As a Fashion Stylist, Image Architect and Activist, I founded EngieStyle 13 years ago to leverage my expertise in style and creativity to empower my clients to make a difference in the world. I believe fashion is not only a medium to reflect culture but also has the power to change it. I work with thought leaders, change makers, and culture drivers as they take on milestone moments in their lives. Some of my clients are celebrities or even Royalty, while others are entrepreneurs, CEO’s or activists newer to a global stage. All of my clients trust that our collaboration will arm them with the visual narrative to express who they are and what they stand for.
Fashion has always been about creative expression, but it is increasingly becoming a vehicle for expressing your values and connecting with communities. Customers are voting with their dollars and they want to associate themselves with brands and companies that are aligned with their values. I have used my platforms online not only to showcase and curate my point of view on fashion and style, but also to raise awareness and support for important causes that I believe in.
As a mother of a young girl, I am especially an advocate for women’s rights, supporting mothers and girls, and female entrepreneurs. As a first generation Egyptian American, I also feel a strong responsibility to be a voice for those in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and across the Arab world who are fighting for the rights and the freedoms they deserve.
This November was my second time dressing my dear client and friend Behnaz Ghahramani for the Glamour Women of the Year awards. Known for previous senior roles at Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Stuart Weitzman, she is on the board of the Glamour Awards. It is one of the most significant events in our industry, honoring women who “took charge, spoke out, risked their lives, made a difference.” It’s always inspirational to attend and I especially love working with a fellow Arab American mom and businesswoman who I respect so much.
This year, as Behnaz puts it, everything changed: “On Sept 16, Mahsa Jina Amini a young 22 Iranian died in police custody after being detained and brutally assaulted by the Morality Police for what they deemed as inadequate compliance with the compulsory hijab laws. As an Iranian American woman I was outraged, and in the weeks that followed, what started out as protests to this brutal killing evolved into the largest Women led Revolution against a Gender apartheid in Iran. The world has been watching the brave women and girls of Iran fighting in the streets and schools of Iran for their basic human rights. Engie and I would spend nights sharing posts on social media, both in horror and rage at what was happening, and we knew we had to do something to pay tribute to the brave Women of Iran.”
I immediately reached out to Zaid Farouki, an extremely popular Arab American designer with Palestinian heritage living in Dubai. He is known for his creativity and immense talent and he quickly understood the kind of statement we wanted to make on the red carpet and at the event.
Every detail of the look was thoroughly thought out between the designer Zaid, Behnaz and I, including the color white, which Iranians choose when they carry a flag or fabric while marching. The destruction of the suit blazer evokes the attempts to tear down the women of Iran as they rise up. The draped fabric of the skirt / gown holds the deconstructed suit together, symbolizing the necessity of women as the fabric of society.
Hand painted by Iranian artist Nima Mirahmadi, a talented collaborator of Zaid’s, the skirt says ‘Woman Life Freedom.” Behnaz initially educated me that “Zan Zendegi Azadi” or “Women Life Freedom” is a Kuridsh slogan honoring the importance of women: “This has become the anthem of this Women led revolution in Iran, that is being chanted by women and men around the world in solidarity.”
Zaid and I agreed on a deconstructed suit blazer for the top of the gown - an homage to the power suit. Zaid shared: “The origins of power dressing can be found in the Chanel suit of the 1920’s where the first iterations were a fitted skirt and tailored jacket and updates to the suit continued through the 1960’s Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Le Smoking’ suit. It was a uniform that demanded respect, power and authority - and is today a symbol for feminism, equality and breaking the gender roles.”
Behnaz loved that the gown is a deconstructed blazer - a traditionally masculine garment: “To me it is symbolic of the deconstruction of the patriarchal systems that are holding women down. A White garment has a lot of significance in the Women’s liberation movement. It took British and American suffragettes 150 years before they got women’s right to vote. In Iran women have been wearing white head scarves, taking them off and waving them in the air as a symbol of peaceful protest to the compulsory hijab laws.”
Almost all great activism starts with collaboration. As Behnaz shared with me: “I think it is profound that a Palestinian designer, an Iranian artist, and Egyptian stylist all came together to make a dress for me, an Iranian American woman who is now the CEO of a Black owned business in America fighting for Women to have the freedom to choose, to bodily autonomy, to their human rights. Amidst the despair there is also beauty in the community that comes together to uplift us through our struggles.”
Of course, all activism wants to be in service of actually raising awareness of important causes and making a difference. How did this collaboration go and what did we do towards our mission? Fortunately the red carpet statement that we worked on created much more than compliments from the fellow fashion insiders and celebrities at the event. How did we do that?
Prepare to Seize The Moment
Behnaz knew that she would have a few moments with media outlets on the red carpet so she memorized and practiced what she would say to speak truth about the situation in Iran. Her words, video and image were shared on Glamour’s social media and secured thousands of other shared impressions.
Connect with Fellow Activists and Create Allies
Behnaz was not alone in her activism at the Glamour Women of the Year event. She had spoken to event organizers in advance and was thrilled to hear that they had an presentation and video planned for the event. Before and during the event she connected with fellow activists and women of influence including Nasim Pedrad, Nazanin Boniadi, Huma Abedin, Busy Phillips. Lindsay Lohan and Jennifer Hudson. These women had important conversations and can now take this activism further together if they decide to collaborate.
Plan Your Social Sharing and PR
Zaid, Behnaz and I all synched and prioritized our stories and posts around this important moment and the key message we wanted our existing and new followers to understand from this statement. We knew the most important times to share for different audiences (including the Arab world). My publicist Marcy Clark was also on hand to alert the media before and after the Red Carpet and Awards Ceremony with specifics and background on the meanings behind our look.
Plan What’s Next and Stay Engaged
Real change takes time and continued engagement from activists, governments, NGO’s and people with power and influence. We are all continuing to stay engaged and aware of the news out of Iran, doing our part to keep the stories and wishes of Iranian activists centered, and also asking our political leaders to get involved in safe and productive ways.
WRITTEN BYEngie Hassan