Meet Taleedah Tamer, Saudi Arabia’s First Haute Couture Model

It’s been 28 years since the first protest against the ban on women drivers took place in Saudi Arabia; the event left 47 women jailed without passports after they drove cars through Riyadh to protest King Salman’s law. But last month, all of that changed. A few weeks later, Jeddah-born model Taleedah Tamer walked the Antonio Grimaldi show at haute couture week in Paris, causing many outlets in the Western and Eastern hemispheres to laud her as the first Saudi supermodel. Though two very different realities with varying degrees of cultural significance and consequence, both moments were acts of resistance to a historically oppressive environment for women in the Saudi Kingdom. And that’s why the fashion world could soon have its eyes set on Tamer.

Ever the industry to disrupt cultural discourse rather than reflect it, it’s no secret that casting directors and designers are hard-set on their goals of creating a more inclusive and diverse fashion community. In 2017, we saw the rise of Halima Aden, the Kenya-born, Minnesota-raised, Muslim model after she wore a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant. She went on to be signed to IMG, and most recently, she fronted the July issue of Teen Vogue.

But Tamer is different. She doesn’t wear a hijab. She is yet to be signed to a major modeling agency. She’s the daughter of former model Cristina Tamer, who worked with the likes of Giorgio Armani, La Perla, and Gianfranco Ferré, and pharmaceutical and beauty tycoon, Ayman Tamer. And, despite appearing to be well-versed in the Western image, she has no ties to America whatsoever. Being half-Italian, half-Saudi means the obstacles the 17-year old model may face will be mostly, if not completely, rooted in the cultural as opposed to the physical. For now, her success may look good for the Saudi Kingdom, but it’s surface level compared to the inequality between women and men that will remain long after she makes good on her plans to move to Italy in September.

But her moment on the haute couture stage goes beyond that of her connection to the Middle Eastern clientele that makes up a chunk of its targeted customer base (and her personal friendship with the designer). And it’s why, after her historical Paris debut and her solo Harper’s Bazaar Arabia cover, we sat down with the model to talk about all of it. In the interview below, we caught up with Tamer on what it took to get here and what lies ahead.

Fighter jet flying 👩🏽‍✈️ #gforce

A post shared by Taleedah Tamer تليدة تمر (@taleedah) on Jun 15, 2018 at 1:15am PDT

What cultural obstacles, if any, stand in your way of achieving your modeling goals?
“I’ve always regarded cultural understanding and awareness as things that are very important. In anything I do, it’s crucial that I’m respecting myself and everyone surrounding me. I was raised in a very understanding family that fostered my desire to achieve whatever I set my heart out to do and I’ve been very lucky to have a supportive family that has allowed me to follow this path.”

Besides representation itself, how else do you want to see an international presence of Saudi women across the rest of the fashion industry?
“The Saudi woman has much to offer in many different aspects of the world and workplace. Saudis are very creative people; it’s in our blood. Today, we are seeing our talents showcased more on a global level rather than just regionally — and I think it’s really important that different aspects of the Saudi woman are showcased, but also that they’re enabled to do so.”

What are some of the common misconceptions about Saudi women and the Saudi fashion industry?
“One of the largest misconceptions about the Saudi fashion industry, and specifically the Saudi woman, is that we’re looking for something very different compared to other women around the world. Saudi women may choose to dress in their own way, but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate fashion as a means of expression.”

Shooting for @antoniogrimaldiatelier

A post shared by Taleedah Tamer تليدة تمر (@taleedah) on Mar 3, 2018 at 6:01am PST

Who are some of your dream designers to work with?
“There are so many talented designers that I’d love to work with some day, as I feel they’re all so different and unique. However, Giorgio Armani has always been a goal as my mom worked with him in the past. I also love and look up to Donatella Versace, Alexander McQueen, Karl Lagerfeld, and many more.”

Talk to us about your Harper’s Bazaar Arabia cover and walking Paris couture.
“Being on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia was such a wonderful experience; we shot the story in Rome with an amazing team and it couldn’t have been better. I’m so thankful as the Bazaar team believed in me from the beginning and they made my experience so amazing. As for the couture show in Paris, I got to open the show, which is a great honor. It was also such a great first experience as Antonio [Grimaldi], who I consider a very good friend of mine, made my experience so memorable and was very welcoming to me.”

As models continue to expand their voices beyond fashion, what are your thoughts on the recent laws passed that allowed Saudi women to drive?
“Growing up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the movement of women driving was a long-awaited one. I’m happy to see this step forward in the right direction. It’s truly so meaningful to me as it symbolizes quite literally a great change that Saudi is going through. I only hope that it continues and begins to merge with the fashion and creative industries.”

✌🏼

A post shared by Taleedah Tamer تليدة تمر (@taleedah) on May 24, 2018 at 6:04am PDT

Do your Italian roots play a role in any of this?
“Having Italian roots and an Italian mother, I’ve truly grown up in a multicultural family and environment that gave me the freedom and my liberal mindset. This has helped me grow as a person as I was given the ability (since a young age) to go through life in my own way and through my own individual beliefs. This enabled me to see the beauty in uniqueness and individuality. And it’s why I love Arab beauty as much as I love European beauty: they are both so different and beautiful in their own ways.”

How important to you are the issues that are striking the fashion community today — politics, race, plus-size models, cultural appropriation, etc.? What causes are important to you, as a face and a spokesperson?
“I have strong beliefs in many areas, however, I think diversity in fashion is an important aspect that has to be spoken about more frequently. Nowadays, many people around the world believe in one ideal of beauty. But, I’ve also observed with great happiness an increase in this as we’re starting to see so many different forms of beauty and talent in the industry.”

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