This Photographer’s Bathhouse Nudes Are Challenging Perceptions of Arab Women

Part of the message in photographer Yumna Al-Arashi’s latest project, called “Shedding Skin,” is conveyed simply by the fact that it exists. To those on the periphery of the culture, the idea of a group of Arab women allowing themselves to be photographed nude, in a hammam, or communal bath, in the Middle East seems unlikely. The stereotypical image of Arab women assumes they are devoutly practicing Muslims, wearing hijabs and long skirts and conducting themselves with religious modesty, exposing their bodies exclusively to their husbands, and perhaps to female relatives or friends behind the closed doors of a hammam. Would they allow themselves to be captured in such an environment by a boundary-pushing 28-year-old American artist, for a gallery show? In the Western imagination, probably not.

But here’s the thing: Not only did the Arab women whom Al-Arashi photographed in a hammam in Beirut agree to be photographed nude—they also didn’t look like any sort of preconceived stereotype, comprising instead a scene that could have been in Paris or New York. On a Saturday in April, they filed into the hammam’s waiting area wearing casual clothes and chatting animatedly, checking their iPhones and smoking slim cigarettes between sips of coffee and tea. A group of three friends began to thread each other’s eyebrows and upper lips, bringing each other to knee-slapping tears as they cracked jokes. Later, Al-Arashi would estimate that only about half of them were Muslim. Al-Arashi, who grew up in Washington, D.C., the daughter of a Yemeni diplomat father and an Egyptian mother, is of the faith herself, and has made a name for herself photographing women in the Arab world and its diaspora. But, she explains, “I don’t only photograph Muslim women. A Muslim country isn’t necessarily closed off to other religions.”

When Al-Arashi had originally conceived of the photos—inspired by a visit to hammam in Tunis, where she was working on another project, documenting the last generation of Muslim women with facial tattoos—she imagined finding a beautiful, ancient-looking bathhouse for the setting. She scouted in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, and found some contenders, but quickly struck out; none of the owners were comfortable with the idea. When she came across the hammam in Beirut, which is perhaps the most liberal city in the Middle East, and where she had lived for a stretch, she had some hesitation: It was contemporary, a sort of 1980s interpretation of antiquity, “kind of tacky,” even. “It’s not what I was envisioning, initially,” she said. “And then I was like, you know what? Why am I trying to replicate the old hammams? I want it to be today.”

This conscientiousness was exactly what had made the project possible in the first place: The shoot, along with exhibitions of the finished photos and a short film in New York and Los Angeles, was funded by ASOS, the British online fashion and beauty superstore, as part of the company’s ASOS Supports Talent program, which sponsors up-and-coming young artists whose work has as an aspect of social justice to it. When the company had first reached out to her, she wasn’t sure that they would embrace the concept: “A lot of people aren’t willing to go down the route of turning off people’s opinions about the Muslim woman,” she said. When they signed on, “I was just amazed,” she recalled. Al-Arashi has been similarly encouraged by a growing number of corporations with global reach who she sees as opening a window into the Arab experience, including Nike’s recent campaign depicting powerful Hijabi athletes. “It didn’t say, ‘Hey, don’t ban Muslims,’” she noted. “It said, ‘Hey, she’s one of us.’”

At the shoot, Al-Arashi was radiant with excitement, dressed in black jeans over a black leotard with a chic silk scarf tied around her neck, her long curly hair piled into a bun on top of her head, her skin dewy from the building steam of the bath. She was thrilled to have managed to pull together an entirely female crew, who had been working nonstop for a week to organize the set and gather willing friends and acquaintances to be models. The women, who ranged in age from early 20s to mid-60s, seemed comfortable and relaxed as they undressed and wrapped towels around their waists, revealing breasts and bodies of all shapes and sizes, many with tattoos and piercings. In the bath, they arranged themselves on a pedestal in the center of the room, and on the steps leading up to a hot tub, and along a stone wall with spouts from which warm water gently trickled out. As Al-Arashi began to take photographs, offering occasional direction, they used bowls to pour water over themselves and each other. One woman combed another’s hair, while nearby hammam attendants began to scrub another woman vigorously, sloughing off dead skin. A murmuring din filled the space. The light was dreamy and golden, giving the scene the air of a Renaissance painting.

“I really want to show these spaces for what they are, because they’re important to so many people in this culture,” Al-Arashi said. “I remember, growing up, seeing how these scenes were depicted in art and that was always powerful. Why don’t we ever see this anymore? Why is this a closed-off space to the rest of the world? Because really, when you’re in these spaces you’re just a body. It’s not about how you’re sitting or how many rolls you have or how hairy your legs are, there’s no difference between pretty and ugly. They’re places where people just laugh and talk about everything. It’s really beautiful, and really normalizing.”


