During a time of lockdown and self-isolation, Nora Attal seizes the moment to reset and reevaluate her life along with her own fashion know-how. Pulling all her industry hacks to the fore, going behind and in front of the lens, styling and photographing her own cover shoot.
Sometimes, all it takes are a few weeks and life’s fortunes can take a drastic turn. At the start of March, model Nora Attal was living her best life. Paris fashion week was in full swing and at the prestigious Apicius restaurant, celebrities Demi Moore, Shailene Woodley, and Cindy Bruna sat bathed in the golden light of crystal chandeliers, as they watched models – including Attal – showcase Lebanese designer Eli Mizrahi’s debut collection for Mônot. The restaurant’s 18th-century decor was a fitting setting for what was an ornate, A-list affair – fashion at its most decadent. A few days later and Attal was walking the runway for Chanel in a spectacular finale to the FW20 season. Then everything changed.
Cut to April and the parties have stopped. Personal interactions have ceased and the fashion world as we know it has been put on hold – its future being reexamined and reconsidered. Attal, no longer dealing in the apex of luxury, is wearing a loose white shirt and jeans at her London home. Her hair is pulled back in a relaxed knot and her face bare – no makeup, just a disciplined skincare regime of DIY facials. “I think looking after your appearance and surroundings helps you manage your emotions,” she muses. The Arab model – along with most of the global population – is under lockdown. Yet, while the scenario is a million miles from the extravagant life of an international model, the 20-year-old is grateful.
“I have running water and food. I have my family and friends to talk to. I have sanitization and my health. I have my bed,” she observes. Fashion has been put into perspective; now, her focus is on helping those in need. “There are 70 million refugees forcibly displaced worldwide due to conflict, violence, persecution, and human rights violations,” explains Attal, who has been supporting charities like Unicef and UNHCR’s emergency appeal during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “They don’t have access to basic needs. They live in cramped conditions, which makes it difficult for them to self-isolate.”
While the UK’s lockdown guidelines allow residents to go outside once daily to exercise, Attal respects the #StayHome rules. “I stay home for the health workers working on the frontline of this crisis,” she explains. “For the hospitals and health system and for the elderly and people who are especially vulnerable.”
She worries about her own grandmother, who is quarantining alone in Morocco. The pair are extremely close, with Attal traveling to North Africa every year to see her. “I miss her the most,” she says, acknowledging that the summer’s plans are precarious. She stays in touch with the rest of her family through video calls and group chats, with memes and funny gifs helping to keep their spirits lifted.
With the mayhem of fashion month paused, Attal was initially grateful for lockdown’s slower pace of life, yet the adjustment has become more testing, with the model adopting a routine to keep her sane. “I was used to flying at least once a week, having a daily work schedule, and meeting lots of people during shoots and shows. Being in quarantine is a completely different world. I try to have a plan for each day so that I don’t get restless. It’s hard but I’m getting better,” she explains, revealing her new system is a balance of exercise and fulfilling activities like painting, reading, and improving her culinary skills. “I was an amateur in the kitchen before and now I’ve nailed a great carrot cake and homemade pizza.”
It’s the simple approach to life that she chooses to reflect in her self- portraits. “I wanted to get the message across that living this slower, more simple life is like a reset button. I wore little makeup and pared-down looks, which is a reflection of how I am during quarantine.”
She does miss her freedom, however. “The freedom of movement, travel, and touch,” she nods. “We can’t give our friends a hug anymore, and the connection with people is not the same. It’s forced us to stop our natural humanity,” she considers, adding that the first thing she will do after lockdown is travel with her friends, albeit carefully.
When considering life beyond the pandemic, Attal – who turns 21 in June – is cautiously optimistic. “I think there will be some positive outcomes. In the bigger picture, it has helped us find a balance that could reduce stress. Environmentally, the restricted movement of people has already seen pollution levels drop drastically.”
As for the future of fashion? “I’m not entirely sure,” she says, considering the fate of her industry and, indeed, career. “Maybe brands won’t feel the need to express their collections as fashion shows, but instead tap into different, more sustainable ways. I think the current fashion model produces more than necessary – wasting resources and creativity. Bringing the industry back to its roots will benefit brands and also reduce environmental damage,” she concludes. Reset, resilient, and refocused, it’s clear that Nora Attal is ready for whatever is to come.
Originally published in the May 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia
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