The Russian BBC service talked with the world's first top model in the hijab Halima Aden about how she manages to combine a modeling career with strict Islamic principles, and also asked industry experts about why Muslim women came to the fashion world.
Namaz in the dressing room
“I try to pray five times a day, but it doesn’t always work out,” Halima says. “One of my brightest memories is that I’m running with a prayer rug during New York Fashion Week and looking for a place to pray. Often this is a dressing room or set".
This is my first time meeting Halima at the Modest Fashion Week backstage in Istanbul. Surrounded by photographers and designers, accompanied by a personal manager and bodyguard, Halima does not miss the opportunity to talk with anyone on her way and willingly takes selfies with the staff of the show.
Halima Aden, 22, is the first hijab model to appear on the cover of British Vogue and appear in burkini on the pages of American Sports Illustrated, where mostly semi-naked models are shot.
With a growth of only 166 centimeters - too small for the top model - she is regularly invited to participate in shows of luxury brands, including Max Mara and Yeezy Kanye West. Two years ago, she became the first hijab model in the world to sign a contract with one of the largest modeling agencies, IMG Models.
“Do not change yourself, change the rules of the game,” Halima says. Its goal is to make the fashion industry more inclusive, opening the way to girls on the catwalk around the world, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation.
"Even when everything is bad, if I didn’t go through the casting, they didn’t take me to any show, I do not lose heart, because with me is always my faith. It gives me confidence and makes me whole."
What message in the Qur'an does she consider the most important for herself?
“Do not judge anyone, since only God can judge, support people, love them and help them when they’re the worst,” Halima replies without hesitation.
"I grew up in a refugee camp and I understand perfectly that this whole luxurious life can end in one moment, and I'm ready for it."
"In addition, an important part of my faith is how you interact with those who do not share your beliefs and who look at life differently from you."
Hijab spelled out in a model contract
Halima was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. Her family is from Somalia: in the mid-90s, they fled from one of the most bloody wars on the African continent. Her mother walked 12 days before going to Kenya. When Halima was six, she moved to the United States with her mother and brother. Communication with Halima's father was lost during the war.
“My friends in America thought I was a Somali princess because I told how we constantly moved from one house to another in Kenya,” recalls Halima, whose family is based in Minnesota, where the largest Somali diaspora in the United States lives. “They they didn’t know that the houses we lived in were made of plastic bottles and construction debris - all that my mother could find and crumbled during a strong wind or rain. "
"Classmates taunted me. They said that I wear a scarf on my head because I have dirty hair or made jokes about terrorists. But this is a high school, you know," Halima shrugs.
When Halima was 19, she became the first ever participant in the Miss Minnesota contest to appear on the stage in hijab and burkini, a completely closed Muslim bathing suit.
“I always wanted to take part in a beauty contest,” Halima says. “But I’m a Somali, and none of us have done this before. After the contest, I told my friends that you can wear burkini and feel confident next to the girls in open bathing suits. At least we look different, but no one can deprive us of the opportunity to try ourselves in something new. "
After the competition, Halima received a proposal for cooperation from one of the world's largest modeling agencies IMG Models.
She agreed, but set the condition: to participate in filming and go out on the catwalk only in a hijab: "I wore a hijab from childhood, for me it is as much an indispensable part of everyday wardrobe as a pair of shoes."
Halima has strict requirements for the clothes she advertises. Her faith does not allow her to bare anything in public except her face, hands and feet. This is spelled out in her model contract.
“I want to facilitate the work of designers who are not used to models like me. Before, I always carried a suitcase full of hijabs, turtlenecks and leggings,” Halima explains.
"I always travel with my manager, and this is always a woman. When there are only men on the set, she helps me change clothes."
What is Modest Fashion?
Modest Fashion is a modest, restrained or decent mode - a trend in women's clothing that is gaining popularity. Its exact definition does not exist, and the scope varies markedly in different countries and cultures. But there are some common symptoms:
Modest and closed outfits, often loose-fitting
Often, clothes conceal a woman’s silhouette without flaunting her sexuality
It is not associated with a particular religion, but is especially popular among the Muslim community. In addition, it enjoys attention among the followers of Judaism, conservative trends in Christianity or those who choose it based on personal preferences
Low Fashion Weeks are held annually in many cities, including Istanbul, Dubai, London, attracting more attention from designers, fashion brands and customers
The framework and style criteria are determined by each medium independently.
At some shows for Halima, a separate room is specially built from high cardboard walls painted in black. She - and the dressing room, and the dressing room - hides Halima from prying eyes.
“I am a Muslim, and I must remember this outside the podium,” Halima explains. “Therefore, designers and event organizers are doing everything possible to have my own small room where I feel comfortable.”
Obviously, the industry creates ideal conditions for Halima, but one cannot help but notice that the rest of the participants in the “Moderate Fashion Week” dress up in a common room in front of everyone.
What does she think of this?
“Some of the girls do not mind, they are used to this,” Halima shrugs. “Even with such a room, many models would still prefer to be together. I can’t change clothes in public, so I need a separate room. I don’t ask so much. "
"If this doesn’t suit any of the designers, I’m always ready to get up, turn around and leave."
Mom thought I would star in half-naked
Halima’s mother still does not share her daughter’s choice and believes that working as a model is contrary to faith.
A conservative Muslim woman, she strictly follows the instructions of Islam, dresses in all black and tries to stay in the background.
“I don’t like Halima appearing in noisy places where crowds gather around her and men stare at her,” she said in a rare interview for Al Jazeera.
But Halima assures that this does not harm the close and trusting relationships in the family.
