Mariah Idrissi can be credited for opening doors for hijab-wearing women in the fashion industry. When the 25-year-old posed for H&M’s “Close the Loop” campaign in 2015, she made history as the first ever visibly Muslim model to pose in a global fashion campaign for a high-street powerhouse retailer, simultaneously cracking the lid for the likes of Halima Aden, Ikram Abdi Omar, and Kadija Diawara who would all go on to walk on international runways.
Idrissi, who is of Moroccan and Pakistani descent, was first scouted while she was working at a retail shop in her hometown of London. “Do they know that I wear a hijab?” asked the model when the agent called her two weeks later to tell her the Swedish retailer wanted to feature her in a campaign. Following the inclusive fashion advertorial, where she appeared alongside a diverse cast of models of different ethnicities and body types, the game-changer immediately became the world-recognized face of modest fashion.
Here, the boundary-breaking model sits down with Vogue Arabia to discuss her catapult into fashion, favorite modest labels, the last movie that made her cry, and more.
Was it hard to make it as a hijab-wearing model?
“Yes and no. It was initially very easy because I was scouted in a shopping mall, which led to a global H&M campaign— my first job as a model. However, after my breakthrough, the struggle really began as there was no such thing as a ‘hijab-wearing model’. I had to create a blueprint with no management or modeling agency, just the support of my friends and family.”
Do you believe that the fashion industry is evolving into being more inclusive to Muslim women?
“I believe it is, however it’s still at a very slow pace. I feel that we all have responsibilities to ensure there is more inclusivity by using our voices and our platforms. Collaboration is key.”
What have been some obstacles you’ve faced thus far, if any?
“There have been loads. First was getting a modeling agency to understand that not having a hijab-wearing woman signed was silly, when we can clearly see the fashion industry gearing towards modest fashion. Another was getting brands to also understand that if you want to market to our audience but not involve us in your marketing, it doesn’t always come across as sincere or authentic. It’s not just about providing a service or product, it’s about ensuring the whole process is done correctly to see a good end result.”
And career highlights?
“I think it’s great when you begin to live your purpose and people around you start to see it too. It’s always rewarding when your work is beyond making you happy but also impacting others in a way that you don’t even realize. Highlights for me are moments that show I’m on the right path.”
How would you describe your personal style?
“I would say somewhere in between hippie and urban. I’m very laid back and like to dress comfortably, but I love loud colors and statement pieces.”
Tell us about your recent shoot in Los Angeles.
“In March, I was getting ready for SXSW and the Gurls Talk festival in New York with Adwoa Aboah and Teen Vogue. My good friend Safiya Abdallah connected me with her friends Abe Duella and Elodie Tacnet in LA, and they came up with this incredible concept and shoot. Abe used pieces that weren’t necessarily created to be modest, and was able to put a conservative spin on them whilst still upholding their creative integrity and design. I also think it was great that he was able to give a platform to young, up-and-coming designers like No Sesso, Mlaed (who makes upcycled, zero-waste fashion which I think more designers need to start incorporating), and Holly McClintock.”
Most memorable moment from this shoot?
“Getting to eat Randy’s Donuts whilst shooting, for sure.”
As well as being a model, you’re also a poet. What are some of your other interests we don’t know about?
“I love film and animation — I’m a huge Disney fan. I think it’s such a powerful form of influence. I also love history and religion, I’ve always been a bit of a nerd so reading and learning about new things in general is a big interest of mine.”
If we opened your bag right now, we would find…
“My house keys, Fenty Beauty lipgloss, my notebook, hand cream, and another phone.”
What’s your most-used emoji?
“The red heart.”
The last movie that made you cry?
“I just watched Lion on the plane to Greece starring Dev Patel and held back my tears — and then cried about it later in my hotel room.”
Twitter or Instagram?
Namecheck five beauty products you can’t live without?
“Eyelash curler, MAC Cosmetics Pro Long Wear Concealer, Benefit Eyebrow Kit, Clinique Lip Mask, Mamasia black soap and date oil.”
If you could swap wardrobes with anybody, who would it be?
“I think this goes without saying: Rihanna. She is so fearless in her sartorial choices and has created so many iconic looks, and started so many trends.”
What album do you currently have on repeat?
“Everything Is Love by The Carters. Beyoncé and Jay-Z know just when to drop those summer anthems.”
Any summer travel plans?
“I just came back from Greece which was beautiful, but no plans as of yet. I’ll definitely be heading out somewhere hot this summer though, so follow me on Instagram to see what I end up doing.”