Scrolling through the Instagram account @Meryemsfirst, the majority of its images feature “fit pics” of the 67-year-old-woman Najate Leklye. On the whole, they are blindingly colorful. In one, Leklye poses in front of a highlighter green background wearing a black hijab and a green Nike x Marine Serre shirt. In another, she’s in a full gold look with gold Nike Air Max as the final flourish. Another standout snap shows Leklye crouching on the ground in a tiger print djellaba, white hijab, and black baseball hat. At times, she could be mistaken for the quirky subject of a Hassan Hajjaj portrait.
Leklye is the mother of 36-year-old Meryem Slimani, the owner of the account and a creative located in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (The profile reads: “My mum took over my instagram I’m now just here to take her pics.”) After a period of depression, Slimani launched a blog and Instagram account that mostly consisted of her own looks; but while Slimani used social media to cope, she became disenchanted with the industry. “I was frustrated with Instagram communities. I didn’t look like the girls who would be featured on streetwear sites. I didn’t look like the girls in the body positivity community,” she says. “I felt odd in that community. It wasn’t my place to represent a group; they want to acknowledge it but only if you have the perfect proportions. I’m a size 12–14 and that is the smaller side, so I felt that it was unfair putting myself in [that category].”
Every so often, her mother would spontaneously appear on her account. “It was almost more like a curated photo album,” says Slimani. “People always loved those pictures when I would post them to my feed.” Recognizing that her mother was photogenic and made for a good subject, she began dedicating more time to including her. “I thought that if I actually style her, instead of having her in her normal clothes, it would be even better,” she says. “I know at some point that people would notice what we were doing, because no one else was doing it the way I was doing it with my mother. Her generation of Moroccan women, but also immigrant women, aren’t visible—especially on social media.”
The platform has given her mother exactly the sort of visibility that Slimani hoped for. Leklye, who had been a teacher in Morocco, became a pillar within the Dutch-Moroccan community since she settled in the small town of Schoonhoven back in 1980, organizing Arabic lessons for recently arrived immigrants who did not have the same level of education. Eventually, she was knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands for her work within the community; specifically for her efforts to bridge between Moroccan and Dutch communities. When Leklye was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, she could no longer continue her involvement as before—so, for Slimani, the Instagram account is a way for her mother to be more active. “I think this is the way for her to be in the picture and do the things that she loves,” Slimani adds.
While the message behind the account is heartfelt, the fashion is still undeniably fun. Slimani dresses her mom in fashion-forward, comfortable clothing, infusing her own style ethos—which is typically sportswear-inspired—with a mix of her mother’s vintage clothes from the ’70s and ’80s. Leklye’s favorite pieces come from labels including the Amsterdam-based Daily Paper, Nike (including the brand’s Nike Pro Hijab), and New Balance. She also often includes Moroccan traditional pieces, such as braided belts and babouche shoes, and print-heavy fabric backdrops that are reminiscent of Moroccan interiors. Slimani, after all, grew up in Morocco until the age of four, before joining her mother in Schoonhoven and eventually settling in Rotterdam, resulting in a heavy mix of both cultures. For Slimani, it’s a beautiful combination that has allowed them to bond even further. “It’s a melting pot of my style and hers,” she concludes.