Interview with Hanaa Ben Abdesslem
As one of the first models to successfully launch her career from the Middle East, Hanaa Ben Abdesslem (IMG) serves as a role model to young women internationally. She fought the stigma that modeling is not a sufficient career path, eventually getting booked as an exclusive for couture house Givenchy and now working as the first Muslim face of Lancôme. With her androgynous pixie cut, her features are sharp but beautiful - it's impossible to look away from her photos. Plus, her ongoing support of NGOs like Esmaani, a charity in her hometown in Tunisia, are a testament to her warm personality and sense of social responsibility. Editor Carine Roitfeld lists Hanaa as one of her top models, and after learning about her journey to get to this point in her career, so will you.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
I was raised in a Town on the sea coast of Tunisia named Nabeul. My father is a civil engineer and my mother is a stay home Mom. At a very young age I would tip toe around the house pretending I was on a catwalk and fashion always fascinated me. It was my dream. My Manager, Sophie Galal, presented me to IMG Paris who in turn presented me to Carine Rotfeld, editor-in-chief of French Vogue at the time. Through her introduction to Ricardo Tisci , I was chosen for Givenchy exclusivity fashion show that same season.
Q: What is beauty to you and how do you define beauty?
Beauty for me is within. When a person is beautiful inside, you can see from the outside looking into their face, their eyes and you feel their beauty.
Q: How did you get discovered as a model?
I always dreamed of becoming a model since a was very young. In 2009, I participating in a reality TV show for models in Lebanon.
Q: How did your growing up in Tunisia influence who you are today?
My hometown, Nabeul (Neopolis), was founded by the Greeks of Cyrene, serving as a trade port. Today it is a touristic region of historic and archeologist lovers but it is also a beautiful holiday beach resort. I believe the rich culture of my country, influenced my view of beauty and appreciation of art and history.
Q: If you weren’t currently modeling, what career path would you pursue?
I cannot imagine doing anything else but modeling but if I had to, it would definitely be something in the Fashion world.
Q: You often speak of hoping to represent Arab women in the modeling industry. What challenges do you face as an Arab woman pursuing a profession where opportunities are limited and viewed down upon?
The challenge is to communicate that modeling is a career path and a serious profession. It is not a hobby and to succeed in modeling you need to take it very seriously if you want the modeling industry to take you seriously.
Q: As a model, you are exposed to different photographers and stylists. How has your perception of beauty evolved since joining the industry?
Yes of course, it is constantly evolving and shifting the more I am exposed to different types of arts and cultures.
Q: Who do you hope to work with in the near future?
Steven Meisel, Paolo Roversi, Mert & Marcus.
Q: What are some distinctly Tunisian habits that you maintain in your life?
I love to cook traditional Tunisian dishes and I use rose water to cleanse my face made by my mother.
Q: You were the first Muslim face of Lancôme, a huge accomplishment, especially amongst Arab models. What has this opportunity meant for you and your mission to break down the stigma against models in the Middle East?
Lancôme wanted me to be part of the Lancôme family and offered me to be the face of Lancôme because their philosophy of beauty corresponds to my looks and personality. I feel honored to have been given this role and it is a very huge privilege. However, it comes with a big responsibility. I hope to lead the way for those who wish to pursue the same career path and be their role model.
Q: Who are your favorite Tunisian designers, artists, or photographers?
Essidene Aliai, Ahmed Talfit, and Ali Karoui.
Q: In addition to modeling, you are known for your involvement with the charity “Esmaani.” What is the mission of Esmaani and how did you get involved?
I am the spokeswoman of the NGO Esmaani. It is a non profit organization and its main focus is to contribute in the development of social needs. Esmaani trains teams of volunteers whom regularly visit health facilities and hospitals, offering support, warmth, friendship and laughter to the ill and needy. By identifying the needs, they offer financial support in areas of neglect improving conditions. As a spokewoman for Esmaani, I am very involved in Esmaani’s commitments and focus. Whenever I am in Tunisia, I visit the hospitals, spend time with the sick and play with the children with cancer. I donate toys, entertainment equipment and participates in refurbishing playing areas in the hospitals.
Q: When do you think a woman is most beautiful?
A woman is most beautiful when she looks natural and with very little make up.
Q: What is your favorite meal?
Couscous of course!
Q: What are three things most people don’t know about you?
1. I am observant.
2. I learn quickly.
3. I love to have fun!