Wearing My Palestinian Heart on My Sleeve at Paris Fashion Week | Savoir Flair
Op-Ed
Wearing My Palestinian Heart on My Sleeve at Paris Fashion Week
article @NOORUNISA
by Jana Shakhashir 8-minute read March 13, 2024

How my quiet acts of resistance found unexpected allies at one of the fashion industry's biggest spectacles.

article @NOORUNISA

I’ve just returned from my first stint at Paris Fashion Week, where my job was to capture and share all the action to our followers — filming and editing every runway show, catching up with designers, celebrities, and attendees for on-the-spot interviews, while also documenting the real, unscripted moments that stitch the spectacle together. But my experience felt like being in two places at once. As Savoir Flair’s Social Media Manager, I had to immerse myself fully in the depths of the occasion. Attending and covering shows became my world, a bubble of beauty and escapism meticulously recorded and shared in real-time. Yet, beneath the surface, my heart was heavy, burdened by the relentless strife in Gaza — a stark, painful contrast to the glittering facade of fashion's grandest stage.

The juxtaposition was jarring. Each post I shared felt like a betrayal to the ongoing struggle of my people. I felt like I was taking up valuable real estate on social media that could be used to share images of what’s happening on the ground. The glamour of Fashion Week seemed a universe away from the harsh realities faced by Palestinians, yet the two coexisted on the same social media feed. “Live from Paris: @Loewe Fall 2024,” scroll, “Yazan Kafarnah dies in Rafah, Gaza from malnutrition due to Israel’s ongoing siege,” scroll, “Jisoo arrives at @Dior Fall 2024,” scroll… 

The divide between these two realities fed a profound sense of guilt within me, a sentiment exacerbated by the inevitable (and justified) comments from our audience, questioning our focus, our priorities, and challenging the relevance of fashion amidst such turmoil. “What is going on with this page?” they asked. “Whoever is responsible for this post should be fired.” Their words broke my heart. It was like being trapped in a nightmare where you’re trying to shout for help, but no sound comes out of your mouth — utterly silent despite your desperate efforts.

“Ooolalala help the Palestinians.”

“My favorite trend is free Palestine.”

“Show me people who actually stand for something. Free Palestine.”

“Don’t promote garbage please.”

Every comment questioning our editorial focus, every message imploring us to shed light on the plight of Palestine, felt like a personal attack. What they didn't know was that the person behind the screen, the curator of these glitzy posts that were so detached from reality, was Palestinian herself — torn and grieving, witnessing the suffering of her people unfold while bound by professional obligations.

I felt like I was TAKING UP valuable real estate on social media that COULD BE USED to share images of what’s happening ON THE GROUND.

article @NOORUNISA

The challenge of working in media, especially in a role as public-facing as social media management, brings with it an intense scrutiny that my counterparts in other professions might never encounter. While consultants, investment bankers, and doctors can navigate their day-to-day "business as usual" without their ethics or morality being called into question, my every action was under a microscope, analyzed for perceived insensitivity or indifference to a cause that was etched into the very core of my being.

By about day three, I could feel that the bubble around me had fully formed. Immersed in the exhilaration of Paris Fashion Week, I found myself unexpectedly caught in the joy of the moment, a sensation that soon gave way to overwhelming guilt. My heart remained tethered to the horrors being broadcast on my feed 24 hours a day, and though I was well aware that attending these shows was part of my professional duties, the stark contrast between my enjoyment and the reality of the situation in Gaza led to a profound emotional breakdown. It was on the day of the horrific aid truck massacre, as we were in our van en route to another show, that our Editor-in-Chief Haleh Nia turned around and told me: "Jana, please don’t check the news today." 

This advice carried a weight that went beyond a simple suggestion; it was a tacit recognition of the unique and heavy burden I carried as a Palestinian in the media industry, constantly oscillating between two starkly different realities. It was a sincere attempt to shield me from the pain, to preserve my ability to perform my professional duties amidst an emotionally charged environment. But it wasn’t just about avoiding distraction; it was a poignant reflection on the privilege of disengagement, a privilege that felt both necessary and deeply unsettling. It underscored the precarious balance I was attempting to maintain: between my professional obligations and the deep, personal connection to my homeland's suffering.

This experience highlighted the profound isolation and inner turmoil that can accompany the act of bearing witness from afar. It was a reminder that, for those of us connected to places of conflict, the luxury of turning away from the news is often a necessary coping mechanism to fulfill our responsibilities in spaces that feel worlds apart from the realities we know too well. Yet, it also brings with it an acute awareness of the disparity between the worlds we navigate, amplifying the internal conflict between duty and empathy, professional obligation, and personal anguish.