Pippa Middleton’s Sculpted Arms Are Her Best Bridal Accessory

It’s been six years since Pippa Middleton’s shapely silhouette became the stuff of bridesmaid legend in a form-fitting Alexander McQueen gown at her sister Kate’s royal wedding. And today, the lady of the hour, who married hedge fund manager James Matthews in Berkshire, England, let one particular sculpted asset play best accessory to her couture gown.

Arriving outside St. Mark’s church in a lace Giles Deacon gown, it wasn’t just Middleton’s healthy bronzed glow and pearl-threaded updo that stole the show, but her impeccably toned arms. Following a rumored three-month boot camp at London’s Grace Belgravia club, which reportedly included yoga, Pilates, and cardio dance class, the athletic brunette was in top shape for the nuptials. Whatever the secret to her sculpted shoulders and razor-sharp, defined triceps, expect Middleton to show off the fruits of her 360-degree fitness and nutrition program at the reception—and brides the world over to beeline for the gym stat.

Can Gen Xers Pull Off Millennial Pink? Jenna Lyons Shows How It’s Done

As Harry Styles rocked out in a custom Edward Sexton millennial pink suit this morning, just across town, former J.Crew executive creative director and president Jenna Lyons proved that the cheery color can be sported by grown-ups, too. Lyons has long lent feminine twists to menswear tailoring, deviating from convention at events and Met Galas past in everything from denim to cashmere V-necks offset with feathers, embellishments, and ball skirts. Earlier today, however, the designer took a more minimal approach in As Ever’s jumpsuit.

The fresh rose hue added a girlish spin to the workwear silhouette. Extra polish came courtesy of a tailored camel topper, leather tote, and pointy-toe pumps, while Lyons’s signature thick-rimmed frames added a bookish touch. Swap out the coat for a tuxedo jacket, and you’d have a modern high-low mash-up perfect for a Lyons-style evening out.

Your Fly Is Showing: Here’s Why the Exposed Zipper Rules

Feeling a little bit frisky of late? So is Vetements. Just last week, the label released a deliciously rude pair of jeans as part of its Spring 2017 Vetements x Levi’s collaboration with a visible zipper fly that left little to the imagination. It goes a full 360 degrees from front to butt, adding a perverted twist to standard denim. Vetements isn’t the only label jumping onto the risqué-chic look: Off-White toyed with a prominent O-ring zipper, and the up-and-coming, Bella Hadid–beloved label Lorod went the minimalist route with an exposed thin zip that hit the sweet spot. So why the flashy fly now? The little detail brings a bit of easy cheek to the standard jean without going over the top—the sort of subdued seduction that feels perfect for spring.

For the same reason, button flies have been getting some literal exposure, too. Similar to Alexander Wang’s cut-across button fly for Fall 2017, AG applied the diagonal concept to its cropped flares this season. Unravel Project went the opposite direction, flipping its denim inside out to show a can’t-miss-it take on the standard button-up crotch. Another novel twist came at Ellery, which switched out the standard silver button for a glint of gold. If you’re looking to draw attention with an actual drawstring à la Off-White, grab a pair of Aries Arise slouchy slit denim pants fastened at the waist with a piece of statement-making twine. More of a skirt girl? Linder’s Fall 2017 corset-style mini has a bold version, while House of Holland’s in-season item sports a cool button-meets-zipper on an A-line silhouette. Whichever you choose, an out-in-the-open fly is a sure way to add bite to your warm-weather wardrobe. Here, 16 ways to get the look.

Jaden Smith and New Girlfriend Odessa Adlon Make Casual Look Cool

Don’t expect Jaden Smith to show up in board shorts and a Hawaiian shirt when it’s time to hit the beach. On a trip to Miami with actress Odessa Adlon, his rumored new girlfriend, the always-original actor put a unique spin on warm-weather style by revisiting the look of the ’90s: a kitschy pair of patchwork MSFTSrep jeans and a black T-shirt covered in eagles and lightning bolts. Throw in a set of freshly bleached dreads and plenty of PDA with Adlon, and you have Smith at his casual best.

Adlon’s own offbeat fashion choices make her an equal standout ahead of her small-screen arc on Nashville. Here, she followed Smith’s lead by doubling down on retro essentials with a Simpsons tee, choker, and belted mom jeans—a combo pulled straight out of 1995. To that, Adlon added hoop earrings, ankle boots, and a single red rose that looked like a romantic gift.

