Meet Rafeea Al-Hajsi, the world’s first Emirati runway model

Meet Rafeea Al-Hajsi, the world’s first Emirati runway model
Rafeea Al-Hajsi is a revolutionary figure on the local fashion scene. (Photo supplied)
Updated 05 September 2017

Meet Rafeea Al-Hajsi, the world’s first Emirati runway model

Meet Rafeea Al-Hajsi, the world’s first Emirati runway model

JEDDAH: UAE-born Rafeea Al-Hajsi is making strides along the catwalk and has been hailed by the international press as the first-ever Emirati model and a revolutionary figure on the local fashion scene.
The ambitious young beauty set her heart on becoming the nation’s first catwalk model and has worked hard to represent her country in a manner that fits with her ideals and customs.
It has been a bit of a struggle being in the spotlight, she told Arab News, adding that she chose to model only traditional Emirati attire for a number of years.
“I wanted to show how beautiful Emirati traditional costumes are and can be. I was basically introducing them to the world but I reached a limit in the choices I had as a model so after a number of years, I decided to progress and move on to newer projects.”
Those new projects included modeling for internationally renowned brands such as Ziad Nakad at Paris Fashion Week in 2016, acting in a Kuwaiti drama series and presenting a TV show on Abu Dhabi TV as well as hosting TV show “Arab Casting.”
“It was the most fun time I’ve had. I’ve always wanted to embark on such an adventure — to be able to dance and get dressed in costumes and be a part of something big. My co-host Daniella Rahme and I refused to sit idly by as we watched the beautiful costumes and all the segments that were played out by the participants so we headed straight to the director and demanded we be included, lightheartedly of course. We were given the green light and it was a great time,” Al-Hajsi said.

Recalling one of the best moments she had on the show, she remembers a segment with Kuwaiti actor Tariq Al-Ali in which she played an Emirati bride and he played the groom. “The episode (was based) mostly on Emirati wedding traditions, there was a lot of dancing and celebrating and I played the bride. I’m quite tall and add the heels, it boosts you up a few inches more and that was difficult for Tariq since he was shorter than I was and it was hard to keep a straight face when he was trying to take in the difference in height without bursting out laughing. It was one of my favorite scenes and having it performed with Tariq Al-Ali made it even more special.”
Staying true to herself
The model has shown respect for the various designers who hired her to walk for them during the latest edition of Arab Fashion Week in Dubai. Many altered their designs so the model would not be forced to walk the runway in revealing clothing.
“I feel like when designers listen to the model and respect her wishes, it shows that the designer isn’t only thinking about the designs, they’re also thinking about (how they can keep) the model happy. She is the one wearing the design at the end of it all. It shows integrity and I feel respected.”

However, her rise to fame has not come without its pitfalls. Her presence on social media, for example, has opened the model up to some stinging remarks posted by online trolls. Al-Hajsi admits that the support she has received from those closest to her helped her get through the difficult times and continue her mission with a new, assertive attitude.
“I am comfortable now, more than I have been. I still want to reach higher in the industry and I owe it to myself to become the best role model for myself and other young Emirati women out there who want to become models as well — breaking social barriers that are outdated, but with respect to who we really are. We Emiratis are kind and we are very ambitious so it’s not surprising to find us wanting to conquer many different aspects of society, all within the realm of respecting the cultures and traditions that make us who we are.”

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It could still be difficult for some of her co-nationals to accept an Emirati model as one of their own, but as Al-Hajsi explains it: “New things need time and Emiratis have had their time and accepted my choice in life. I am an Arab before I’m an Emirati, I will always respect the customs and traditions and will always take steps… to uphold them. If… I don’t, I go back, rethink and strategize again to reach the goal that I want with respect to those around me. I think that is the key to my success, respecting who I am and respecting the society that made me who I am today, an ambitious and rambunctious model (who is) ready for anything.”