Tuesday, May 3, 2011

FARAH ZULAIKHA: Exclusive Interview (Part 1)

By Eva Fydrych

An international supermodel based in New York, Farah Zulaikha was discovered at an early age and has had a very successful career right from the beginning. In an exclusive interview for Fashion Studio, Farah talks about her main modeling projects and campaigns, her family, her fashion designer friends, her personal style, and her sources of inspiration. She also reveals some useful beauty tips. Beautiful not only on the outside, Farah has an amazing personality, a captivating style and so many interesting thoughts to share.

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Occupation: International model, socialite and humanitarian.
City: New York, US

FASHION STUDIO: You started modeling at a very young age. Tell us a little bit about the beginning of your career and your experiences so far. Which fashion designers and brands have you worked for?

FARAH: I first ventured into modeling COMPLETELY by accident. I was always very studious, and was attending a summer program in New York City for young achievers. Upon going to school I was befriended by a beautiful young lady who was a graduate student. She happened to be an ex-model and working for the number one modeling agency in the world at the time, so needless to say she had a sharp eye for talent. She approached me and asked me if I had ever considered being a model. I remember laughing at the question when she first asked... I come from a family full of doctors and academics, I myself have always taken my studies very seriously and despite my success in the fashion world I am currently studying medicine so being a supermodel was never part of the "life plan." I was very taken aback by her and admittedly intimidated as she was older than me and seemed so mature and glamorous, it was hard for me to believe that such a fashionista could see the potential of a supermodel in my skinny teenaged self. I brushed the idea off as the girl being polite and friendly, However, I was wrong. She insisted that I would be a "breath of fresh air" to the industry and was convinced that I would be a success.

After three months of her harassing me, I finally gave in and went to the office with her and to my utter surprise I was offered a modeling contract on the spot! After that moment the rest was a whirlwind, it was like a snowball that turned into an avalanche and almost overnight I was booking job after job and everyone wanted to know who the raven-haired exotic It-Girl was. There was no other top-tier model who looked like me, and at first I'll be honest, it made me unsure of myself. I would go to hair and makeup for a runway show and look around the room and feel like I didn't look like the other girls... like I didn't belong. But I soon realized that the same characteristics that made me feel like I didn't fit in were the same reasons why I became a success - because I am unique. What makes one different is what makes one beautiful, and in the midst of a sea of beauties who all looked the same, I stuck out. I was booking ad campaigns and covers and closing major runway shows like wildfire and the rest is history.

I have been fortunate enough to accomplish so much on an international level in a very tough industry. I always had a few choice individuals in the industry who believed in me - photographers, designers, agents, and especially my wonderful fans... and without them this would never have been possible. I've had the pleasure of working for many top brands and magazines throughout the years, so to list them all would be very lengthy. One of the first major gigs I booked was for The Gap Skinny Jeans in 2005-2006 (I was a face/brand ambassadress), I was so tiny that The Gap had to actually make a special "size 0" because at the time I was too little to fit the regular size 0 pants that The Gap made... the staffers joked around and called them "The FaFa Zero" (Fafa is my nickname). I also have worked for several other top brands including Louis Vuitton (for which I recently did an editorial in Munich, Germany by celebrity fashion photographer Kai Birkigt and the photos can be viewed on http://www.examiner.com/luxury-fashion-in-new-york/louis-vuitton-editorial-campaign-munich-picture) and cosmetics giant Sephora (I was a face of the Makeup Forever HD foundation campaign).

FASHION STUDIO: What inspired you to become a model?

FARAH: My inspiration for modeling really stemmed from the people who believed in me from the beginning. I remember from a very early age I have always had a fascination with BEAUTY. In elementary school I used to read books about Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo and Greek mythology. My favorite Greek goddess was Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. I admired the traits that the goddess possessed - she was beautiful yet fearful and powerful, and it was symbolic of the true power of beauty. Although I haven't always considered myself to be beautiful, I always wanted to BE beautiful. I also would look through my favorite fashion magazines like VOGUE and Allure and Cosmopolitan and I had my favorite models: Gisele Bundchen for her stunning body and angelic face, Yamila Diaz-Rahi for her unique and exotic features, Stephanie Seymour for her classic All-American looks, and Iman for her timeless beauty.

