JEDDAH: Taleedah Tamer, 17, will break barriers as the first Saudi couture model to hit the Paris runway when she makes her debut in the capital’s leading fashion show this week.
After landing her first contracts modeling for Karloff jewelry and Rubaiyat, the Saudi model continues to make fashion waves by gracing the latest cover of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia.
The July cover story coincides with her Paris Fashion Week debut, where she will open for Antonio Grimaldi’s Italian Haute Couture brand.
Arab News gained exclusive insight into Tamer’s life as she discussed the factors that led her to pursue a career as a fashion model, her modeling aspirations, the challenges she is facing — as well as her take on the rapid changes within the Kingdom relating to women, the fashion industry and Vision 2030.
Born and raised in Jeddah to a Saudi father and Italian mother, Tamer enjoyed the support needed to pursue a career in an industry that is under-represented with Saudi runway models. Her father, Ayman Tamer, is chairman of Tamer Group, a leading health care, pharmaceutical and beauty company, while her mother, Cristina, is a former model who worked for Giorgio Armani, La Perla and Gianfranco Ferre.
Reflecting on the factors that motivated her to pursue a career in fashion, Tamer names her mother as her chief influencer and motivator. “She has taught me so much. I remember seeing all her photographs and hearing about her modeling experiences, and wishing how one day I could replicate such beautiful pictures.
“If it wasn’t modeling, it is photography I really appreciate. I love the stories that beautiful photographs tell, and I love working with creative people,” she said.
“I also have many models who have influenced me. Each one brought something special in their own unique way. I’ve always admired Gisele Bundchen — she is the epitome of modeling. I also really love Imaan Hammam; she is a Dutch model of Egyptian and Moroccan descent, and I really connected with that mixed Arab heritage.”
But life is not all sunshine and rainbows when you are hailed as potentially the first Saudi supermodel. There is a stigma attached to this that requires a thick skin to weather the storm of ultra-conservative critics. Tamer understands this and is steadfast in refusing to allow the naysayers to deny her vision.
“I’ve just started my career, but I know there will be many obstacles ahead,” she said. “The fact that I’m from a conservative country like Saudi Arabia, I know there will be people that would not 100 percent agree with me modeling and I respect the right to their opinion. That applies to any place in the world, though. At the end of the day, if there is something you want to do that you love, I believe that’s something very personal to that person.
“It’s great to be one of the first, but it’s tough to take on a position where you represent a larger public because there is so much diversity, so many different people. I think to have one person represent a whole community is a bit unrealistic. But the fact that I’m Saudi shouldn’t be a limiting factor. It can’t be all that bad if it’s what you love and it is done in a respectful way, of course.”
Tamer’s hard-line approach to detractors has carried over into her fashion taste as she favors a more masculine style in both her personal and professional life. “I really do enjoy a masculine fashion style. I get a kick out of it, and always feel confident. I can appreciate the feminine style, but masculine even more so because it is similar to how I dress personally. I also enjoy a very eccentric, alternative style.”
When asked about her thoughts regarding the rapid changes in Saudi Arabia, Tamer revels in the equal rights and opportunities for Saudi women.
“I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia my whole life and whenever the topic of women driving came up, I always had faith that it would happen. I’ve always felt that in my heart. All my Saudi friends, even though they are conservative, they are liberal with their thinking in the sense that they are accepting of others. I always knew in my heart that we would move forward positively.
“Seeing all these videos of women driving brings me so much joy because I believe everyone has been waiting to see that for some time — men included — for women to have that liberty. I’m 100 percent going to get my license when I return to Jeddah. It’s great. It’s an amazing step forward.”
It’s also an exciting time for the fashion industry in Saudi Arabia, with Riyadh hosting Arab Fashion Week in April this year.
Tamer has encouraging advice for Saudis looking to break into the industry. “I would say to just go for it. I know that there is so much beauty out there and I think there should be so many more faces to represent that beauty. For me, diversity in fashion is one of the most important things, one of the most beautiful things. You see a culture within a person.
“There needs to be more diversity in fashion and Saudi Arabia should be a part of that. Arab women need to be a part of that because there is so much beauty out there that hasn’t been seen. There shouldn’t be anything stopping them as long as they follow their conscience, what they believe in.”
Tamer’s fashion goals? “I do have professional and personal goals in many different fields within the fashion industry, but in regards to publications, being able to grace the cover of any of Vogue’s ‘Big 4’ — the French, Italian, British or American Vogue — would be such an honor.
“On the runway, I’ve always wanted to walk for Armani since my mother walked for them when she was younger, so that would be special. In photography, I would love to work with Steven Meisel. Some destinations I would love to visit and work on in location are Bora Bora, India, Croatia and Japan.”
Tamer is a recent graduate of the British International School of Jeddah. While continuing her modeling career, she aims to further her education in business marketing.
Along the way, though, she will continue to combine her Saudi heritage with an Italian fashion perspective. It’s a recipe that is certain to cook up a more inclusive and tolerant dialogue — with a stylish twist.