As a child she experienced the war in Afghanistan, and when she was 15 she came to Europe. Today Laila Hamidi, 40, is Germany’s most successful stylist. Celebrities like Nazan Eckes, Franziska Knuppe, Verona Pooth and Liz Mohn have trusted in their beauty and fashion sense for many years.
During the Corona period, when the stars stayed at home instead of getting dressed up for the red carpet, Laila Hamidi wanted to make herself useful in other ways, she says. She wanted to “give something back” to her old homeland, to campaign for the visibility of women in Afghanistan. So Hamidi, who is hailed as an influencer by Afghan women all over the world on social networks, produced a casting show with Afghan models.
Here she tells how the resurgence of the Taliban torpedoed her plans and why she wants to keep fighting right now.
BRIGITTE: How do you keep in touch with your community?
Laila Hamidi: We are connected through social media. Internet and social media are still allowed in Afghanistan. But I don’t know how much longer.
Are there women in your community who live in Afghanistan?
Yes, I also get messages from women in Afghanistan who write to me that they have this dream of fashion. But they believe it will always be a dream. Most of my followers are Afghan girls and women who were second or third generation born in Europe.
What do these women see in you?
There is still a notion in Afghan society that women are over 30 old and worn out. In conversations I always hear: Our time is over. I’ve always fought against that. I myself am a married woman, have now turned 40, I have a big son, but I still work. That’s why I’m kind of a role model.
A year and a half ago you were in Kabul and felt a kind of optimism among the women there. What is left of it?
That has completely receded into the dark. Women are currently the most affected. Men may come to terms with the situation at some point, but women cannot. There are so many widows in Afghanistan. If they don’t work because the Taliban forbid women to work, then they will have nothing to eat. Or they have to marry their brother-in-law. It’s like in the Middle Ages. We tried so much to build up. We wanted the mothers to be educated and confident so that they could raise their children well. All of that is gone now. The future looks bad.
In Kabul you worked with a perfumery chain that sells your cosmetic products. How about that now?
I spoke to them on the phone the day the Taliban came. In the perfumery and in the streets around it, there were large posters with my campaign showing an Afghan model. At the perfumery they told me that they had taken off these posters two or three days earlier. All the advertising. That hurts me. The whole country wants to protect itself by hiding the women.
You have been working on a TV show for the past 14 months: a casting format called “LAILA HAMIDI’s Beauty Face”, where you are looking for a new face for your own cosmetics campaign. The first prize is to be seen on exactly such posters in Kabul and in the Douglas online shop in Germany. The first is now inevitably dropped.
I’ve invested a lot in this show. Afghan television wanted to broadcast the program. But when everything had already been produced, the station suddenly canceled in April. They were already prepared for the Taliban! I presented my six episodes to the broadcaster’s boss, and he just said: There’s a lot of bare skin to see, we can’t take that. I’m sorry, what? Only in episode six did my top 4 wear evening dresses without sleeves. That’s the only bare skin you see. Because actually the show is about the faces. But the TV station boss didn’t take me seriously at all. I was very pissed off.
So in the spring you could already see that there are many men in Afghanistan who would back down from the Taliban and would not defend themselves.
Yes, unfortunately. My experience is: The men cry out for the freedom of women. But they don’t want it for their own daughter, sister or wife. That is so bad.
What’s your concern with the show?
I had such hope that I could give something back to this country with my production. But they left me in the lurch. They did not want to show the modernization of Afghanistan, but rather prepare to cooperate with the Taliban. My goal was to present women as business women. I wanted to show the girls very high quality and open a door for them in this industry. I brought all of my contacts in there. It’s a women’s project for women.
What is different from other casting formats?
The young girls always write to me that they want to become models. With “GNTM” it is the case that Heidi casts a model because she is a model herself. I have no power to make models out of the candidates. But I can choose a model for myself! I have a brand, a cosmetics label, and for that I look for a campaign face every year. In the show I show the process of what a model needs for it, like in a workshop. I don’t want the girls in Afghanistan to be exploited. I could see for myself: the power behind the camera is held by the men. And men want women as their toys.
How did the casting go?
I made a call on Instagram. In less than 24 hours, more than a thousand girls got in touch. We invited 33 girls to a casting in Hamburg. That was just before the second wave last year, in October. I wasn’t sure if anyone would come. I said to myself, if 15 girls come, we’ll shoot! I was very excited, hadn’t slept all night. But that day, shortly before twelve o’clock, the street was full! Over 300 girls. They had come from everywhere, from Holland and Denmark, from Sweden and England. It showed me that there are self-confident girls in the younger generation!
The television station had initially said to me: Look for drama, look for drama! But I didn’t want to show a drama. I didn’t want to take advantage of the girls’ trust and portray someone in such a way that everyone laughs. I want to show everyone strong! I even chose the music so that it had something combative about it. (laughs)
What is the ideal of beauty?
Many oriental women are influenced by this Kardashian look: splashed lips, operated on cheekbones, fake lashes, extensions. With my show I wanted to show that naturalness is still good. I ended up choosing a natural girl. Very modern. Not a cheap pose, but high fashion. I wanted to pass on something positive that I have learned here in the West. I wanted to modernize in a playful way.
How did you react to the TV broadcaster’s cancellation?
I said to myself: I won’t let myself be dragged down! That’s why I decided to put the show on at the beginning of August YouTube to publish. Simply uploading such an expensive production for free was painful. The first episode was very successful, it was viewed 100,000 times, even though my YouTube channel initially had zero subscribers. It just ran over mine Instagram account. It was a risk. Three episodes have now been run. Then the Taliban came and I took a break. I thought this was not the time to look for a model. But there will definitely come a moment when everyone gets up again and thinks that women are important.
Not that easy to spread hope in these times.
It’s really difficult. But I think we have to do that. I think now it’s really the turn of the women. The men have failed for years. Now the women have to get up.
And what is the next step for you personally?
I’ve learned so much over the past few months. I was involved in every step of the production. I’ve settled in, learned the technical terms, learned the programs so that I can tell the team exactly what I want. I can even edit films now. I’m really good at the job as a producer. So I’m well prepared for the second season.
Do you want to do this to yourself again?
I am already saving the money. (laughs) If you want to fight, then you have to keep going. And when we come out with a second season, our voice will get even stronger.