Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tunisian Stunner Hana Ben Abdesslem: The Season’s Breakout Model

Hana Ben Abdesslem at Chanel Spring 2011 Haute Couture

Since it was founded in 1946 by Eileen and husband Jerry, the Ford Modeling Agency has been responsible for producing some of the most iconic faces of the last century; including Suzy Parker, Lauren Hutton, Cheryl Tiegs and Christy Turlington. What Ms. Ford championed early on was the kind of beauty that has remained relatively the same over the decades (with the odd variance or two); thanks in part to a succession of American, Brazilian and Eastern European girls.

Yet when Paul Rowland was recently installed as head of Ford’s women’s division, he had other ideas in mind. Although American himself, he had no interest in the ideal of beauty perpetuated by the agency’s founder. “My vision is very different from Eileen Ford’s,” he explained in an interview with the New York Times. “My ideal legacy at Ford would be to open up the idea of beauty, not only being classic but being global. I want to find girls in Egypt or Sri Lanka or India — all the places where people don’t look.” Among his first moves was to set up a scouting office in North Africa.

Hana Ben Abdesslem at Givenchy Spring 2011
Rowland’s decision was not an arbitrary one, as North Africa has emerged as the latest Eldorado for the modeling industry. In the last few years Paris’ Elite Model Management has been staging its “Look of the Year” contests throughout the region. Amongst insiders in the industry, Elite’s Paris office is considered the epicenter of one of the most powerful scouting systems on the planet. That means expectations are very high for this agency to unveil a new crop of runway stars. Amongst its roster of successful North African models is the Tunisian Kenza Fourati as well as Moroccan Hind Sahli, who has walked the runway for Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton amongst many others.

Yet unlike her North African peers, Hana Ben Abdesslem represents an entirely different proposition within the modeling world; one that is closely linked to fashion’s current obsession with androgyny.

Hana Ben Abdesslem at Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2011 Haute Couture

Every few years seems to produce a face that goes against the norm, and makes us reconsider our own notions of beauty. In the 1990’s Kristen McMenamy gained a following for her unorthodox features that included shaved brows and a kooky smile. More recently, Austrian model Iris Strubegger has attracted the attention of fashion’s noted taste makers, with her soaring cheekbones and gender-bending looks.

In Hana Ben Abdesslem’s case, success came relatively quickly to the 23 year old stunner from Nabeul, Tunisia. Shortly after winning a “Look” model search contest, she was picked by Ricardo Tisci to walk exclusively in Givenchy’s Spring 2011 show in Paris. Within the industry, Tisci is known for putting as much thought into selecting his models, as he does when designing clothes. He will often begin casting his shows as early as six months in advance, to create his desired fashion tribe for a particular season.

Hana Ben Abdesslem at Givenchy Spring 2011

Since cutting her hair into a short pixie bob, Hana’s career has skyrocketed. Last November, an entire exhibition displaying images of her shot by lens man Michael Dürr, was unveiled during Vienna Fashion Week. While at the recent round of Spring 2011 haute couture shows in Paris, the Tunisian model walked the runway for both Chanel and Gaultier.

Hailing from Tunisia, a nation formed by centuries of cross-cultural encounters, has eased Hana’s transition into the fashion world; an industry that is international by nature. “My country is rich in history and traditions. It’s a culture that’s been influenced and shaped by a succession of civilizations that includes the Berbers, Phoenicians, Romans, Fatimid Arabs and Ottomans. I grew up surrounded by all these influences and I am proud to be a part of that culture,” added the Tunisian runway star in an interview.

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