Hanaa Ben Abdesslem has a face you can’t forget, and a rising career you can’t ignore. When the Tunisian model was chosen as the global spokesperson for cosmetic brand Lancôme, many members of the fashion and film industry took notice, including The Stimuleye‘s Antoine Asseraf and Rene Habermacher. The two collaborated with designers and the model to create Hanaa, a brief fashion film that displays the richness and beauty of Arabic culture in celebration of Ben Abdesslem’s role in representing the modern woman of the Middle-East. We interviewed Asseraf to find out what it was like working on the film and get his opinion on how Ben Abdesslem is changing the face of fashion and cosmetics.
Portable: The video features many aspects of Arabic culture, such as the language, architecture and stunning artwork. From where did you draw inspiration for the film? What was your vision in creating it?
Antoine Asseraf: Well René and I have been to Marrakech quite a few times, both for leisure and for work, into the Atlas mountains, and around Tunisia, in places such as Sidi Bou Said which have stunning landscapes, architecture and people, but we hadn’t yet had the chance to portray the mood of the Maghreb, the light, the geometry of the tiles, the craftmanship of the doors, [and] the contrasts brought by globalization. So when Stern Magazine approached René for a portrait shoot of Hanaa, we immediately knew we wanted to convey all those elements at once.
P: What was it like working with Hanaa? How did she influence the style and atmosphere of the film?
Antoine Asseraf: Hanaa is really a woman of the 21st century. She works around the world [and] is the face of French brand, but stays based in Tunisia. She has developed strong ties with the women around her [such as] her agent [and] also Farida Khelfa. You sense that, while she is very humble, she has a hunger to learn [and] have an impact beyond fashion. She gave us a very stimulating vibe which enabled us to experiment visually for this film.
P: The film is very brief, running under a minute long. Can you tell us your reasons for shooting such a short fashion film? Were there any problems that came with this decision?
Antoine Asseraf: We shot this film soon after Monsieur Chypre came out. Monsieur Chypre was scripted, one year in the making, a long format, and, while ultimately this investment paid off, I wanted to have a lighter film experience, something quick to shoot [and] edit with a few strong visuals that stay in your mind.
Portable: Hanaa seems to be reciting a poem through the film in both English and Arabic. Can you tell us more about what’s she saying and how that fits in the film?
Antoine Asseraf: The poem is a short excerpt of Omar Khayyam’s epic Rubaiyat, which, though it was composed in Farsi a thousand years ago, is very modern in its melancholic [and] almost existential themes, and known worldwide, which allowed us to have Hanaa recite the poem alternately in English and in Arab. The passage we chose references elements of the set on a superficial level, but also alludes to a newlyfound sense of freedom, the highs and lows that accompany it, [and] a mix of exhilaration and doubt, which I found pertinent considering the events in the Middle East.
P: The locations you filmed at are stunning and really help add dimension, which is something that the film seems to play with. How did you find these sites?
Antoine Asseraf: As I said, René and I really loved the trips we each did in the Maghreb and in other Islam-influenced parts of the world, so we spent a lot of time searching for the right elements to complement the styling and Hanaa’s modernity. Luckily, we worked with stylist Yoko Miyake, who found ways to bring out Arab-world references into the fashion, and spotted the perfect location in Paris.
P: In your opinion, what does Hanaa’s appointment as the new spokesperson of Lancome represent? What does her rising success in fashion indicate about the changes and progress being made in the industry?
Antoine Asseraf: This reevaluation of beauty has been [happening for] decades, starting in fashion, which is more avant-garde than cosmetics. As the West paid increasing attention to its minorities, other parts of the world gained enough economic power to push cosmetic brands to widen their palettes rather than force everyone into 20th century Western beauty standards. With a few exceptions, people around the world don’t want to look European anymore. They want to look like the best version of themselves, and that’s what the appointment of Hanaa symbolizes.