WRITER and image maker Mohieb Dahabieh is Vogue Arabia’s special projects director. Syrian but educated in London, he lives between Paris and London – where he is director of celebrity relations at couture label Ralph & Russo – and the Middle East. As Vogue Arabia’s inaugural cover, featuring Gigi Hadid, is revealed, he writes for us on the story behind the cover – and why this beautiful fashion image means so much more than that.
Visually, undoubtedly this is one of the best Vogue covers of all time, but the sentimental value that it bears for the Arab world makes it all the more iconic and transcendent than that. It resonates with us. And for me personally, it makes me proud in a way that only Deena could do. Deena’s original vision was to have the late Zaha Hadid share the cover with Gigi. To feature two women aware and proud of their Arabic identity coming together to celebrate the diversity of Arab women, from captivating brunettes of the Gulf to breathtaking blondes of the Levant and beyond.
CREDIT: INEZ AND VINOODH
The veil toys with the notions of paradoxical perception, and ushers Gigi to a bygone mystical era. The cover also explores the veil as an ever-shifting and multi-layered emblem encompassing illusion, divination, envelopment and sacredness. To celebrate it for its potent subtlety as a symbol of faithful legacy, beguiling mystery and exotic enchantment.
So beautiful, yet – as the Burqa debate continues to surface in Europe – so controversial. To some it’s the rejection of women objectified, to others the reverse. When the argument ends, and taking eras into retrospect, I wonder which of the two will be considered the most loaded fashion item: the corset or the veil.
Being an insider is what Vogue is about. A Vogue editor’s job is to find a balance between the future of fashion and what’s existing right now. But Deena has the added responsibility of chronicling the style heritage of not just one country, but 22!
The late Zaha Hadid pictured with Mohieb Dahabieh and Vogue Arabia editor-in-chief Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz
CREDIT: JAMES PELTEKIAN
CREDIT: KING FAZ
Unfortunately, cultural preservation in certain parts of the Middle East wasn’t a priority, such as Lebanon during the long civil war. Due to political and economic issues, we’ve had to look outwards to other cultures for design and architecture. Somewhere down the line we seem to have forgotten where we came from. Sadly so.
Deena knows that through unearthing forgotten milestones in our fashion journey, we can lay the foundation for what’s to come. Be it giving value to forgotten oeuvres of designers who have now ceased to create, or identifying cultural highlights that are unique to our territory.
It was in the Sixties that Vogue itself first ventured into the Middle East. In 1965, Beatrix Miller sent photographer John Cowan to Abu Dhabi, accompanied by the writer Polly Vernon, making her the first woman to travel across the emirate; whilst Diana Vreeland paired Henry Clarke with Lesley Blanch on an adventure to Syria and Jordan. Escapades would continue as recently as 2009, when Alexandra Shulman sent Tom Craig and Stella Tennant to Syria on an assignment for which the model herself diarised her experiences.
CREDIT: INEZ AND VINOODH
CREDIT: TOM CRAIG
Yet, despite their pronounced enthusiasm for the region, evoking in their pages its unique character, the American and British editions looked towards the region as an outsider for its exoticism and rich history; for magical backdrops.
Aspirations to acquire world status cannot come forth through copying what others have done before us, but only through analysing ruthlessly our own strengths and weaknesses. Fashion is a multi-faceted field and we would need a thorough shift in mindset that would eventually allow us to breed our own fashion free-thinkers.
Now that Vogue Arabia has landed, the time has come to open our eyes and embrace our own ancestry and let go of a hindering common approach that praises the foreign and ignores the home-grown. This cover is the first step on that journey.