Mariah Idrissi, the first hijab-wearing model, speaks exclusively to Emirates Woman about opening the door to diversity.
Model, Muslim, game changer. Twenty-five-year-old Mariah Idrissi is changing the face of fashion on a global scale – an impressive accomplishment for a former retail manager who shot to fame, literally overnight.
Born in Kingsbury, north-west London, Idrissi is the daughter of Pakistani and Moroccan parents. She had a modest upbringing with her two brothers and confesses that school life was at times, tough. But that didn’t stop the model following her passion for drama, art and poetry.
At just fourteen she performed alongside poets at a local theatre, cementing her passion for the creative arts. Little did she know, she was preparing herself for the global stage.
Fast-forward almost ten years later to when a casting director approached Idrissi while she was working at a children’s shop at Westfield Shopping Centre in 2015.
“The agent just walked up to me and asked if she could take my photograph because she liked my look,” Idrissi recalls. “I was taken by surprise but she said I could potentially make some money on the side, and that she would be in touch. I didn’t really think about it that much until I got a phone call two weeks later.”
This was the telephone call that was to catapult Idrissi onto a journey that she could never have imagined.
“The agent called me and said that she had a cool gig with retailer H&M that I may be interested in, but even then I didn’t really think anything of it. It was weird for me because I was always into creative arts but never wanted to get into fashion. And I thought no one would ever see me in that two second clip in the advert!” she laughs.
The Swedish retail giant cast Idrissi alongside a diverse group of models of different sizes, ages, genders, ethnicities and varying degrees of able-bodieness in its sustainable fashion campaign Close The Loop, a short film to promote the recycling of old clothes at its stores.
“It literally exploded overnight. I woke up the morning after the campaign went live to discover I’d made headlines and been thrust into the spotlight as the world’s first hijab-wearing model. The BBC called me that day and asked me to go on the news, and I instantly became known as a modest fashion expert and was thrown into public speaking.
“I remember my mother and I laughing! But I saw this as my chance to become a model beyond the conventional reasons. My community needed me to be their voice. I became not only a face, but a face and a voice for modest fashion. I knew I had a responsibility,” she explains.
Idrissi went on to work with several major news and radio outlets and garnered international interest, promoting a discussion about women not only wearing head scarfs for religious reasons, but as a form of style. She also started to be recognised as an influencer for modern women across the globe.
To read the full interview with Mariah Idrissi – including the women she cites as inspirations and her aspirations for the future – pick up the September issue of Emirates Woman, on newsstands now.
Styling: Carmel Gill
Styling assistant: Rachel Bassett
Photography: Rio Romaine
Makeup: Nadine at The AgenC
Location: Four Seasons Dubai, Jumeirah Beach, Dubai