Halima Aden and Carine Roitfeld discuss what they’ve learned from each other

From the gender revolution to designing for disability and female empowerment, the Business of Fashion’s latest gathering for big thinkers explored the fashion industry’s shift towards inclusivity. Over the course of the morning talks at VOICES, we heard insights and calls to action fromTeen Vogue’s digital director Phillip Picardi, trans model activist Laith Ashley, Intersex activist Hanne Gaby Odiele and Sinéad Burke, a Dublin-based teacher, PhD student and fashion blogger who is 105 centimetres tall and an advocate for “little people”. Throughout, it was made clear that this is a time of great change, but each voice challenged the industry to further collaborate and embrace this inclusivity movement and turn it into something lasting. These calls were clearest during the discussion between IMG-signed Halima Aden and CR Fashion Bookeditor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld.

“A year ago, I couldn’t pick up a magazine and see someone wearing a hijab. The only time I ever saw someone dressed like me was on CNN,” Halima Aden explained during her thought provoking discussion with Carine Roitfeld. “We’re talked about, but we’re not given the opportunities to speak for ourselves.” This was her opportunity to do just that. The focus of the talk was modest fashion, but we heard firsthand Aden’s journey from Kenyan refugee camp to IMG by way of her participation in 2016’s Minnesota Miss USA pageant wearing her hijab and subsequent appearance on the cover of CR issue 10. She may not have walked away with the pageant’s prize but she caught the eye of the French stylist renowned for her provocative work, challenging boundaries and widening the industry’s spectrum of beauty. Fast-forward to today and the 20-year-old is making history as the first hijab-wearing fashion model on the runways in New York and Milan. After the talk, we sat down with Halima and Carine to discuss fashion’s power in shifting narratives, and just what each has learned from the other.

How important a role can fashion play in shifting narratives and changing perceptions?
Carine: It’s a great narrative tool. Now, it can be used for good or bad so we have to be extremely careful as to what we create. Difference is important. I’m very lucky that I have creative freedom in my magazine, whereas most people are frightened to challenge and fearful of doing the wrong thing. I hate rules and I always thought fashion would be the last place that had to adhere to rules.

You find beauty everywhere and see beyond boundaries. How do you continually challenge?
Carine: The mystery is that they come to you. I’m an extremely curious person and encounter people constantly, my team introduce me to new faces frequently too. I was the first to use Gigi Hadid, Halima, Paris Jackson, Lara Stone…

Halima: That’s what Gigi told me the first time we met, she said “Carine is the one who launched my career, you’re lucky, you’re in good hands.”

Carine: I might just be a good luck person but I don’t find them, they find me. My casting and production team saw a picture of her from the pageant and I was drawn to her instantly. I particularly liked the fact that she didn’t win it, that makes me laugh because she is so, so beautiful. To be honest, I didn’t see the hijab, I just saw her beauty. It was a different beauty and I quickly called her in for our next photoshoot.

Halima then ended up on the cover.
Carine: She did. Nothing was prepared but it just felt right.

Halima, for you, how quickly did everything change? Was it a whirlwind from the pageant to being on the cover of CR Fashion Book ?
Halima: It was, and thanks to my good luck charm. It’s really difficult breaking out in the fashion industry but that first photoshoot and to be on the cover of CR, it was the perfect start to modelling.

During the talk, you mentioned that your family took some time to accept your desire to work in fashion.
Halima: That’s right. It took some time for them to understand it. Now they know.
Carine: I met with her family to put them at ease.

Halima: Whenever I work with Carine, my mum is happy because she knows that Carine understands my needs — she doesn’t have to worry about the stylist not knowing how to work with me. Carine understands. There’s that trust too. They might not understand why I want to be a model but now my family trust the people I work with.

Carine: It’s about teaching ourselves the parameters and rules. There’s no problem. For me, beauty is beauty. It’s important to show the full spectrum of beauty. Sometimes, at shows, the models look like ponies, looking the same and moving the same, they have no character. I’m inspired by different characters.

This draws on what Dries Van Noten mentioned during his talk , it’s about the humanist aspect of fashion that can be overlooked. It’s easy to forget that fashion is driven by people, it isn’t just clothes.

Carine: It’s important to break beyond this way of thinking.

What really struck me during your VOICES discussion was just how much you’ve learned from one another.
Carine: We have and she makes the business move in a good direction. We have to respect other cultures and learn from them. There are elements to how we work that could really help the industry move forward. It has led me to question certain elements of how the industry acts — for example, photographers shooting girls it varying degrees of undress just isn’t right.

Halima, do you feel pressure to be a role model for Muslim women in the fashion industry?
Halima: Not really, I’m just one individual. I turn up to a photoshoot and I’m just myself. To be honest, I don’t think about it, but just by being here and the stuff that is said because of it, is making a difference. When I speak with other Muslim girls, they say “We did it.” It’s for us and that’s how it should be, but when I’m working backstage we don’t discuss religion or the fact that I’m wearing a hijab, they don’t make me feel different — we talk about boys, how nervous we are, the walk. Religion shouldn’t matter, it’s about people. Every kid deserves to dream and hopefully my story encourages more to follow me. I can show them I’m in fashion now, and it’s so different from where I used to be.”

Carine: That’s important for me.

Halima: I’m extremely proud and honoured to be the first, but I’m hoping people get to know me and that I’m not just seen as the model in the hijab.

Carine: Halima is beautiful and is a wonderful character and I’m looking forward to more people getting to know her.

Halima: For the cover, it was just me. It wasn’t a Muslim or Somali model, it was Halima. It was art, not sensationalism.

Carine: I just don’t think in terms of sensationalism.

Halima: I’m learning too. Fashion is about creativity and I see firsthand just how these talents like a challenge. It’s not about putting a hijab on me, it’s about covering the silhouette and making it art. I recently recreated the Girl with the Pearl Earring and that was just amazing, so creative. They are treating it like art rather than a restriction, no two pictures look alike.

It’s a fresh challenge. 
Halima: It’s something new and it’s good for other girls too. Modest fashion isn’t just for Muslim women.

Carine: It’s important that you enjoy it too.

Halima: I do. I’m always smiling. It’s been an exciting journey.

As we move approach a new year, what does beauty mean to you in 2018?
Halima: We’re living in a time in which social media dominates everything and beautiful faces are just a scroll away, but for me, beauty is inner beauty. Life happens and features change but inner beauty lasts. When I’m 60 years old, I want to feel beautiful — look back and see how I changed things positively.

Carine: Beauty is about making the most of what you have. You have to be the best version of yourself, at whatever age, in whatever category.


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