Bella Hadid, a Covered-Up Cover Star for Vogue Arabia


For one thing, the star chosen for both the Arabic and English language covers is Bella Hadid, 20, the American-Palestinian supermodel of the moment. The decision comes just months after Ms. Hadid’s sister Gigi appeared on the cover of the magazine’s inaugural issue in a custom-made jeweled veil. That choice prompted allegations of cultural appropriation and a missed opportunity to feature a non-Western model, charges that may now resurface.

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Ms. Hadid wearing Fendi, her pixie crop covered by a fascinator.

Credit
Karl Lagerfeld

Ms. Hadid was photographed for the September issue by the designer Karl Lagerfeld in a series of head-to-toe looks from the Italian fashion house Fendi, of which Mr. Lagerfeld is the creative director. In one shot, Ms. Hadid, her hands outstretched, wears a high-necked scarlet silk dress with billowing sleeves and matching pointed-toe leather boots. In another, she wears a black jacket with a PVC collar and fur-trimmed sleeves. Her hands are sheathed by sheer polka-dot gloves, and her black pixie crop is covered by a fascinator. Her gaze comes from behind a netted veil.

The attire in both cover portraits is modest, but not explicitly Muslim, in keeping with the values of the majority of the magazine’s readership as well as encapsulating a major trend on the runways of the fashion capitals.

Manuel Arnaut, the editor in chief of Vogue Arabia, who was appointed after the abrupt departure of the original editor, Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, in April after just two issues, praised the pairing of Ms. Hadid and Mr. Lagerfeld. He called the September cover “a momentous occasion” for the magazine, which goes on sale Aug. 30.

“Bella Hadid is one of the most celebrated models of the time, plus she has a link with the region, being half-Palestinian but also a Muslim,” Mr. Arnaut said in a telephone interview on Monday. “She is the perfect fit for Vogue Arabia.”

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Bella Hadid (in white turtleneck) and her sister Gigi in New York in January, protesting President Trump’s immigration ban.

“We constantly look for people and content that will resonate with our core readers,” he said, pointing to previous cover stars like the Muslim model Halima Aden and the content of the September issue. It will include a street style piece on hijab-wearing modest fashion muses, a profile on the emerging actress Amira Khalil and a feature on members of Middle Eastern royalty creating fine jewelry collections.

“That said, it is also about finding a balance,” Mr. Arnaut said. “The Arab world is not a ghetto. It is a highly informed, international and cultured region where global stars like the Hadids have a cult following. Karl Lagerfeld is a legendary figure for fashion fans in the Middle East, too. We champion what goes on inside our borders, but our mission as a magazine is to cover what goes on outside them as well. That is real diversity.”

Some observers have suggested that in the last year there has been a subtle rebranding of Gigi and Bella, and their model brother, Anwar, from West Coast beauties to more cross-cultural American-Palestinians — and at a time when political tensions have flared.

Others suggest that like many young people, the siblings are on a path of self-discovery in which they feel more comfortable openly discussing their upbringing and their faith. Thanks to their high profiles huge numbers of followers on social media, they have also become powerful weapons against Islamophobia. Their father, who was born in Nazareth and raised in Syria and Lebanon, raised his children to be observant, they have said.

“He was always religious, and he always prayed with us,” Bella said in a recent interview, opening the door for fresh debate about representation of diversity as it exists in the Muslim community. “I am proud to be a Muslim.” She has been open about her opposition to President Trump’s travel ban, attending a rally in New York in January.

“There is no question that Bella and Gigi Hadid have become very popular with millions of young and aspirational Muslims, who love that they have celebrities of that stature with whom they can relate, despite their more liberal interpretation of how to practice the faith,” said Shelina Janmohamed, vice president of Ogilvy Noor, an Islamic branding consultancy. Ms. Janmohamed noted that some local publications are attempting to brand the family as “the Kardashians of the Middle East.”

“That said, there is also a question around authenticity for Muslims, which will likely prove challenging for the sisters,” Ms. Janmohamed said. “Bella Hadid’s everyday wardrobe is hardly modest. A more conservative audience, when thinking about what a Muslim woman should look like, will inevitably pose questions about how they connect to their heritage and whether they live out Muslim values. When Halima Aden graced the cover of Vogue Arabia, there was never any suggestion that her identity and motivations fitted in with the region.”

As the modest fashion movement continues to spawn commercial interests, brands entering key markets in Southeast Asia and the Middle East are faced with a decision neatly encapsulated by Vogue Arabia’s September issue: Do they continue with the original conception of a brand, centered on Western ideals, or should a brand strategy shift to both localize and diversify as the cultural expressions of the regions become ever more dominant.

For Mr. Arnaut and Vogue Arabia, walking a fine line between the two appears to be the answer.

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