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.

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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.

 

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

 
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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. 

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Styling: Carmel Gill
Styling assistant: Rachel Bassett
Photography: Rio Romaine
Makeup: Nadine at The AgenC 

Location: Four Seasons Dubai, Jumeirah Beach, Dubai