Painted against desert dunes, Hanaa Ben Abdesslem cuts a striking figure in swirls of palest pink or saffron yellow, gilded in mirrored tiles, or reclining in embroidered textures. Her exclusive photoshoot for Savoir Flair – appearing soon in its entirety in our lavish coffee table book, SFX, published by Assouline – acts as both a homecoming and a retrospective. She is one of the first Arab models from the region to rise to international prominence, and in this emotional shoot she just happens to be wearing clothes made by some of the people that helped her along the way.
Train your eye on a stunning dusk-blue silhouette by Azzedine Alaïa and be reminded of how the fellow Tunisian once acted as a mentor to Abdesslem when she was a model on the rise. Meanwhile, a full Givenchy look recalls Riccardo Tisci’s request that Abdesslem chop her hair off for a Givenchy show – a transformation that moved the needle of her career when it cast her perfect bone structure in its full revelry. Her face now fully on display, Abdesslem was able to stand out from her peers, which eventually gave her the edge that helped her ink a coveted beauty contract to become the first Arab woman to appear in an international Lancôme campaign.
Hailing from the small coastal town of Nabeul, Tunisia, Abdesslem’s rise to the top of the Arab modeling world was unexpected – not only because she came from a conservative family, or from a society that used to look down on modeling as a legitimate career, but also because of her looks. Beauty standards in the Arab world are fairly static: fully-contoured full-face makeup, long luscious hair, curvaceous figures. In every way, Abdesslem was the opposite. Eventually, those differences won her notice, and by 2011 – the same year the Tunisia was entering a new era of democratic independence – Abdesslem had her big break into the modeling world,
Not only has she earned a seat at the table by walking in a Chanel haute couture show (Spring 2011 Couture), but she’s also modeled for some of the biggest names in the industry: Givenchy, Ralph Lauren, and Oscar de la Renta. She has also appeared in the highly prestigious Pirelli trade calendar, which circulates annually and is a major mark of distinction for models. This became a milestone moment for Abdesslem, when she became the first Arab model to appear in its glossy pages in 2013.
All along she has defied assumptions, rewritten the rulebooks, and upended conventions. In Savoir Flair’s stunning photoshoot, Abdesslem exemplifies a pioneering spirit – not just of Arab women but of the sisterhood at large.
Photographer Jeremy Zaessinger Stylist Kawa H Pour Editor-in-Chief Haleh Nia Fashion Director Grace Gordon Head of Production Maya Itani Junior Producer Maria Popova Makeup Artist Manuel Losada Hair Stylist Naomi Regan Photographer’s Assistants Fiel Montes and Paul Edward Calabon Stylist’s Assistants Kanwal Rania Rauf and Kim Barik Model Hanaa Ben Abdesslem