IIt was no surprise to see Farida Khelfa sitting front row at last week’s fashion show in Paris with her signature cropped haircut and wide smile. The two biggest shows were essentially tributes to Azzedine Alaia and Jean-Paul Gaultier, who inspired and helped propel Khelfa to supermodel status in the 1980s.
As a teenager, Khelfa ran away from her strict Algerian family in Lyon, and was discovered while working in a Parisian nightclub.
She still occasionally models, most recently for Fendi’s Spring Couture collection, but today Khelfa, 61, is focusing more on filmmaking. In 2012, he released a documentary about the Arab Spring, which was filmed in Tunisia shortly after the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. She has also made films about her friends Christian Louboutin and Gaultier.
Earlier this month, she released from the other side of the veil (on the other side of the veil) on his YouTube channel. Through a series of interviews — starting with designers, then expanding to artists, a chef, a nonprofit worker and more — Khalfa said she wanted to offer a new perspective on women living and working in the Middle East. Huh.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Q: Did any of the women you interviewed surprise you or challenge your own beliefs about Muslim women?
A: The one who shocked me is the woman who was completely disguised, Ghadah Al Rabi. She’s an artist, and her husband is working with her – for her. She’s the dominant one in the duet, you can tell, and she’s totally covered. His work is very alive, and he is very funny.
For me it was like: How can you be an artist and be completely covered? But then I understood that it was a statement. I remember when I was in New York, during the eighties, there were some artists who arrived at their inauguration completely naked. In a way it was a statement.
Q: Another artist, Manal Al Dowain, says that Saudi women are typically portrayed in one of two ways: the worker who ends up in prison or the hidden and harassed victim. She says women working towards change within the system are ignored midway. Do you agree with this?
A: I think so. Oppressed women, we have to think about them. But I think it’s much more creative and interesting to talk about women who look like us. We can mention them. they want to work, they want money, they want to have a family or No is a family. We have only one dreams. We are all alike.
Q: When you started modeling, did you find that people had a stereotypical image of you as a Muslim woman?
A: No, because society was not plagued by stereotypes. I didn’t have any problem.
Fashion is not racist. Fashion is open. If you bring something into fashion, the designer likes you, the photographer likes you, and you get to work.
But since I grew up in the Muslim world, it was very difficult for me to do things like lingerie. I can’t do lingerie. Even getting photographed was complicated for me.
Q: Did your parents support your career?
A: No, my parents never supported it. But I never asked for that.
Q: What is the biggest difference you see in modeling today compared to your early years?
A: First, there are so many models – so many, so many, so many. The industry has completely changed. It’s very business-minded. When I did shows, while we were walking, people were shouting your name as if you were at a concert. Was totally crazy.
Now you can tell that they want to sell the bags. This is a different world. It doesn’t generate the same amount of energy when you see the model walking upright and looking at the camera for the best profile. We didn’t actually look at the camera. We were smoking while we were walking! You can’t do that now.
Q: Is it more difficult for models to change careers?
A: So many models feel really bad at the end of their careers – in their 30s. When the phone doesn’t ring, all of a sudden you know you’re out of the game.
You have to think in advance. You have to be ready. But we are never set for failure. And failure is a must. Success is very rare, and it doesn’t last. Most of the time you fail.
Q: You have said that your next film will be about your own life.
A: This is not a documentary. It’s going to be fiction and nonfiction, mixed.
Sharing your story is not easy. So it’s a mix of fiction and nonfiction – because I can’t write a book. I can’t, because if you write a book, you have to say everything, and I can’t.
But in a movie, and with just one image, you can say a lot of things. You don’t need words, just an image. That’s why I love cinema.
This article originally appeared in the new York Times