March 14, 2018

MARIAH IDRISSI | TOP GIRL

The first Muslim hijab-wearing model for a global brand.
mariah-idrissi

It’s a cold October morning and Mariah Idrissi is telling me her definition of success. “For me it’s about financial freedom, when I feel like I’m at a point where I can sleep and make money or take my mum out and I don’t have to be conscious.” Considered to be the new face of modest fashion, Mariah has become a force to be reckoned with in the industry after an H&M campaign in 2015 that saw her become the first hijabi-wearing model for an global brand. We spent the morning in a cafe on Stanmore Hill and discussed diversity in the fashion industry, dreams, aspirations and upcoming projects.

So tell me, how did you get scouted?

I was in Westfield and a casting director stopped me. She said there was an H&M campaign and would love for me to potentially be in it. I said “why not?” and thought nothing of it so I went to the shoot and then a couple months later, when it came out, it just blew up!

Did you expect it to be that big?

No, not at all. They literally took a picture of me and I was in the advert for two seconds so I didn’t think people would even notice me.

It’s so funny how your life can change just like that. Before that, were you booking speaking engagements?

No, nothing. Literally nothing.

You speak a lot about diversity, so how do you feel about the current diversity situation on runways, in campaigns and fashion magazines?

It’s improving, but slowly. I know some people might just say “Oh it’s not enough” and it’s true, but it’s come a long way if you look at how things have changed. Even this year, Marc Jacobs had everyone on the runway wearing turbans which just shows how much different cultures are influencing each other.

But there’s still a lot of tokenism, that’s the problem. Even if it’s diversity, it doesn’t seem sincere, it just seems like they’re trying to please people.

A lot of people complained about how Marc Jacobs had models wearing turbans and call it cultural appropriation. Do you feel that it’s cultural appropriation or do you feel like it’s just embracing another culture?

I think people always like to feel recognised or credited for something that they may have done. Even if it’s not an individual, it could be a community. It’s always important to show respect to where you got that influence from- in anything.

If I put a caption and I quoted someone else’s lyrics, I’m not going to act like they’re my own. I’m always going to give that person credit. It’s the same with fashion. If you’re going to take some inspiration from somewhere, then you should always give a little background to what inspired you without acting like it came from your own imagination.

You’re a spokesperson and advocate for diversity within the industry and just as a result of that, you’ve become a role model with young people looking up to you and people judging everything you do. How do you feel about that- is it something you embrace or are you like “I’m just living my life?

I kind of just live my life. I don’t think too much into it but I am conscious of it. So like back in the day, I’d wear whatever I wanted. If I wanted to take off my hijab, there was no-one to judge me. Even though I didn’t, at least I had that choice and freedom. But now I feel like when you’re put in that position, you have less choices and you have to always be conscious and be on point so that’s kind of the stage I’m in now. But I’m still myself and I still like to express that to people. I got scouted, I wasn’t aiming for this.

What did you want to be when you were 16 versus what you are today?

I wanted to be an actress.

Oh, so you've always wanted to be in entertainment?

 

Yeah, I’ve always liked entertainment and if it wasn’t on the screen, I wanted to be behind the scenes. I’ve always wanted to do film, whether it’s producing film or acting in a role that was appropriate for me, I really wanted to get in that world. I still want to be a voice-over character for a Disney movie.

Really, can you do different accents?

Yeah, I can do a few things. I loved that world of film, and I still do, I haven’t forgotten about it.

When will you feel like you’ve arrived? You know when you’re like “OK, I made it”. What does success mean for you?

That’s so deep… I know it’s interpreted differently but I feel like there’s different stages of success. So there’s obviously financial success. For me with financial success, I used to be like “yeah I wanna be a billionaire” but it just got to a point where- it’s so cliché- but money doesn’t bring happiness.

It’s more about the lifestyle. For me its about financial freedom, when I feel like I’m at point where I can sleep and make money. I can take my mum out and I don’t have to be conscious about going to work.

And everyone’s financial freedom levels are different based on what they do- I like to travel, so when I’m able to not just travel for work, then I’ll feel good. I don’t feel like I’ll ever be at a stage where I’ve made it.

I have so many goals that I’ll never feel like I’ve made it. I might feel content about certain things like having financial freedom, but there’s still so many things spiritually that I’ll never fully achieve.

Does money drive you, because money drives me but some people seem to frown upon money being a driver? What do you think about being motivated by money?

To be honest, when people ask me “From a young age, you’ve been ambitious and wanted to make your own money, what motivated you?” I’ll be honest and say it is money. On a personal level, my parents are alright; but in comparison to my uncle who’s a millionaire and some family members, I’m like the Fresh Prince. That has always motivated me to achieve that same kind of lifestyle.

What’s the best advice you've ever received?

