DUBAI: It has been a banner year for 21-year-old Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair. During Paris Haute Couture Week last month, she walked for some of the world’s most renowned couturiers, including Lebanese designer Georges Hobeika and Giorgio Armani, making international headlines. A few weeks earlier, she had obtained her bachelor’s degree (with high honors) in philosophy, politics and economics at King’s College London.
Al-Zuhair signed at the age of 15 with the prestigious agency Elite Model Management. would really love me. So I went there and in 10 minutes I got a contract, which was quite surreal,” Al-Zuhair told Arab News.
But she didn’t become a full-time model until she was 18. Instead, she had a gradual introduction to the industry with test shoots and editorials.
“School and my education have been a top priority,” she explains. “I’ve always been a bit of a geek — I’ve represented my school in national maths competitions, been the head of the maths team and a member of the UK’s Youth Parliament. And then I focused on my degree. It is still my goal today to become a lawyer.
Al-Zuhair was born in Paris to a French mother and a Saudi father. She did, however, grow up in London (“My father wanted me to follow in his footsteps and graduate from a British university,” she says). The family traveled frequently between the UK and Riyadh, so Al-Zuhair feels a strong cultural and emotional attachment to the Kingdom.
“I love Saudi Arabia. It’s a big part of who I am and I really appreciate everything that’s going on right now – the advancements in culture, education, economy and people. infrastructure,” she said. “The current leaders have done an incredible job of putting the country at the forefront of the world stage, and I’m really proud to see these changes.”
Although Al-Zuhair grew up in Europe, she says she was brought up with “traditional values” and that her religion is very dear to her. From the start, she was clear about what she would or wouldn’t be up to as a model.
“I think the industry is very accommodating,” she says. “It all depends on the limits you set. My agency is amazing – and these boundaries have been respected in all aspects of my work and with all of my clients. I was very lucky to have a very good experience.
Paris Haute Couture week was a triumph for Al-Zuhair – if you ignore the time a guy on a bike tried in vain to steal her vintage handbag. The same month, she was also part of the monumental Dolce & Gabbana show in Sicily, where the brand celebrated 10 years of its Alta Moda line. Dressed in a black tailcoat and a black dress with sheer panels, she was an absolute sight on the runway at the historic Piazza Duomo in Syracuse.
Al-Zuhair has also worked with some of the biggest names in the industry in the form of advertising campaigns and editorials, including Tiffany & Co, Burberry and Carolina Herrera. In 2020, she landed her first Vogue Arabia cover, drawing a lot of praise.
“It was filmed at NEOM, and we were the first band to film there,” she says. “It was such an exhilarating experience because I discovered a whole new side to Saudi Arabia. It’s just one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen – the sea, the mountains, the land – you can’t get enough of the views. We had a lot of caravans in the middle of the desert; it was kind of like a movie set. I also got to meet a lot of the local Saudi production staff and stylists. It was so nice to have this performance.
Juggling a demanding modeling career with a full-time college education hasn’t been easy. “That was one of the hardest parts – balance. It takes a lot of discipline and good time management because every second counts. Every day I had to study, exercise, eat, go to university and see my family. There were not enough hours. Once I went to Milan for work and in 48 hours I was in five different cities and four countries.
Al-Zuhair shows no signs of slowing down, however. She is already applying to universities to further her education and it is clear that her modeling career is on a steep upward trajectory, with labels and brands clamoring to work with her. It seems that she will take as many opportunities as possible.
“Every show you get a different vibe, mood and energy. There’s a different inspiration behind every collection, and that’s reflected in the clothes and the way we act and walk. I’m so thankful for all the opportunities that have been given to me and all these designers for trusting me. It’s a big responsibility,” she says. “I see the work that goes into it behind the scenes, and that’s a very moving experience. For me, fashion is an art and a form of self-expression. I am honored to be able to present these collections and the works of art of their creators to the world.