This week 17-year-old Taleedah Tamer opened the Antonio Grimaldi couture show in Paris.
That’s a big deal for any model, but especially so for Taleedah – the first Saudi model to walk a couture runway in Paris.
Born and raised in Jidda by an Italian mum and a Saudi dad, Taleedah didn’t think the world of fashion was open to her. Now she’s appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia and has walked a major catwalk show.
‘When I was younger, it didn’t cross my mind not to see Saudi women on magazine covers or in fashion shoots, but as I got older, I thought “why do these women not look like me?”,’ Taleedah said in her Bazaar interview. ‘And why can modelling not be done in a way that’s respectful of our culture?
‘Obviously it hasn’t been that prevalent to see Saudi women in this way, so being one of the first makes you representative of a larger community, and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that.
‘When I first started modelling I never thought that I’d be the “first Saudi model”, but it seems like the perfect time for the industry to open up. I want to represent Saudi women who are strong and beautiful.’
Taleedah now plans to move to Milan so she can study and continue to work in the fashion industry – a pragmatic choice considering working as a model remains a dangerous move in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia remains one of the most restrictive societies in the world for women (Saudi women have only just been given the right to drive and attend football matches), and the act of showing skin and wearing fashion-forward clothing is frowned upon.
There are models working in Saudi Arabia, but it’s rare for them to have an international platform, and are often only booked to walk in front of all-women audiences.
Earlier this year a fashion show resorted to using drones to step around restrictive guidelines, in a move that was mocked outside the country.
‘I know there will be Saudis that will not agree with me modeling,’ Taleedah told the New York Times. ‘I respect their right to have an opinion, but also feel very proud that I am able to broaden perceptions of what it means to be a modern Saudi woman in the eyes of the world.’