But what stood out to me was the lack of Middle-Eastern or Indian looking girls. As a pre-teen, when you look through these proverbial "beauty bibles" and see no one that looks like you... it can tend to make you doubt yourself. It is a sentiment that is almost as if to say "Well, these are supposed to be what beautiful women look like... and they do not look like me. So maybe I am not beautiful." It wasn't until I got discovered in New York that I realized there is room for everyone in modeling, room for every look and ethnicity. And although I may not have had many Middle-Eastern supermodels staring at me through the pages of the magazines, I could be that role model for another young girl like me. It was this idea that really made me push myself in my modeling career. With every runway I walked and every shoot I booked, I felt a need to represent my culture and background. I realized something early on that gave me an edge and set me apart from the rest. I am not Kate Moss. I am not Agyness Deyn. And I would never want to be. Why? Because I am FARAH ZULAIKHA. What makes us unique makes us different. Our quirks and characteristics become our trademarks! And the fact that I was so different made me stand out and really set me up for success. I don't think my career would have been this red-hot if I had been just "more of the same". 

FASHION STUDIO: Coming from a family of physicians and health professionals, how did it feel to be the only one who went into fashion? What do your parents think about your modeling career?

FARAH: My family, although beautiful and successful are not a family of supermodels and fashionphiles! They are doctors and academians. My father is a very accomplished Internist/General Surgeon and my mother is a world-renowned skin specialist. My sister is a pilot and certified flight instructor. My grandfather is also a world-renowned child psychologist whose theory on childhood emotional intelligence earned him a coveted spot in "Who's Who In The World Of Science?" so needless to say my foray into the modeling industry was out of the norm. Due to the fact that academics was always stressed in my family, anything school-related was a breeze... however fashion and modeling was something outside of my comfort zone so admittedly it was a bit scary at first. I took a chance on something that was new and exciting. I was never the type of person to not pursue an interest for fear of failing. I thought I would try it out, and then see what happened. However, the deal was that I was not allowed to abandon my studies and I never did. I am currently on a medical track at The City University Of New York. With modeling I never expected to reach an international level! But the entire journey has been wonderful. My family are some of my biggest fans and have been very supportive! 

This past January when I was traveling with my family through Europe, my mother bought the January 2011 issue of ELLE Magazine (in which I appeared in a special runway pictorial) in EVERY CITY we went to. Anywhere she saw ELLE Magazine, she bought a copy... and each time when she got to the register, she would always flip to the page with my photo and proudly tell the sales clerk "that's my daughter." In my early career, my mother would accompany me to each shoot/show etc. and it was a huge relief for me. Especially as a young teen, photoshoots and runway shows can be a bit intimidating and anxiety-inducing however all of those knots in your belly just melt away when you look into the crowd and see the face of your mother :) I truly believe that I would never have reached this level of success if it were not for her. There is no greater success than the one that stems from a loving family and I am blessed to have them.

FASHION STUDIO: You were chosen by Tyra Banks to take part in her show's premiere episode in New York City. How did you like that experience?

FARAH: Tyra Banks is a person whom I owe a lot of gratitude and thanks to. She is such an inspiration and motherly figure to so many young models. My meeting with Tyra was by pure chance. In 2007, Tyra Banks had just moved production of "The Tyra Show" from Los Angeles to New York, and for her premiere episode with mega-star singer Rihanna she was searching for some buzzworthy and interesting models/actresses/personalities from New York to invite on the show. One thing about Tyra, she is very fond of discovering and nurturing models, especially models that have an unusual look to them. One of her staffers brought her my photo, as I was gaining momentum as a heavily requested runway model in NYC at the time. She loved my eastern look and ambiguous ethnicity and gave me a call that very same night, inviting me to appear on the show and meet Rihanna. When I got the call from Tyra I was floored, especially when she declared me as "beautiful beyond belief" in front of the entire Tyra Show production crew!

