reflect on what has gone before, and we explore the legacy of a legendary editor-in-chief, whose editorial coverage of elegant women across the Middle East in the 1970s opened a window onto the beauty and sophistication of the region. An image taken in 1971 of 18-year-old Princess Shahrazad, the niece of the Shah of Iran, wearing a choker by David Webb, could well be of one of today’s millennial Insta-stars, such is its timeless appeal. And what a treat to see a 1979 portrait by photographer John Lewis Stage of the then Saudi Minister of Royal Protocol, Sayed Ahmad Abdul Wahhab, with his daughters Nora and Sara in the spectacular oriental room of his Riyadh residence. These images of a progressive and enlightened time in the region serve as both an inspiration and a reminder of the integral elegance of the Arab world.
Revisiting forgotten 45-year-old photographs is a wonderful antidote to the digital bombardment of today’s social media-driven society. Yet the success of Halima Aden and blossoming online modesty movement, gives me hope that the exhibitionism-propelled reward system of social media might soon be challenged by a more considered alternative. As one of this month’s contributors says, “Being modest doesn’t mean you’re not being a courageous fashionista, it’s purely about not exposing so much skin.” That women can have a choice – to cover themselves, or not; to climb mountains, or not; to appear on catwalks, or not – is to be celebrated. As Ellen von Unwerth, who photographed the 10-year anniversary story for Bazaar, urges women of the region, “Be united, be strong.”