When she became the first hijab-wearing model in a major high-street campaign for H&M in AW15, Mariah Idrissi changed the game. Grazia Editor in Chief Alison Tay found out more about this agenda-setting trailblazer...
2017 has been the year of modesty. Why do you think that is?
So much has happened since my H&M campaign. A couple of months after that, Dolce & Gabbana launched an abaya collection, and then Nike trailed their Pro Hijab range, then Halima Aden got signed to IMG as a model, and became a cover girl in America. Modesty has become a matter you can’t ignore anymore. If you were
ignoring it, it was almost seen that you were avoiding it. So I think this year put the cherry on top. It’s not a gimmick. It’s something that we need.
Is the current modesty movement a passing trend or do you think it’s here to stay?
I think the whole hijabi model thing is a trend, to be honest. The same way when they first hired a black model in the ’50s, it was like, “This is the new thing.” So from that side, I think yes it is a trend. On the actual fashion side, I don’t think so because for us, wearing a hijab is a necessity. Because they’ve realised that and there’s so much money in this industry, it can’t just be a trend. We’re not going to stop wearing a hijab next year, we’ll be wearing it continuously so they have to continuously cater to that.
What challenges have you found as a modest dresser?
As a teenager, when I first started to wear a hijab, it was a lot more difficult. I didn’t find as many modest trends. At heart, I’m a bit of a tomboy: I like trainers and bomber jackets, I like to mix and match with a feminine touch but still have that tomboyish edge. I do like designer accessories but I started with high street and I just felt like that was my audience so I want to continue with that.
What more does the fashion industry have left to do when it comes to diversity?
I think just ‘normalising’ it. And I don’t really want to use that word, but just normalising it to come to the point where we don’t even need to have a modest this or that. It just becomes completely included in everything mainstream. That is, for me, when it will become something normal and not a tokenistic thing where we need to separate it. So when a hijabi model comes out we don’t think, “Oh she wears a hijab so she’s in that category.” After the H&M campaign, I approached a high-street retailer about launching a hijab line, and they said, “When it’s relevant, we’ll get in touch.” When I heard that, I was like, “What do you mean relevant?” So that’s when I realised we still have a long way to go. They still don’t get it.
What message would you like to give the brands who you think still don’t really get it?
My message has always been representation. It’s not about being a model or about fashion, it’s about representation in the media of all people of all backgrounds, but at the same time if that representation wasn’t there it would never hold me back. I would never feel like I can’t do something. I didn’t reject the H&M modelling job because there were no hijabi models. I didn’t even think of it in that way, I just went ahead and did it and that’s when I realised there’s a little bit of an issue in this industry. There is a proper lack of diversity but it really shouldn’t hold anyone back.
What are your hopes for modest wear in the future?
Initially when I first started, I was excited about the fact that we had our own thing, but later on I realised no, that doesn’t really help the situation to constantly single ourselves out, because that’s proving the point that we are different. So when modesty becomes a lifestyle choice for all women, and a type of dress that every woman can adhere to, that’s when I’ll feel the modesty mission is accomplished.
Images: Supplied and Cara Campos