The night before my appearance I was so excited that I did not sleep at ALL. The show was so much fun, the lights the audience the crowd, everything was a pure adrenaline rush! It was my first television appearance and I really got a feel for how television shows work. It was valuable knowledge that made it a total breeze for the several television appearances that followed. It was such a confidence boost to know Tyra Banks, one of the most successful supermodels of all time believed in me. It helped me to believe in MYSELF.

FASHION STUDIO: Your  current modeling projects...

FARAH: I have several modeling projects in the works and although it is only a few months into 2011 I have been as busy as ever. Since January I have shot nine ad campaigns already, for some amazing brands. I am the face of South African supermodel/socialite Jean-Luc Quevauvilliers' JEAN-LUC COLLECTION (www.jean-lucq.com) and the ad campaign photo shoot was recently included in a fabulous episode of international fashion program "Top Billing" (the episode can be viewed on youtube). I am also the face of celebrity designer Anna Maria-Horsford's fine jewelry collection, available at all fine retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Neiman Marcus.

Just this week I shot the new ad campaign for my dear friend celebrity designer INDASHIO's "Club Kid" Collection, co-starring with America's Next Top Model Cycle 8 winner and another dear friend of mine Jaslene Gonzalez. The ads will run major magazines and will be featured in NYLON Magazine very soon. I am widely known as the face of one of my favorite designers and best friends, the one and only Glam God Indashio! I've closed several of his shows in fabulous destinations around the world and in New York Fashion Week. I was also the inspiration behind his most successful collection to date, the Jet Set S/S 2010 Collection, which was inspired my globe-trotting exploits and glittery over-the-top style. I recently walked for Indashio in Elle Magazine Style 360 during New York Fashion Week in September 2010. I was featured in the January 2011 issue of Elle Magazine on the Indashio runway wearing a dress from his most recent collection. I will be completely honest, the grey geometric-print elastic waist shift dress which I wore in his show was my favorite piece in the collecton. It was very fun and colorful, yet very chic and Parisian in its cut and drape. It also featured a gorgeous matching rhinestone and fringe armband which was so fun to wear! As one of his lifelong friends and muses, Indashio always creates a special look just for me in each collection. He has famously declared to the press that I am "the Cher to his Bob Mackie" so I knew before I even found out what I was wearing in the show that it would be something very special. I had a blast wearing it, and it showed in the photos! The dress was sold out before I even walked off the runway, but you can still check it out on page 42 of the January 2011 issue of Elle Magazine.

I am the new face of top international designer Tina Tandon's new couture line which I also shot this past week and will run in ELLE Magazine India. I am the face of the quirky hipster Brooklyn-based Ruffeo Hearts Lil' Snotty (www.RHLS.com) and have shot two ad campaigns for them this year by celebrity photographer J.R. Delia. I am the face of noted Armenian designer Tamara Pogosian's "LOVE & UNITY" T-shirt line and also her Fall/Winter 2011 ready-to-wear line. I am set to headline the India International Fashion Summit in New Delhi, India this summer as well and I will be appearing on the runway for all of my Indian fans which I am very excited about. So needless to say I have been quite busy and productive, but I feel very blessed and thankful to enjoy such success.

FASHION STUDIO: How would you define beauty?

FARAH: There is something special that makes one beautiful. It doesn't come from a sexy body or even a pretty face that arouses desire. Lustful is not the same as beautiful. Beauty is in grace and charm. To be truly beautiful is to be rare and memorable. A girl-next-door may be cute. A stripper on a pole may be sexy. But I was born to be BEAUTIFUL. ‎It's the entire persona. It's in the way one carries themselves, in the way one speaks, in the intelligence one has. To be beautiful is to have class. To be beautiful is to be wise. To be beautiful is to be kind, even these days when it seems no one has any kindness in their souls. To be beautiful is to have beauty in every aspect of oneself. To quote my friend Dami Van Crash:

"Beauty is a tricky word..... for Beauty is felt but before that it passed through the tunnel of the eyes leading to the heart. Lust is not beauty and can never be beauty for it is not merely flesh based... When you see beauty you don't see plea... sure you don't think anything... Beauty is a lovely mix of elegance and class... you think of the person in a respectable manner... When you see beauty... the world disappears where mere words do not and can not capture the feeling inside." 

