Update (14/07): Here, Bazaar hands you your VIP, all-access pass to our July/August issue cover shoot with legendary Tunisian supermodel Afef Jnifen, shot by Ellen von Unwerth and sponsored by Cartier. Step into our world...
Original article (06/07): When MBC Group unveils its Arab version of Project Runway on September 17 its impact may be far greater than its earlier incarnation, which ran for two seasons on Beirut-based Future TV from 2006-2007. In the last 10 years, much has changed in the region’s fashion landscape, now home to an expanding pool of young design talent from North Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Gulf. After decades of being discouraged to pursue careers in the fashion industry, a new generation of Arab designers has emerged with degrees from venerable institutions such as Central St Martins in London and New York’s Parsons, in addition to fledgling design schools established in the region over the last decade.
“Relaunching Project Runway in the Middle East is part of a concerted effort to provide a platform for young Arab design talent in order to hone their skills and become active players in the regional and global fashion industry,” says Mazen Hayek, MBC Group’s spokesperson for the reality TV show, whose first season is set to air on MBC4 and MBC MASR. Among the personalities tapped for Project Runway is Faris Al Shehri, the Saudi creator behind Maison BO-M in Riyadh, who will mentor participants in line with the role Tim Gunn played in the show’s American version, while Lebanese-Australian model Jessica Kahawaty will step into Heidi Klum’s shoes as Project Runway’s host. Heading the panel of three judges is Lebanese designer Elie Saab, who will be joined by the Tunisian-Italian style icon Afef Jnifen, handpicked by Elie for the show’s launch.
Jacket, Dhs7,720, Fendi. Dress, Dhs16,100, Alberta Ferretti Limited Edition. Merveilleux necklace, platinum, with a 5.86-carat pear-shaped, yellow diamond and brilliant-cut diamonds, Cartier
“When it came time to select the judges, both Elie Saab and MBC unanimously agreed that Afef would be a perfect addition to the panel. She comes to the show with years of experience in the fashion industry, which allows her to provide informed and constructive feedback to the show’s participants,” observes Mazen of Afef’s role on Project Runway, which although filmed at MBC’s studios in Beirut, will conclude with a grand finale set to air live from Dubai Design District on December 10, 2016. For Afef, the decision to return to television after taking an extended hiatus was one she thought carefully about. “When I stepped down from my show in Italy, I still continued to receive proposals for new TV shows, including an Italian version of Project Runway. But I declined most of them because I needed a break from the spotlight and to spend time with my family,” confides the mother-of-one, who was lured back to the small screen thanks to her friend Elie Saab.
“Elie is someone I respect a great deal, not only for his creativity but also his sense of humanity. The fact that he wants to open the fashion field to a new generation in the region and provide opportunities for them to grow, reflects his spirit of generosity,” says Afef, who had first met the Lebanese couturier in 1997 when she modelled in his debut show at Rome’s Alta Moda. “I had been booked for several shows that season, when I heard there was an Arab designer in town showing his collection. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to do his show, because back then there were very few people from the Middle East working in the industry,” recalls Afef, who in 2005 was honoured with the keys to the town of Mazara de Vallo in Sicily for her efforts to raise funds for a charity helping immigrant families.
For MBC, choosing to make such a bold statement with Project Runway in its first season ultimately raises the question of whether the show could have a much broader resonance beyond fashion, a point Afef considered before joining its cast of judges.
"It’s also an opportunity to create a space for dialogue and self-reflection in the region, whether we are doing so through fashion or art. My decision to do this show was also about making an important statement that we need to support design talent in the Middle East and show that they can have the same impact as Western designers,” explains the Tunisian beauty, who was born in Medenine, Tunisia on November 3, 1963.
Dress, Dhs99,500, Roberto Cavalli. Merveilleux earrings, platinum with 6.03-carat vivid yellow oval-shaped diamonds; Paillettes Solaires necklace, platinum with white gold, yellow gold and rose-cut diamonds and triangle-shaped briolette-cut diamonds, both Cartier. Shoes, Dhs4,600, Gianvito Rossi
Afef has long used the small screen as a platform to fight Islamophobic and anti-Arab rhetoric in the West, particularly in Italy where she has carved out a career as a respected television presenter. Yet despite being a familiar presence at glittering events such as the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, she has remained something of an enigma in both the West and the Middle East. Newspapers and publications frequently strain to find the words to describe her multi-faceted career, alternately referring to her as a socialite, television host, humanitarian, model and brand ambassadress.
For Afef, that allusive quality has been carefully cultivated over the span of three decades in the spotlight. “Despite my job, which requires me to be in front of the camera, I tend to be a very private person and I don’t like to open my personal life to the press, especially in Europe where it can be invasive at times,” says Afef, who despite her fame in Europe is not as widely known in the Middle East; a level of anonymity that is set to change once Project Runway broadcasts into millions of households across the region. “There are times when the press will invent stories just to sell more issues of a magazine. But at the same time, if I can use this platform to change perceptions about the Middle East and Arab women in particular then I’m happy to do so to reach as many people as possible."
Dress, Dhs91,600, Valentino. Paillettes Solaires earrings, platinum yellow triangle-shaped briolette-cut diamonds; Illumination ring, white gold with a 27.16-carat cushion-shaped sapphire, both Cartier
For the full article and photoshoot, pick up the July/August issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
Styling: Katie Trotter. Photography: Ellen von Unwerth. All jewellery Cartier Magicien High Jewellery collection. Prices approximate. Photographer’s assistants: Stan Rey Grange and Nominoe Queinnec. Digital operator: Jerome Vivet. Videographer: Matthieu Lemaire-Courapied. Fashion assistants: Lamya Parker and Gemma Deeks. Stylist’s assistant: Sophia Drakou. Hair: Marc Osatelli at Agence Aurelien. Make-up: Cathyanne MacAllister at B-Agency. Nails: Anatole Rainey at B-Agency. Set design: Marcel Van Doorn. Set design assistant: Arnaud Laurens. Producer: Clara Rea. Production assistant: Pierre Tostain. Associate producer: Mohieb Dahabieh. With thanks to Le Meurice, Paris, Dorchestercollection.com