As one of the biggest names in Egyptian fashion right now, Salma Abu Deif’s short modelling career has been nothing short of a tour de force. Having broken onto the scene almost by chance, Abu Deif hasn’t looked back as she embarks on a career in a notoriously tricky and fickle industry.
But as one of the most in-demand models – and social media influencers – there’s still much more to come from a young Egyptian whose work belies her tender years, as Cairo Gossip’s Mahmoud Hussein found out.
Is it true that you broke into modelling ‘accidentally’?
Yeah, kind of. A friend of a friend of a friend was organising an open-day and she needed a model, so I stepped in. I was in my second year of university at the time and had no experience whatsoever, so before the show, I was Googling how to model! But I loved it – we tried more than 70 outfits!
If America’s Next Top Model has taught me anything, it’s that modelling is much more than standing around and looking pretty – what’s the process of a photoshoot like?
First I need to know if I’ll be bringing some of my own outfits because I prepare them a day before a shoot. At the shoot itself, I go in for hair and make-up, before we then take on the process of getting the ‘perfect picture’. There are a lot of elements to be taken into consideration – the lighting, the angle, etc – so the average photoshoot can take up to 10 hours, from start to finish.
Sounds harsh. Do you get to enjoy shoots?
Yes, most of the time and, like with anything, I have my favourites. My first one is one of my favourites, but I did photoshoot in Nubia that has always stuck with me. It was super intense – the temperature was 55°C! It was so hot that some of the crew suffered sun-stroke, but after we finished, the whole team decided to stay for one more day to celebrate. Seeing the outcome after such a hard shoot makes it all worth it.
Apart from maybe Kimye, I can’t imagine that many parents envision their child becoming a model – especially in Egypt. Were there any issues when it came to your family?
At first, my dad was anxious, but at no point did they pressure me into reconsidering. They had their concerns, of course, but they’ve supported me since day one and did even more so when they saw that I loved what I was doing and that I was doing it well.
You’re something of a social media celebrity – is Instagram, etc a nuisance to you as a public figure?
At first, I took it for granted. My approach has always been simple; I post photos that I think I look good in. It’s difficult to gauge the taste of your social media followers; I occasionally post photos that are a bit more on the artistic, almost abstract, side, but they don’t get much interaction. But nowadays, I treat my Instagram account as my portfolio – something that reflects my work and my personality.
Nice – but it’s also a breeding ground for trollers and generally nasty people. Do you get a lot of ‘haters’, as they say?
I do occasionally; I’ve had people insulting my family at times. I usually delete the comments and block them if they keep doing it. I don’t want my Instagram to be filled with insults. If you don’t like the pictures, you can always un-follow. But if someone’s just making fun, I leave it.
You often get recognised in public – how are you treated out in the big, bad world by celebrity-spotters?
It’s generally fine, but there’s a strange expectation when people see me. For example, I went to Cairo Festival City to grab a bite from the food court once, with messy hair and sweatpants – I was getting some KFC, so I need to be comfortable! Anyway, later on, I was looking through some comments on Instagram and someone had just written something as simple as ‘pretty’, to which someone replied “Pretty? You should have seen her at Cairo Festival City today.”
I don’t know if he meant it in a spiteful way, but I thought it was funny so I left the comment. It’s funny when people expect you to have your full make-up on wherever you go. They have this picture-perfect image of you.
You travelled to Europe at one point to meet with some modelling agencies, but it didn’t quite go to plan….
Yeah, the purpose of the trip – or at least the original one – was to send my portfolio to some agencies and take some meetings if possible. I did a lot of research – including finding the addresses of the agencies I wanted to target – but when I went to the first one, in Paris, it was closed. I didn’t think much of it, so I just tried to work through my list, but kept finding all the agencies closed. It turned out that modelling agencies in Europe take August off!
But I didn’t let it ruin the trip – I was by myself, but I used the opportunity to explore the cities, because it was actually my first time travelling abroad. My dad used to have a fear of flying, so the whole experience was so unique to me.
You’ve since caught the wanderlust bug since – tell us about your recent trips within Africa.
I went to Zanzibar this year on a trip sponsored by Trippin’ Travel. I’d always wanted to attend a full moon festival and I was lucky enough to attend the very last day of it. We were a group of social media influencers promoting the trip and we actually met other Egyptians in Zanzibar. There were so many, in fact, that we ended up laying Samira Saeed songs during the festival!
Kenya has always been at the top of my list and I travelled there by myself after the Zanzibar trip – it was like being in a National Geographic show at times. The people are so friendly and so generous.
What does the future hold for Salma Abu Deif?
I’m trying to figure that out. I don’t just want to be a model on an international scale; I want to be one that carries her country, identity and own unique style into her work. I’m exploring my horizons and I’ve also actually been taking acting classes – but I still need a lot of training, so who knows.
Stay up-to-date with all things Salma on Instagram.
By Mahmoud Hussein
(Photo: nineteen84 Management)