What they didn't know was that the PERSON behind the screen, the curator of these glitzy posts that were so DETACHED FROM REALITY, was PALESTINIAN herself — torn and grieving, witnessing the SUFFERING of her people unfold while bound by professional obligations.

article JANA SHAKHASHIR

The representation of Palestine at Paris Fashion Week, contrary to what one might expect, was not a collective movement among attendees, but a solitary act of defiance and solidarity from an unexpected corner: the street-style photographers outside the shows with ‘Free Palestine’ stickers on their cameras, and notably, from a few models in moments of quiet rebellion. It wasn't a sea of keffiyehs among the crowd but my own deliberate choices to wear my identity: a keffiyeh tote bag, watermelon earrings, and a pin that read 'end settler colonialism'. This personal act of resistance was my way of bridging the gap between my two worlds, of carrying my cause into a space where it was being overlooked.

The solidarity from within the fashion community, although sparse, was incredibly meaningful. The models leaving a show by a brand that has made its stance extremely clear, one with a Palestinian flag sticker on her jacket and another holding a pack of stickers with symbols and messages of solidarity, provided a glimpse of support within the event. These gestures, particularly outside this particular show, were powerful. The model standing proudly with the stickers, taking the time to stop and pose for photos, was not just a moment of personal bravery but a signal that amidst the spectacle of Fashion Week, the struggle for Palestinian rights and recognition finds allies in unexpected places. It's a testament to the power of individual actions to echo a collective yearning for justice, resonating deeply with those of us caught in the crossfire of identity and profession.

These instances of representation were not just moments of pride but of profound reflection on the complexity of my role. The reality is, while we strive to amplify Palestinian voices and stories as often as we can, the scope of our work at Savoir Flair encompasses the broad spectrum of fashion and lifestyle — a domain we are also committed to. This duality — of serving as a bridge between the dazzling yet detached world of high fashion and the grounded, grim realities of Palestinian life — encapsulates the nuanced existence of being Palestinian in the media landscape. It's a constant negotiation between duty and identity; between the professional and the profoundly personal. We navigate spaces that seem worlds apart, carrying our identity and its inherent struggles with us.

@MAVROSPICTURES

An encounter with a show attendee eager to photograph my layered turquoise necklaces turned into a small, yet profound moment of activism. As I adjusted my jacket to reveal my 'end settler colonialism' pin, I noticed her discomfort. In that moment, I felt a sense of achievement, knowing that these symbols were stirring conversations, perhaps even challenging views.

After one of the shows, I received a message from the PR person that saw me decked out in my Palestine gear. Her words, “Thank you for repping and keeping our Palestine alive and making a statement during Fashion Week. So much love and respect for you,” hit me with a wave of validation. It felt like confirmation that I’d done something meaningful. That message was like a virtual pat on the back, letting me know that my attempts at weaving symbols of resistance and solidarity into the fabric of Fashion Month were resonating, making ripples amidst the otherwise uninterrupted flow of glitz and glamour.

The photographers outside the shows also became my unexpected allies. Every time they snapped a photo of my bag, my pin, or just me wearing something that screamed Palestine, it felt like we were in this together. There was this unspoken understanding among us. We were all there doing our jobs, sure, but our hearts were somewhere else, thinking about bigger, more pressing matters. 

For those of us connected to places of conflict, the LUXURY of turning away from the news is often a NECESSARY coping mechanism to fulfill our responsibilities in spaces that feel WORLDS APART from the realities we know too well.

article @MAVROSPICTURES

In those moments, adorned with symbols of my heritage and the ongoing struggle in Palestine, I often felt isolated amidst a sea of individuals seemingly detached from the world's harsher realities. Yet, these instances of recognition and solidarity from others in the industry, no matter how fleeting, reminded me that I was not alone. There are those who see, understand, and appreciate the importance of such acts of resistance and solidarity.

This mix of reactions — from those who felt represented and empowered by my actions to those unsettled by the confrontation with these symbols — underscored the impact of my choices. It wasn't just about personal expression; it was about sparking thought, challenging norms, and planting seeds of awareness in one of the most visually-centric industries. Each person who paused, even momentarily, to consider the meaning behind a keffiyeh, a pair of earrings, or a pin, marked a small victory. These are the moments that, though seemingly minor, pave the way for greater change, proving that even in the midst of fashion's allure, there's room for meaningful discourse and a call to awareness.

This whole experience made me realize that, no matter where we are or what we're doing, there's always a way to confront, challenge, and make a statement. It's kind of amazing how a few pieces of clothing and accessories can spark conversations, forge bonds, and remind us that, even in the high-flying world of fashion, we're never really alone in caring about the things that truly matter. It reinforced the idea that even in the most public of roles, we wield the power to infuse our narratives with the depth of our identities, to remind the world of the stories that need telling, all while navigating the intricate demands of our chosen career paths.

Even in the most public of roles, we wield the POWER to infuse our narratives with the depth of our identities, to REMIND THE WORLD of the stories that need telling, all while navigating the intricate demands of our chosen career paths.

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