Supermodel Imaan Hammam has conquered the runways with her arresting presence—and now her younger sister Aicha is swaying in her footsteps.
Even with an ocean between them, the Zoom connection between the sisters crackles with love and delight in each other’s company. Supermodel Imaan Hammam is in her New York City apartment, while her younger sister and fellow cover star Aicha is at home in Amsterdam. They laugh and share stories, effusive with praise and adoration for each other. The younger clearly in awe of her big sister; the older beaming with pride. “We’re at such a great stage because she’s 21, I’m 25, and it’s so easy to talk and have conversations,” Imaan shares. “She’s so wise. This generation is so smart, I’m like, how do you know all this? You’re younger than me!”
Fresh off the cover shoot in Portugal with photographer Bibi Borthwick, the Moroccan-Egyptian sisters still have that Mediterranean-sunshine glow. They are quick to share stories about their time in the country, where their mother, Mbarka Belouta, also joined them. “It didn’t feel like work, it was very warm, and it was nice to have our family there,” Imaan says. Aicha picks up the thread, “With Mom being there, the whole vibe was different, and I felt very comfortable. We were matching each other’s energies. You can see in the photos that we just have this chemistry.” In-between shots, Imaan would sneak peeks at the images. “I would see her being so strong and I was screaming, ‘Yes!’” Imaan has been modeling at the upper echelons of fashion since opening (and walking exclusively for) Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy SS14 show when she was 16, after being scouted at Amsterdam Centraal Station three years prior. She graced her first Vogue cover in 2017 – the second issue of Vogue Arabia – and has since featured on 18 more, including Vogue Arabia’s first anniversary issue, next to modeling icon Iman Abdulmajid. Her appeal stretches from couture catwalks to high-street campaigns, her striking features making her one of the most in-demand models of the past decade. It’s a mantle she wears lightly, yet reverently, aware of the impact and importance she has as a Muslim woman with Arab and African heritage walking the global stage.
It might seem like intimidating footsteps to follow in, but Aicha is determined to make her own way in the industry, with her sister as her guide, mentor, and friend. “I saw her when I was a young girl and I was like, wow, I just love what she’s doing and achieving,” Aicha recalls. “And that’s how it all started. It was different to dreaming of becoming a model – I saw how she was doing and that opened doors for me. I’m so proud of her still to this day.” Imaan was happy to help set Aicha up in the industry. “Because I started modeling at such a young age, it helped me become comfortable with myself,” she says. “It made me the woman I am today. And that’s why I wanted to help her in her process and in her journey of just becoming.” In Aicha’s shoots – she has done commercial and editorial work, including for Vogue Arabia’s October 2020 issue – the young model exudes confidence and grace, and an ease in front of the camera that comes not only from learning from the best, but from inherent talent. She didn’t start that way, she recalls, smiling at the memory of her first shoots with Imaan. “I was shy, wondering how I was going to look. On our second shoot, I was more chill and I was saying, I should do modeling.” “I was shy, too,” Imaan interjects. “I used to get anxious about going in front of the camera, but when I did, something just clicked. And then I would see the pictures and I would be like, wow, that’s me?”
Growing up as the Netherlands-born children of a Moroccan mother and Egyptian father, the sisters – two of six siblings – shared a full, busy home in Amsterdam. Theirs was always rich in tradition and culture, with “cousins, aunts, everyone” eating at their house. It was a beautiful way to grow up, Imaan says. Their mother has always been supportive of their dreams, the sisters say, and was “definitely stricter” with the older siblings than with Imaan and Aicha. “She understood that she had to let me go and do my thing and find my journey,” Imaan shares. “And I think by me doing those things, she was able to be even easier on Aicha and really accept her for what she wants to do.” The melting pot of Amsterdam also helped Imaan hone her own identity as a self-proclaimed Afro-Arab. “As a kid, being in all those circles of different cultures helped me get a view on things and I understood that who you are and where you come from don’t necessarily define who you’re going to be.” At home, they speak Arabic with their mother and are proud of their roots that stretch deep into Africa and the Arab world. Curiosity led Imaan to do a DNA test, which came up “70% Egyptian and then after that it’s Sudanese and all these African countries.” While she’s aware of the added responsibility of representation, Aicha is proud of her big sister and the way she’s taking up her rightful space. “You opened a lot of doors for a lot of girls, and I really look up to that, because it isn’t easy,” she says. The industry is changing, Imaan notes – in part thanks to her, as well as models like Moroccan-British Nora Attal and Moroccan-Italian Malika El Maslouhi.
“I don’t shy away from my roots or my culture,” Imaan comments. “Everything I do, I want people to know where I come from. I’m just so happy that it’s possible now, and that the door is open. Looking back, I’m not going to say I’m confident all the time, but I feel confident within myself and with what I’ve accomplished as a woman of color, as a Muslim woman.” It’s an earned confidence born from fortitude, yes, but also from solid familial bonds. The sisters are looking forward to seeing each other – and the rest of the clan – in person again soon. Imaan sums it up succinctly, “When we’re together, we’re strong. I feel like we can conquer anything.”
Originally published in the December 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Rudy Simba Betty
Fashion director: Amine Jreissati
Hair: Hos Hounkpatin
Makeup: Lucy Bridge
Stylist assistant: Claudia Soares
Hair assistant: Paulo Fonte
Makeup assistant: Beatriz Texugo
Creative producer: Sam Allison
On-set production: Mamma Team
On-set producer: Beatriz Feio
Production coordinator: Patricia Alves
Location manager: Miguel Cruz
First assistant photographer: Dani Bastidas
Digi tech: Carole Durosoy