I’ve got a few: one of them is “Believe in yourself”. It’s so cliché but when you deep it, believing in yourself, there’s so many positive attributes that come with it. Like you get more confident, you’re more certain about decisions. And for so long I thought I believed in myself but different agents would be like “If you have more followers, you’ll get that opportunity” and I’m like, “That girl is on the cover of Vogue and she’s got 7000 followers”, so why do I always need to be doing the most for someone to give me an opportunity?

That’s probably because they saw that I didn’t believe in myself. So to make excuses for their own shortcomings, they’d tell me that I needed to improve. I just got to a point where I was like: I’ve created a foundation and I’ve done my part. Now you do your part.

Thats amazing, because people try to project their own insecurities onto you, but you have to get to a stage where you believe in your own hype and you’re your own biggest hype man.

You need to be able to take on the right advice from the right people because too many cooks spoil the dish. Everyone’s got a personal opinion or projects his or her own insecurities on you, so if you take advice, make sure it’s from someone that actually has the experience.

And also, don’t wait on opportunities, just create them. Some things are virtually impossible, but you can always find another way around it; never give up on something, like with film, I wanted to be in the movies but I realised that I wear a hijab so I can’t be cast for certain roles, that’s fine. I’m not going to drop the passion I have for film, I’m just going to create them.

Change a little bit, but never abandon. Is there anything that you’ve done so far that you consider a mistake in your career, like what wouldn't you have done if you knew better?

Again, I wished I’d believed in myself. From the get go, I had the formula. When I first got this opportunity and sat down I was like OK what am I going to do with this? I knew in my own self what I needed to do but because certain people couldn’t help me with what I needed, they would make excuses for their own shortcomings; so if I believed in myself from the beginning I would’ve saved a lot of time and not wasted it on a lot of people.

Do you feel like being an ethnic minority has held you back in any way?

No, if anything, I use that to my advantage. Rather than feeling uncomfortable that you’re the only one in the room that looks like you look, I embrace it and own it. But racially, I’m quite ambiguous and I kind of fit in everywhere which is probably a privilege that I’m not always aware of. But at the same time, wearing a hijab is what maybe makes things difficult at times.

For every one opportunity I don’t get because of my ethnicity or my hijab, I’ll get ten because of it. So even if I don’t get one opportunity, I see it as they don’t want to work with me so I don’t want to work with them either. I just embrace it.

Being the first hijabi wearing model is a very big title to have. Does it make you feel a personal responsibility to open the gates and create more opportunities for other hijab girls and women to enter the industry? Like when you start doing film, will you focus on creating other opportunities and representation?

For me the key thing is representation, that’s what’s important. When I was growing up, there was hardly anyone Muslim on the TV screen. As much as the Muslim community says “don’t waste your time watching TV and movies”, kids do regardless. So if they’re going to watch it, it’s better that they learn from someone they can relate to. It is a shame that for so long we haven’t had anyone that we can relate to.

I listened to your poem- ‘Africa Made You Rich’, and all I have to say is wow, I was speechless. The exploitation of Africa isn’t something I had thought about prior to listening to the poem so is this something you want to magnify and continue to speak about?

I wrote a poem, recorded it and put it up; I didn’t overly promote it. It was just for me to feel like I’m doing something positive outside of fashion and beauty. And then the response was like “Oh my God, I can’t wait!” and I was like “Wait for what?” I didn’t know people actually thought that this was a project so I thought ‘I’ve actually got to create a project now’. It has motivated me to come up with a concept that I’m going to work on for next year and hopefully it goes to plan.

I want to collaborate with other people to get that message out there; the key thing with that poem is education and empowerment. Not just educating European people, but also educating ourselves.

Amazing. What is your greatest fear?

I think it’s failure you know!

Most Top Girls say that actually but the thing I find with high-achieving women is that even though your biggest fear is ultimate failure, you’re not that scared of daily failures. Because you have so many- like losing opportunities or things not going your way. So I think it’s more like not fulfilling your purpose, that you’re scared of.

That’s the biggest thing- not fulfilling my purpose. Even when I pray now, I always pray for God to help me fulfill my purpose to my full potential. Because I can think my purpose is in fashion but that could just be one door to lead me to another route. So I just think, whatever I’m supposed to do, let me do it and do it well.

Where is your favourite country that you've travelled to?

I’m going to say Disney World, Florida. The last time I went was last year. It’s one of the best places on earth because it’s so different. It’s not like you’re visiting another country, it’s like going to La La Land.

One thought on “MARIAH IDRISSI | TOP GIRL”

  1. Jandrew says:

    What we all really need is to realize that diversity makes us all stronger . By embracing others we open our own lives to other cultures , religions, races , sexuality and more individual identities . Just be open .
    Jandrew
    Dress The Part
    http://www.jandrewspeaks.com

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