FFWD Exclusive: In Conversation With Farida Khelfa

Some people in the fashion industry are just hard to forget. Even if she hadn't been gracing the magazine covers and hitting the runways for a while, Farida Khelfa would be an irreplaceable top model of our time. A muse to many fashion heavy-hitters – among them designers Jean-Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaïa, and Christian Louboutin, as well as photographers Jean-Paul Goude and Pierre & Gilles – Khelfa is not only a beautiful and fashionable influencer of the Palace generation in Paris, she has first and foremost paved the way for Arab models to be respected within a fashion industry that has long been reluctant to give an opportunity to non-caucasian models as the stars of magazine covers, campaigns, and runway shows. A few days prior to the launch of Vogue Arabia, Condé Nast's first notable print and online fashion publication dedicated to the Middle East, Vogue Arabia's Features Director Caterina Minthe talked to the Algerian-born Paris-based top model, influencer, and Schiaparelli ambassador to reflect on her career during a conversation held at the Dubai Design District (d3) on the occasion of the 8th season of Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD). Here's what Farida Khelfa had to say.

 

 

Une vidéo publiée par Farida khelfa (@faridakhelfa) le 24 Oct. 2016 à 3h59 PDT

 

On being the first notable Arab model in the fashion industry.

“It wasn't easy. As a non-Muslim it might be difficult to understand that, but it wasn't easy for me to pose for pictures; it was not easy to show myself. This was also due to the lack of imagery. Back in the day, we didn't have as many images as we do today. We only had classic family pictures from the 50s and 60s with my parents and grand-parents and very few pictures of me as a child. This is why posing for pictures in a non-family related context was so complicated – it's like exposing yourself. So how do you deal with exposing yourself when you're 16 years old and when you don't know anything about the world? I had to impose this new behavior on myself. It was very complicated and very difficult, but the people I worked with were nice and very patient with me – I am really lucky for that. Even today, it's still difficult for me. But ever since I became a mother it got easier, strangely.”

 

 

Une photo publiée par Farida khelfa (@faridakhelfa) le 23 Sept. 2016 à 4h30 PDT

 

On living through Paris' infamous Palace generation.

“I met all of my friends there, my dearest friends, who are still my friends today. I met Christian Louboutin there when I was very very young. I also met my dear friend Jean Paul Gaultier and all the fashion world was at this place, at Le Palace. The wonderful thing about this place is that you could just mingle with anyone, no matter who you were or where you came from. It was a melting pot: you had young Arabs like me from the Parisian banlieues (outskirts of Paris), the Rothschilds, and people like Yves Saint Laurent who would share the same dance floor. There was no such thing as social discrimination. It was a very joyful time – full of freedom, full of energy, and full of craziness. I loved these days. Today, it's different. I'm not young anymore and I don't go out, so I don't know what happens in Paris at night (laughs), but whenever I do go out I see the same kind of people in the same kind of places; people don't seem to mingle that much anymore. I realize that it's a very complicated world where social status and background matter a lot... at the end of the day, we're all the same – we all came from Africa, so there's no point in making any discussion about...origins.”

 

 

Une photo publiée par Farida khelfa (@faridakhelfa) le 13 Oct. 2016 à 12h14 PDT

 

On posing for Pierre & Gilles

“They are very strong. They photographed every angle of my face. They are real artists – and real artists steal something from you; they catch something that you don't even know you have. Sometimes when I see myself, I don't even recognize myself. I don't even remember it. But they do, they always find something interesting about your face.”

 

 

Une photo publiée par Farida khelfa (@faridakhelfa) le 5 Oct. 2016 à 3h30 PDT

 

On meeting Azzedine Alaïa

“I first met Azzedine on a shoot for an advertisement that we were doing for a French perfume. And when I saw Azzedine for the first time, we clicked right away. It was like love at first sight. Just like Jean Paul Gaultier, who is also very dear and close to me. I admired Azzedine. He is so talented –  he's a magician with women's bodies! He draws your body like a sculpture. He's a true architect of a woman's body, a great one. And it's interesting because back in the day we were the only two Arabs recognized by the fashion world.”

 

 

Une photo publiée par Farida khelfa (@faridakhelfa) le 20 Oct. 2016 à 1h57 PDT

 

On working for Helmut Newton

“His pictures are very strong and he was always about sublimating strong women, which is something I liked. I like the idea of not being a victim, because often women are depicted as such – they're victimized. But we are not victims; we're women, so we're strong. We have the power, we can get whatever we want, we own our lives. It's very important to understand that. We're in this together with men, not against them. And Newton was one of the first photographers in fashion to put the powerful woman in the right place.”

 

 

Une photo publiée par Farida khelfa (@faridakhelfa) le 31 Août 2016 à 22h18 PDT

 

On becoming a mother – and how it changed her perspective on life.

“I was very happy to welcome my first baby in the 90s, because initially I thought I would never have kids – like never ever! My mother had eleven kids from 16 to 32 years old and I never wanted to go the same way; that was not an option for me. But I eventually met a man, fell in love with him, and we ended up having two girls. But we took our time – we were together for six years before I had my first baby. And suddenly, it felt like a liberation for me to have a baby.  And you can feel like a full woman when you're pregnant. I felt so well; I never felt like that before I was pregnant. I know for some women it's difficult, but for me it was very easy. I loved it.”

 

 

Une photo publiée par Farida khelfa (@faridakhelfa) le 3 Oct. 2016 à 22h56 PDT

 

On loving yourself for what you are and catching opportunities.

“I'm like everyone: I hate everything about myself, but then I love myself as well – it's a very complicated love and hate relationship with myself. But at the end of the day, you have to say yes to everything. Today I say yes to everything. You have to live your life, do things, take risks. Even if you fail, it's much more interesting to fail when you try to do something – and if you don't try, you'll fail all the time. If you try and end up failing, it's not that important – you can learn from it still. As you get old, you understand that failing wasn't that important.”

 

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