In an interview with Savoir Flair, Lana AlBeik gets real about the realities of modeling in the Middle East.
In a few short years, Syrian-Palestinian model Lana AlBeik has gone from starring in commercial campaigns for Namshi to shooting with the likes of Saint Laurent, Burberry, Rami Al Ali, and many more. Her stunning features and mysterious charm made her a natural fit for high fashion, but along the way she also became an influencer. Yet, “influencer” is a sticky word these days, and one that chafes against the goals of creatives who are striving to be so much more than just a popular profile on Instagram. With a background in filmmaking, and skills in the art of shooting documentary films, AlBeik has passion beyond the realm of fashion. In an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair – supported by an exclusive beauty editorial she did with photographer Namida Mila – AlBeik gets real about the realities of modeling in the Middle East, her identity and life as a third culture kid, and more. Listen in.
How do you feel about the word influencer?
I don’t like it. I don’t like the implications. Influencers have been around even before there was Instagram or before there was a digital world. Designers would create bags for celebrities; it was always there. So that, to me, is not the problem. It’s just the implications now. And the industry…it’s just not really my thing. I’m not into it.
Do you prefer another term? For example: ‘content creator’?
I don’t think I’m much of a content creator. Most of the content that goes on my feed is created by other people. It’s not really me. Although I do come up a lot of ideas, they’re just not what I share on my Instagram. So, I don’t think it really applies to me. What I prefer to identify myself as is a model, but yes, the influencer thing is there.
Did you intend to go into modeling? Was it something you wanted to do when you grew up and then you actively pursued it or did you fall into it?
I never really told myself that I wanted to do it, butI think subconsciously, I wanted to do it. I never really had that conversation with myself where I’m like, “okay, we’re doing it”.
What was your very first experience in modeling?
The first one was shooting with my sister for a jewelry brand that she owned. That’s when I discovered how much I liked modeling. I also used to collaborate with my friends who were in art school who required photography subjects.
What’s the moment you felt like you had your breakthrough in the modeling realm?
I think the more I shot with Hindash the more beauty brands started noticing me and then slowly fashion brands also followed. The first fashion shoot I did with a global brand was the Puma x Fenty shoot with Namshi. And the first luxury one was Saint Laurent with Savoir Flair.
One of my all time favorites! When you’re doing a shoot, do you often or ever contribute to the ideation or the direction of shoots?
Yes, for sure. For me, that’s one of the most fun parts about shoots. It is always a conversation between me and the photographer, especially if the photographer is someone you end up clicking with. I feel like these kinds of shoots are the best shoots because you can actually see the dynamic between the model and the photographer.
Do you have any favorite collaboration moments?
I think working with Mann Butte was great. I’ve only done two shoots with him, including the one with Savoir Flair. I also did a shoot recently with Mazen Abusrour and Sharon Drugan – just a fun editorial. You know, that was really cool. I did a Zoom shoot with a photographer based in Berlin. He’s an Egyptian photographer called Bassam Allam. That one was really cool because, again, it was a give and take collaboration.
What are the realities of modeling?
It’s a role that is less hectic than a photographer or a cameraman, or the set designer; it’s definitely less labor than that. Yes, I’ve had shoots where I had to do really crazy poses and positions with my back and my legs, and I went home feeling sore, but it’s always fun and interesting because when you see the outcome you forget about all of that.
I think the one thing that’s important to mention in terms of the reality of modeling is that sometimes you arrive on set expecting to do a super cool shoot, but it turns out, no one is really interested in creating a story. They just want to shoot the clips and leave. That’s when it becomes a boring thing. It’s also important to mention that this is kind of how it is in Dubai. I’ve been on sets where there was no water and no electricity. No doors in rooms so you have to change in front of everybody. There is all of that but I feel like I haven’t faced very bad experiences. I’m not going to say women are objectified less, but it’s a lot less harsh.
You’ve been on the other side of the lens before and have made some documentary films, but I haven’t seen any of your documentary work. Is it a private thing that you do?
It’s the kind of thing where I’m just feeling too shy to share it. I’d love to share more with time. I studied filmmaking; it’s what I did for four years.
Have you ever wanted to take the filmmaking skills that you have and turn them toward the fashion industry at all?
I felt that, especially as soon as I graduated. The reality of the situation in Dubai is that filmmaking as an art does not really exist. What I thought I could do with it is shoot ads, ideally in fashion and beauty. However, I’m a creative as well as an account manager in a creative agency, so, I don’t think it’s what I want anymore. After getting into it, and trying it out I think it’s safe to say that I don’t think I want to do that anymore.
What are the subjects that you have made documentaries about?
I’ve made films about family conflict, or I’ve also made identity types of documentaries. Those are the kind of topics that I’m more interested in. I’d like to explore more about identity, sinc my background is half Palestinian and half Syrian. That’s something that I’m really interested in. I like documenting family stories of comedy, language, and personal history. I have a cousin who was a journalist, and he sat down with my grandpa before he passed, and he recorded 45 minutes of him talking about how he grew up in Palestine and eventually settled in Syria. I really admire my cousin for doing that because when my grandpa passed he was really young, and I didn’t really get to hear all the stories from him. Now, his history and stories have been preserved.
It makes me think about the geopolitical history of the two countries that you come from _ how that has probably contributed to the shaping of your identity. As a third culture kid living in Dubai, how do you feel about those different histories that you’re a part of?
I have this deeply rooted love for Syria, I have this deeply rooted love for Palestine. I feel so much for both of these countries. I’ve never been to Palestine. I have been to Syria. I always feel this feeling of belonging, but also not belonging. When I meet people who leave these countries and come here to visit or something, there’s always this separation because I was born and raised in Dubai. There’s always this feeling like you can’t interact the same way. But you still feel this strong and deep love and belonging, kind of like you are brothers and sisters. Yes, it’s confusing, and it’s very conflicting. But it’s important to stay connected to it, no matter how long how it makes you feel, or how sad or confused or because it makes you feel. I think it’s so important for me to hold on to it.