We love a story about breaking social norms – read our round-up of the Emirates Woman Woman of the Year Awards if you do too – and this time it’s in the form of Emirati model Rafeea Al Hajsi.

At the Arab Fashion Week, Rafeea fulfilled her dreams and made fashion history as she became the first Emirati model to strut the event’s catwalk.

Despite the event taking place in Dubai, and running in its third season, international models are usually picked to walk in the shows, especially the catwalks where the fashion might not be considered modest.

As such Rafeea has struggled to reach her modelling goals. But that all changed when Lebanese designer Aiisha Ramadan cast her for her show at Arab Fashion Week.

Rafeea said to AFP after the show: “It’s amazing to be on the catwalk… a lovely feeling. I enjoy it with all my heart. When I see the lights on my face, life lights up with the feeling that international fame is ahead.”

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Rafeea pouts backstage at the Arab Fashion Week.

One look at Rafeea’s large brown eyes and incredible bone structure and it’s obvious that fame is on the cards – there’s a reason she was nominated one of our Arab Fashion Week’s best dressed.

However, the model admits she has faced many obstacles to achieve her dream in a conservative Muslim society.

“I consider myself a very courageous girl to be in this field,” she said. “It was very difficult for me to become a model, especially as an Emirati.”

“For the model to become international, she needs to reveal a lot of her body and this can be unacceptable in (Arab) culture,” said designer Aiisha Ramadan who understands Rafeea’s battle with the modern modelling industry.


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“It’s painful. Sometimes there is a dress I really like and which the designer wants me to wear, but I can’t because the design is not suitable for our society,” the model told AFP.

However, her dedication for success has proven helpful in her modelling venture. “Even if I keep working 24 hours, I have no problem at all with modelling,” she said.

Rafeea, who also works in radio and TV as a presenter, actual made her catwalk debut earlier this year at Paris Fashion Week, where she modelled for Lebanese designer Ziad Nakad.

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At Arab Fashion Week, Rafeea took to the catwalk to flaunt a red one-sleeved dress and an off-the-shoulder black gown from Aiisha Ramadan’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection.

rafeea al hajsi

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Aiisha Ramadan spoke about how Rafeea’s fuller figure helped her to stand out from the skinnier fashion models, saying: “Rafeea represents the beautiful Arab girl.”

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Rafeea added: “I sacrifice international fashion shows that are great opportunities for me, just to be considerate towards our society and my family.”

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Images: Instagram/@rafeeaalhajsi, Getty