For the July/August issue of Vogue Arabia, the travel issue jets off to Istanbul to rediscover the city with cover star Jourdan Dunn. Wearing a rich color palette of brights an slick city-ready separates, Neslihan Denizer talks to the British model on the set.
Rain or shine, Istanbul is one of the most enchanting cities in the world. The plan is to shoot the Vogue cover story in and around the 17th century Ottoman landmark Çırağan Palace, over two days. However, the downpour that welcomes us the morning of the shoot insists that we stay inside. “Did you see the sunshine yesterday? What happened?” Jourdan Dunn proclaims as she saunters into the hotel suite in a short dress and black leather Gucci mules. She bursts out laughing – a loud, staggered hoot, and one that we will all become familiar with over the next few days.
Dunn has been working in fashion for almost 10 years. She was first spotted at the age of 15 in British high street store Primark. The 1.8m beauty, with legs like a racehorse, was swiftly signed to Storm Management. In 2008, she became the first black model to walk the Prada show in 13 years, making her an overnight phenomenon. In 2014, Forbes listed Dunn among its top-earning models, raking in US$4 million in one year. “When I started, I was only thinking about college. Modeling wasn’t even something I wanted to do. I was 16 and the self-doubt I had was heightened and shown to the world, because the insecurities I had were with my body. But fashion celebrated all of them,” she remarks, shaking her head as though she’s still unconvinced.
The model has a calm energy. While shooting near the spice bazaar, where Turkish coffee, cumin, and chilli pepper wafts through the air, Dunn is serene while herds of people flock to gawk and steal a photo with their phones. Our cover model takes it all in with peaceful composure. The last time Dunn was in Istanbul, she was pregnant with her son, Riley, who is now seven. “I didn’t get a chance to see much, so I’m happy to be here. It’s beautiful,” she says. Dunn is candid and full of questions about the city. “What’s the difference between Europe and Asia? Do people live in the Old Town?Why is there a tower in the middle of the Bosphorus?” We hoped we would suffice as her tour guides.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dunn reveals that among her model colleagues, she is the “outspoken one.” She explains, “Sometimes, I wish I belonged to the era when models were just seen and not heard. In the past, I have said and put things online, and then that’s it. It’s there forever. I don’t regret all of the things I’ve tweeted, about my views on the industry, but sometimes it gets used against you. There was a time when people weren’t that vocal. I always was.”
Diversity in fashion has long been a talking point. The lack of non- white models in shows – and furthermore in campaigns and on covers – is still an issue and one that she strives to advocate. “Before, a lot of things were swept under the carpet. People are more aware of the issues and are waking up to the fact that discrimination still happens. With people talking about it more – and with social media – hopefully it can get better. People have to change their views and be mindful.”
Ask her about belonging to the “new generation of supermodels” and she laughs; her sinewy fingers brush away the air in rebuff. “Not until Naomi Campbell comes out and says, ‘Jourdan is a supermodel,’ will I own it! The word ‘supermodel’ has been used very loosely lately.” It’s this openness, down-to-earth nature, and charisma that make everyone feel like they have known her for years.
Not until Naomi Campbell comes out and says, ‘Jourdan is a supermodel,’ will I own it!
Her expression changes, however, when she is referred to as a role model. Dunn describes this as “intimidating and overwhelming.” Even if this title is something she finds hard to accept, it is the truth. Despite facing challenges of lack of diversity within her profession, she has become successful and iconic. Dunn is an example to single mothers and to those whose children have been diagnosed with sickle- cell anemia (the red blood cell disorder her own son has). She uses her platform to raise awareness about the cause. Her friends and colleagues – Toni Garrn, Naomi Campbell, and Rihanna – attend her fundraisers. “I get really emotional about it. I know that even without necessarily wanting it, I do have this responsibility. If me being ‘me’ can help a young girl growing up, then that’s great. I will embrace it and own it, but it’s still very daunting and super weird.” She laughs. at “cackle,” as our photographer Cuneyt Akeroğlu describes it.
We take a short drive across to the Old Town, where we walk through the crowds gathering around the Hagia Sophia and the blue Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Jourdan walks arm-in-arm with Akeroğlu ahead of the team. She is elegant in a no -white Céline blouse and black high-waisted trousers. Her Aurélie Bidermann earrings sway as she walks. We set up by the walls of the Blue Mosque. Crowds gather. “Is it Naomi?” we hear more than once. Dunn asks me if she should put a headscarf on for this shot. “I don’t want to disrespect anyone,” she says. She prances gracefully, yet is more subdued with her movements, perhaps taking the surroundings into account. Akeroğlu declares “gorgeous” for the final shot, and we move on.
Dunn will be leaving for Istanbul Atatürk Airport in a few hours. As she collects her bags from the Palace, the “LONDunn” ring on her finger flashes. It is part of her collection with British youth brand Missguided, launched in April 2017. Glamour UK just presented Dunn with the Entrepreneur of the Year award; a deserved accolade for the business savvy model. “I want to take the label into kidswear and hopefully menswear,” she explains, twisting her ring. “I am huge on skincare, so I would love to have my own range. I am also looking to make a cookbook and I want to have my own cookware products.” Dunn hosted her own cooking show, Well Dunn, on Jay Z’s Life+Times YouTube channel. e three seasons garnered millions of views and featured industry friends such as Joan Smalls, Cara Delevingne, and Karlie Kloss.
At the farewell team dinner – knowing all too well her love of food – we introduce Dunn to an array of mezzes, meat dishes, and Turkish cotton candy. As we say goodbye, she shares a few last thoughts on Istanbul. “It’s a magical place. And the food! Wow! I’m so grateful to be here.” She laughs, “And look, now the sun’s come out.”
Photography: Cüneyt Akeroğlu
Fashion editor: Konca Aykan
Makeup: Antony Preel
Hair: Paolo Soffiatti at Bryant Artists
Video: Ömer Can Duman
Model: Jourdan Dunn at Women Management
Production: 212 Studio
Location: Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul
Boat: Vintage Bosphorus Boats