FASHION STUDIO: What is your secret of always looking so amazing? What is your beauty regime?

FARAH: I have tried all kinds of beauty products from the convenience store brands to the high end luxury brands... and some were better than others. But as a medical student, AND a consumer I can firmly state that the gold standard in skincare would have to be medical-grade skincare or "cosmeceuticals." My favorite skincare line is my mother's best selling skin care line PMR Fountain of Youth. I and many other celebrities SWEAR BY her custom-mixed medical grade skin creams, which prevent the skin from premature aging. Why battle skin damage and aging when one can prevent it completely and save much more time and pain in the long-run? My mother's creams are a lifesaver and I owe my famously beautiful skin to it. Learn more at www.pmrfountainofouth.com (and you can check me out on the website! As a special offer just for the wonderful readers, mention the FASHION STUDIO MAGAZINE and get 10% off any order or treatment! A special gift for my special fans).

My daily beauty regime is all about TLC- tender loving care. When you care for your body, it will only radiate with the glow of health. I can't get out of bed without a hot cup of herbal green tea or English breakfast tea. The antioxidants are not only essential for beautiful skin, but they also battle cancer-causing free radicals in the body. In fact, I have borrowed a page from my amazing chai-loving Indian fans! It is a well-known fact that eastern women have beautiful skin which can be attributed partly to their love of tea! I exfoliate with a mild citrus-based exfoliating cleanser in a hot shower - this is the best way to keep your skin fresh and glowing every day. I don't even THINK about leaving my home without protecting my skin from the sun's harmful UVA and UVB rays by applying a high-grade (SPF 30 or higher) sunscreen on my entire face and body! There is nothing that ravages skin worse than the sun and we must all take care to protect ourselves against sun damage.

My beauty secret is one that seems very obvious but a lot of people don't think of it, and it probably comes from the medical side of me, but my best beauty tip is to nourish and care for your body from "the inside out".... I am a firm believer that the ultimate beauty lies in health. When one has a healthy body it is a thing of radiance and beauty! Care for your body, we only have one life to live and one body to live it in. Take your vitamins, use sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays, drink plenty of water, get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet, exercise and avoid bad habits like drugs and alcohol. A healthy lifestyle is the absolute best beauty tip I could possibly offer!

My makeup routine tends to vary with my mood and attire, but it usually consists of a natural face with a dusting of powder, a dab of lip gloss and a swipe of some classic kajal kohl eyeliner. I am a purist when it comes to cosmetics so I only wear mineral makeup with skin-boosting vitamins. When I made the switch from traditional foundation and powder to mineral makeup I saw a huge difference in my skin - mineral makeup feels light as air, and it won't irritate the skin. I have naturally very full lips so I like to experiment with lip color sometimes - my favorite is Indashio Lip Tar by Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics. The range is by my dear friend superstar designer Indashio, and it was featured on my lips in his "Jet Set by Indashio" ad campaign... it is by far the most vivid and vibrant lipcolor I have ever worn!

FASHION STUDIO: Is there anything you don't like about yourself? Anything you feel you need to work on?

FARAH: I may be a model, but first and foremost I am a normal young girl. And like most girls, I have my own flaws. I am not perfect and part of being an overall successful person is recognizing the things that one can work on to improve themselves. My biggest flaw has to be my temper!!!! I believe very much in astrological signs and I feel as though a bit of this temper comes from that, as I was born under the fiery Aries star sign. The other day I read my horoscope and it said "Those born under Aries often suffer from bouts of anger. This is their dark side. Recognizing and confronting this part of the Aries personality can be essential. Anger, rashness, and bouts of temper can be very destructive Aries personality traits. Words spoken in the heat of anger have ended relationships, and decisions made in the heat of passion have sent nations to war. The destructive nature of this emotion can make it very difficult to manage." This describes me perfectly.