The couple’s low-key look underscores one of fashion’s great ironies—that no one loves ’90s nostalgia more than those who didn’t really live through it. Having spent years in skorts and lace chokers, Gen Xers may never want to see those trends again, while current teens can’t stop embracing the era’s hallmarks. Smith’s love of the decade is particularly well documented—he frequently cites Spike, the bleach-blond sometimes villain from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as one of his style icons—and it seems like he has finally found someone who shares his enthusiasm. Young, in love, and fashionably in sync—we expect plenty more throwbacks ahead.

Ashley Olsen Gives Geek-Chic Dressing a Cool Twist

Ashley Olsen has always known the game-changing power of a good pair of shoes, and yesterday in New York, she proved the importance of dressing from the ground up yet again. The designer typically favors a muted palette where the rest of her look is concerned, and her elegant olive coat was just the right way to counterbalance lo-fi sneakers.

To give her optic-white kicks an unexpected geeky twist, Olsen accessorized them with marled pink socks. She also pulled out a more familiar styling trick, namely carrying two bags at once. Retro shades and an oatmeal funnel-neck top were the only other additions she made to her voluminous statement topper.

Balenciaga, All in Black

With its new out-of-house exhibition “Balenciaga: L’Oeuvre au Noir” at the Musée Bourdelle, the Palais Galliera pays homage to “the couturier of couturiers.” The first in a trio of Spanish-themed exhibitions in Paris this year, the show offers an advance glimpse of the revered designer’s work, which will also be the subject of the retrospective “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion,” which opens on May 27th at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The idea of focusing solely on the color black came from a visit to Madrid, explained Véronique Belloir, the director of haute couture collections at the Palais Galliera, during an advance preview. “We realized that we could really spotlight creation, shape, volume, and construction because we weren’t distracted by color,” she said.

In the scenography, the Palais Galliera director Olivier Saillard made the most of the museum’s vertical space, propping dresses up high and arranging them in mirrored stands as a counterpoint to the museum’s sculpture collection. Documents and photos accompany finished pieces from private collections and the archives. There are also toiles, which Cristóbal Balenciaga worked in black, too. “We think that he did this because with black you realize immediately whether the proportions are right,” she said.

Of the 60 or so pieces on show, many still astonish. Among them: an atypical little black dress from 1960 with a wrap-around design and off-center shoulder straps. Another abstract construction from winter 1967 in custom-woven gazar is held up with simple bead straps. It may be 50 years old, but it would not have been out of place on the runway this season. In fact, many of the clothes and jewelry in the show look as covetable today as they must have been then.

Mounting the exhibition also offered up its share of surprises. “One sees the dress from the outside, but once you look at the construction inside you understand that it’s not just an envelope placed on a body,” noted Belloir. Upon examining one dress, a veteran pattern maker for the house offered to come out of retirement in order to retro-engineer a toile just because she’d never seen anything like it. “Balenciaga took liberties that not just anyone can take because he knew the materials by heart,” concluded Belloir. “A dress can look so simple, and yet the sensitivity is remarkable.”

“Balenciaga: L’Oeuvre au Noir” will run from March 8th to July 16th, 2017, at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris. Open Tuesday–Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 18 Rue Antoine Bourdelle, Paris, France.

Karlie Brushes Off Destiny’s Child Mistake

While many of us have things we’d like to forget from the early Noughties (diamanté boob tubes and velour, hi there), for Karlie Kloss it was something that she did forget that caused her embarrassment this week.


The model mistook TLC’s Waterfalls for a Destiny’s Child song in a piece for Love Magazine – in which she declared herself a “mega fan” of the band and answered questions about her heroes – but Kloss brushed the error off with signature good humour.

Kloss has had a busy start to 2017, returning to New York in the last few days after spending time in Australia earlier this month. She has also taken on a role as a correspondent on new Netflix factual show Bill Nye Saves The World.

Rosie Confirms Her Pregnancy

Rosie Huntington-whiteley has confirmed her pregnancy with a picture showcasing her growing bump on the beach. The model and entrepreneur – who has been the subject of pregnancy rumours for some months – chose to share the news on her own terms, directly with her almost seven million Instagram followers, via a picture taken by her fiancé, actor Jason Statham.

The model has spoken before of her desire to be a mother one day, as well as of her own upbringing in the Devon countryside. Two of her model friends – Candice Swanepoel and Behati Prinsloo – welcomed babies towards the end of last year and, while it was thought that Huntington-Whiteley’s next focus would be her wedding following her engagement to Statham just over a year ago, it now appears that the event will be delayed a little, at least until her baby has arrived.