As the world struggles to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, now more than ever it is important for us all to connect. As such, our April issue highlights the importance of union and fraternity, focusing on stories of hope and love during times of quarantine.
In a celebration of humanity, the publication’s 35th edition is dedicated to remarkable individuals across the globe – those who have succeeded against the odds and inspired us through their triumphs. From the Arab medical staff helping in the fight against the coronavirus to sustainability warriors and migrants who chased and achieved their dreams.
For one of our two covers, Vogue Arabia teamed up with French-Tunisian artist eL Seed to create a typography cover – because sometimes simplicity and words are all we need to send a strong message. “Bringing people, culture, and generations together through Arabic calligraphy is what I do,” explains eL Seed, whose calligraphy on the cover reads united. “As an artist, I feel it creates an emotion with anyone, even if you don’t read Arabic. There is a universal beauty you don’t need to translate; it touches your soul before it reaches your eyes. We are all connected.”
The second cover stars Eman Deng, a Sudanese model on the rise who fled her war-torn country as a refugee. When sectarian violence erupted in Sudan, she was forced to flee with her mother and siblings to neighboring Uganda. Now, at 19, Deng is flipping that traumatic history on its head. After being scouted on Instagram, she is fast conquering the runways, walking for Thom Brown and Rick Owens and working with Chalayan and Halpern.
In our exclusive interview and shoot by Carla Guler, Deng opens up about being a refugee, finding her feet in the industry – and her wishes of returning to her homeland one day. “I believed that the only time you could be separated from your family was when you die; war taught me this is not the case,” she shares. “I hope that by sharing my story I can inspire others to be strong and stand up.”
While the two covers are less conventional for the Vogue brand – it veers from the typical high-glamour and big celebrity covers – Editor-and-Chief Manuel Arnaut feels it is important to lead the way forward with positivity, reaching out to the community at a time when we all need inspiration and upliftment.
“At Vogue we are trying to look at it from a positive angle, and learn some lessons,” explains Arnaut. “These troubled times made me realize that some of the things that make us human is our capacity to connect with others, but also to thrive under less than favorable conditions. Therefore, at Vogue Arabia, we are dedicating this issue to inspiring individuals who succeeded against the odds.”
“I can’t help but feel touched by Eman’s emotional testimony,” he adds. “Since the topic of migration is so relevant in the Arab world – with Saudi Arabia opening its borders and countries like the UAE being mainly populated by economic migrants – this April we further explore this idea of belonging (or not) with stories told in the first person by individuals I truly admire: Afef Jnifen, Rita Ora, Selena Gomez, and Prabal Gurung.”
Tunisian supermodel Afef Jnifen pens a love letter to her adopted country, Italy, a place she has called home for 32 years. Meanwhile, refugee Rita Ora, as well as immigrants Diane Von Furstenberg and Prabal Gurung and singer Selena Gomez remember their diverse pasts and how it has enriched their journeys.
Ora’s family fled Yugoslavia (present-day Kosovo) in 1991. Escaping persecution, they sought out a new life in London. “They left behind their whole lives and had to start from scratch when they arrived in London as refugees,” explains the singer. “But protecting us was their main priority, and I count my blessings every day that they did what they did.”
While Gomez has managed to live the American dream, she is aware others have not been so lucky. “My family chose to leave Mexico to pursue the American dream. In the 1970s, my aunt crossed the border hidden in the back of a truck,” she explains, adding, “My thoughts on life in Donald Trump’s America? I have said that I don’t claim to be an expert and I understand that there have to be rules and regulations, but we have to do better than what we are doing – we simply have to. I hope we can still offer the American dream. I hope we can still offer people a better life. It’s so important to remember our country was formed by those who came from other countries.”
The April issue – which still contains the usual fashion and beauty inspiration and trends – also offers support and love to all the medical staff involved in the battle against Covid-19. “We are paying a heartfelt homage to all the doctors, nurses, and other medical-related professionals with a powerful portfolio captured by Tarek Moukaddem,” says Arnaut. “Tarek was brave enough to accept our challenge to photograph real-life heroes from the Rafik Hariri Hospital to the Lebanese Red Cross. A big thank you to all of them, not just as a magazine editor, but as a fellow citizen.”
Now is a time to unite. Together we are stronger.