After years of dependence on foreign models and a lack of formal regulations, Egypt’s modeling industry is finally determined to walk the walk.
In a country where the thriving cinema industry has always been the barometer of the common interpretation of beauty, Egypt’s favorite stars, such as Shadia, Hind Rustom, Soad Hosny, Sabah, Laila Elwi, and Yousra often flaunted elaborate curves, blond hair, and dainty features. Unruly hair, darker skin tones, and unplucked eyebrows were never part of an aspirational beauty formula, despite being the dominant characteristics in the streets. Only a decade ago did the global conversations about diversity and non-filtered beauty manage to infiltrate local perceptions.
When she debuted on the small screen in 2014, Amina Khalil quickly became one of Egypt’s most acclaimed acting talents. Aside from selecting powerful roles, Khalil is known for silencing body shamers and advocating self-acceptance. During a TEDxCairoWomen talk in 2017, the actor shared how some directors have rejected her for having a prominent nose, which almost led her to go under the knife in pursuit of more “acceptable” features. Fellow actor Salma Abu Deif has also had to prove her resilience in the face of criticism. The former model often receives negative social media comments that target her petite figure, which she handles with characteristic humor. Actor Asmaa Abo Elyazeid’s rapidly evolving career is another example of the aesthetic revolution currently unfolding in Egypt and across the globe.
Over the past decade, diversity undoubtedly became a trending topic. Often accused of biased monotony, the fashion industry has been working hard to resolve its shortcomings. An analysis by Thefashionspot.com, based on 194 fashion shows and almost 7,000 castings, showed that 40% of featured models on the FW20 runways of New York, London, and Paris were women of color, while only 46 plus-size models were cast. Egypt’s relatively new modeling industry has also taken strides to follow global footsteps. “Ten years ago, it was almost impossible to convince a client to cast a single model of color,” says Youssef Sepahi, founder of Catwalk Academy and Face 2 Face Agency. “We used to depend on foreign, blonde models. We are now more open to racial diversity. We currently know that being a good model is not about having a set of blue eyes and blond hair; she is much more than that.” What is currently in demand is a unique attitude and look, rather than particular features, says Iman El Deeb, founder of UNN Model Management and a model herself. “Clients were still fixated on the Western look, until more diverse-looking models were offered the platform to showcase themselves; then the shift occurred,” she shares.
With agencies advocating authentic beauty and local designers following international trends in their pursuit of offshore exposure, market behavior shifted in favor of inclusivity. The rise of multiple agencies is also contributing to the establishment of a solid foundation for the industry. “For years, models had to lead their own careers, which often got them into monopoly contracts and unjust working conditions,” says Ahmed Ghanem, founder of Maquette Agency. “Today we have a handful of agencies and their presence ensures healthy competition, diversity for the clients, and multiple choices for the models.
As models and agencies work towards recognition, the local industry’s capacity remains seasonal. Promising talents are hindered from committing to modeling as a full-time job. “We currently have more models than available opportunities, which means that even the best ones can spend months without a single commission,” says Sepahi. “It is especially complicated for men as we typically only cast a handful of male models for every fashion show.” As such, models are looking outside of their own borders for opportunities and global exposure. In the past two years alone, many Egyptian faces have managed to participate in international events and campaigns, such as Imaan Hammam, who has graced more than 10 Vogue covers. And after working with Vogue Italia, LuisaViaRoma, and The Attico, El Deeb, Sherouk Farid, Malak Walid, and Mariam Abdallah are testimony to the increasing international representation of Egyptian models. “I believe that the new generation are the shapeshifters of our society and will strongly impact the next 10 years in fashion and modeling,” says El Deeb. With the internet connecting far ends of the world, today’s local talents are fast becoming the fabric of international fashion weeks, grasping hold of what were once considered farfetched opportunities.
Photography Amina Zaher
Style Yasmine Eissa
Hair Malaak at Al
Makeup Diana Harby
Style Assistant Habiba Rahouma
Models Mariam Abdallah, Iman El Deeb, Sherouk Farid, Yasmine Hany, Sohaila Kandil
Shot on location at Kundalini Grand Pyramids