“Mom knows that she can trust me,” Halima says. “She raised me correctly, so deep down she’s on my side anyway. She also understands that if something is not right for me, I won’t be with it put up, but just say no. "
"In our midst, no one had heard of the model before, many, including my mother, thought that I would be filming half-naked," Halima continues. "But now everyone is happy with my success."
However, Halima's mother was not at any show with her daughter.
“She doesn’t understand fashion trends, I don’t blame her for that. For her, clothes are something that you can don’t hesitate to throw on yourself and forget about it,” Halima says.
“Education, family, simple, ordinary life is what she would like most for me,” she adds.
The symbol of "restrained fashion" or an insult to Islam?
Halima publishes photos from the filming, public appearances and social events in her Instagram, where she has a million subscribers.
Under each photo there are tens of thousands of “likes” and hundreds of comments.
Critics accuse Halima of looking too sensual in some shots
Its subscribers are mostly young Muslim women from different countries around the world, for whom Halima is an example to follow:
"You proved that you can dress with restraint and be beautiful, thank you!"
"We adore you, Halima, you inspire the whole world."
But while some followers are delighted with the beauty of Halima, others condemn her for candid photo shoots and a “non-Muslim” way of life.
"Please stop, you are putting our religion in the wrong light, you should be ashamed!" - the user writes Min_xi.
"A girl in a hijab should not walk the way you go at all these fashion shows. If you really consider yourself a Muslim, you should not do this," writes _itsshahed__.
“No one can tell me how to behave myself,” Halima says in response to this. “Each person decides for himself.”
Halima is perceived in the world as the face of modest fashion - a direction in women's fashion, which involves closed dresses that hide the sexuality of a woman.
This trend is of particular interest in Russia, where there are entire regions with a historical predisposition to more restraint in clothing. And, according to experts, this trend is gaining momentum.
Modest fashion, by definition, does not imply belonging to a particular religion, but in Russia the majority of clients who prefer to dress in closed dresses are Muslim, says Dilyara Sadrieva, the head of the consulting and media platform Modest Russia.
"Many young girls who find it important to be accepted by non-Muslim societies are pleased to see Halima as a symbol that they can build a career in hijab and realize that the mainstream fashion industry shares and supports their values," notes Dilyara.
“On the other hand, some of Halima’s images do not quite correspond to the religious canons that she declares. This repels the girls who strictly observe them,” the expert continues. "It causes concern and discontent of many."
"Restraint and modesty should be achieved not only and not so much by wearing a scarf and restrained style in clothes, but also in the lifestyle as a whole, including the rejection (or restriction) of a" glamorous "lifestyle," continues Dilyara.
“Halima attends many social events, as her role in show business requires, including alcohol, and for many, such a lifestyle can cause rejection, regardless of how modest the model itself is,” she adds.
Hijab is my personal choice
Hijab for many - both in the Muslim world and beyond - has long been no longer just an element of the wardrobe. Some see in it a symbol of enslavement and lack of rights of a woman, others - the opportunity to avoid unnecessary attention and a sign of inner freedom.
In some countries, a woman cannot go out without a hijab without fear of being beaten or thrown into prison. Critics say that appearing in the hijab on the catwalk and on the covers, Halima, voluntarily or involuntarily, promotes him as an indispensable accessory for women in the Islamic world, normalizing such restrictions.
"In no country in the world, no woman should wear a hijab against her will, and no woman should take it off under duress. I wear a hijab because it makes me beautiful and gives me confidence," Halima objects to this .
I ask Halima if she could one day go on the podium without a hijab to show women who have no freedom of choice that this is possible?
“This would go against and make sense of the whole idea,” she protests. “If we want to live in a society where women have the right to decide for themselves, then asking me about it is wrong. After all, it takes away my right to put on what I’m doing me beautiful and confident. And this is my hijab. "
“No matter what style of clothing you choose, you are worthy of respect, support and love. Here is my message.”
Sought after image
This year, several luxury brands, including Michael Kors and Burberry, presented collections in which the hijab is present.
According to expert estimates, by 2023, the total sales of clothing oriented to the Islamic market will amount to $ 361 billion - a third more than in 2017.
Is Halima’s success linked to the growing popularity of Islamic fashion?
IMG Models Director Ivan Brat does not think so: "Halima is, first and foremost, an outstanding personality, like all our models - from Carly Kloss and Joan Smalls to Gigi Hadid."
“She illuminates everything with her presence. If you have a bad day, just call her,” continues Ivan, who has been working in the modeling business for more than 20 years. “It’s not enough to be the most beautiful in the room, you need to be the best and have a bright personality. She has it "
According to David Ratmoko, professor of communication and director of the Metro Models modeling agency, the media and political discourse put pressure on fashion brands: "Designers are forced to represent the entire ethno-cultural spectrum in their collections to avoid accusations of insufficient inclusion."
“For many years, model standards have been the same. Times have changed, and now brands are forced to quickly correct the imbalance,” he adds.
I want mom to see my show
Halima says that if you want to make changes, you need not change yourself, but change the rules of the game.
And she seems to be getting it. "Already on the catwalk, you can see many models in the hijab, we have such models in the agency - I think this is already becoming the norm," she says.
“Everything that we hear about women in hijab is shrouded in negative and strongly politicized,” she continues. “I want to change that. I am a young girl, I adore fashion and designer clothes, I have a soul and feelings, and I don’t different from any other. "
It seems that Halima managed to achieve what she aspired to and what she dreamed about: well-known designers are lining up to work with her, fans follow her from show to show, the largest world media shoot films about her and invite her to interviews. However, the model has one more dream that has not yet come true:
"I would really like my mother to sit in the front row at my show once. But this should be the biggest show of my life."
"I hope this happens one day."
Official source bbc
You can listen to the Halima: Faith And Fashion podcast for the BBC Heart & Soul program in English here.
Burkini photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated Magazine.