The year 2021 is off to a stellar (re)start for fashion diplomacy. January saw Italian designer Miuccia Prada assert cultural ties between Europe and America with multiple showstopping looks at the Inauguration of President Biden, including the most viral presenter at ceremony:
nation’s youngest poet laureate Amanda Gorman. Prada’s front stage presence signals continuity for the EU-US sartorial relations rooted in the iconic wardrobes of the First Ladies. All is well, the New Normal wears Prada.
February significantly ups the stakes with a real groundbreaking fashion media milestone. After the signing of Abrahamic Accords by Israel, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in September 2020, an Israeli model appears on the cover of an Arab magazine and an Emirati model is featured in an Israeli publication. For the first time!
Here is a quick look behind the scenes of this incredible fashion moment.
One of Israel’s most recognized modeling talents, Yael Shelbia is now on the cover of the February issue of L´Officiel Arabia, Dubai’s luxury media outlet. She is shot by Israeli photographer Yossi Michaeli wearing a classic blue and white silk printed blouse by MICU, a Jerusalem-based brand co-founded by Israeli designers Michal Stern and Inbar Ben Shabbat. Meanwhile, LAISHA, Israel’s leading fashion publication since 1947, dedicates its back cover to a special project photographed by Adam Browning-Hill featuring Dubai-based top model Chanel Ayan who is no stranger to the right side of history as the first black model headlining fashion circuit in the Gulf.
When producer Anna la Germaine founded her agency Fashion Politique in 2011, this is exactly the kind of opportunity she had in mind. When the news of the long-awaited peace accords first broke online, she started calling her contacts in the industry. It took months of negotiations to bring the bold vision to life, because it required establishing collaborative processes between the creative teams previously divided by a political ban on cooperation.
The L’Officiel Arabia cover was shot on set at the historic Peninsula Hotel in New York City, home to the United Nations. “Fashion and politics are inseparable and the successful combination of both creates the grounds for flourishing business resulting in thriving economies. With these beautiful covers we are aiming to celebrate new opportunities between UAE, Bahrain, and Israel", says Anna la Germaine.
The collaboration, while framed as a symbolic and positive public relations moment, does raise a few serious questions. Can a fashion magazine cover breakdown years of mistrust fueled by regional military and commerce rivalry between Israel and the Emirates? Is this the beginning of fashion industry-level exchange between countries, or a disposable public relations stunt?
What’s next for Israeli-Arab fashion diplomacy?
The new normal in the Israeli-Arab relationship opens multiple avenues for cultural exchange. Karina Shtotland, Editor-in-Chief of LAISHA, says: "We are happy to share covers promoting peace, brotherhood (or shall I say sisterhood?) and cooperation that bridges nations. The women of Israel are eager to be introduced to women from the UAE and learn more about all aspects of their life and culture. No doubt, celebrating talents, fashion and creation is a wonderful way to build a fruitful peace”. Boba Stanic, Editor-in-Chief of L'Officiel Arabia, echoes this sentiment: “We want to use this peace-making gesture to build cultural and social momentum. This cover may turn some heads, but it can also serve as a conversation starter for the creative communities in the Gulf and in Israel. We can travel, explore, create together. This is raising the bar for the fashion industry across the entire region!”
Perhaps, hopefully, this visionary spirit will manifest itself in more bold joint fashion ventures at the upcoming Dubai Expo 2020, rescheduled to start on October 1, 2021. Stay tuned.
Cit. Forbers -