I am a very caring and emotional person. I don't just like or dislike anyone- I either love, hate or am indifferent towards them. I am also very forgiving and believe all people have the capacity to change. However we all have our moments of weakness, and I would liken my temper to a fireball in my chest. When I feel as though I have been wronged or an injustice has been committed towards me, my "internal fireball" explodes and erupts into a fury that can sometimes make me say things that I may regret especially towards the ones I love. It is learning to harness that passion that has been my biggest personality struggle... one that I can admit and always work towards managing. It is also the cause of much ridicule at my expense mostly from family members who have witnessed the "wrath of Farah" but it's all for the best as the most effective way to ease a fiery temper is laughter :)

FASHION STUDIOWhat is fashion for you? How would you describe your personal style?

FARAH:  For me it's not really about fashion, it's more about STYLE. Fashion can be bought. Fashion comes and goes. But TRUE STYLE is eternal and it comes from the individual. As a model, often times we are told how to dress or what image to portray in the name of fashion. However my personal style is something all my own. My daytime look is usually a mix of urban chic and eastern exotic. I have been known to throw on a pair of skinny jeans, a blazer and some patent black stiletto pumps with an armful of assorted Indian bangles and antique chandelier earrings, or for warmer days maybe a flowy dress in a bright color or unique print and my favorite beat up buckled lace-up combat boots.

My evening and red carpet look is very glamorous and amped-up! I love anything sparkly and flashy with lots of diamonds! Alice + Olivia is one of my favorite labels for their plethora of short and sparkly dresses. I, like many women am a fiend for luxury goods. My favorite luxury designers are Balenciaga and Chanel. Balenciaga especially for the shoes. The modern shapesand top-notch craftsmanship never cease to amaze, and the designs are so fiercely modern and cutting edge. I am a fan of sky high heels... although I am a tall girl I still love the feeling of being larger-than-life. Balenciaga gives me that rush, while still offering revolutionary and unique designs that we have come to expect from the opulent fashion house season after season. And Chanel goes without saying. They are timeless. A tweed Chanel boucle jacket can last a lifetime and never go out of style. For me, Chanel is the epitome of undying class and glamour.

I have many fashion accessories which I feel as though I cannot live without! But for my fast-paced lifestyle it is not always possible to carry them all with me. I have to be flexible and able to hop a flight at a moment's notice so it is very important that I can look good and also pack light. If I had to swallow my clotheshorse pride and narrow it down to only three it would be as follows:

1. My Chanel black leather 2.55 flap classic quilted chain bag, because it is timeless and goes with absolutely anything and everything. It adds a touch of class to any outfit and I would be lost without it!

2. My Balenciaga motorcycle harness ankle boots. They are the same boots that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were photographed trotting around in everywhere, and I can definitely relate as I am also a huge fan! They are a great for any weather and the heel is dangerously high yet they are extremely comfortable and add an edgy sexy touch to anything from a pair of jeans to a mini-dress. They are so rockstar-chic and although they are a few seasons old, I could never let go of them!

3. My diamond Cartier Santos watch. My father always said that every successful person needs a good watch! It was one of the first big purchases I made when the big modeling checks started coming in. It was ridiculously expensive and I felt a bit guilty for spending so much on a watch but it was so opulent and beautiful that I had to have it. I knew it was a watch that would last for a lifetime and one that could be an heirloom for my children and grandchildren. Even if I have no other accessories on hand, once I throw on that amazing watch, I have a statement piece that can take center stage in my ensemble. No matter what I wear, my favorite accessory is my makeup and my favorite go-to look for day OR night is the sultry sexy smoky cat eye. It is timelessly classic and the perfect look for my huge almond-shaped brown eyes!
By Eva Fydrych
All photos courtesy of Farah Zulaikha

Read other parts of the interview: Part 2, Part 3



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