Unlike model powerhouses Brazil, Russia and the Netherlands – countries capable of launching the careers of “the next big thing in modelling” season after season – Tunisia still has some catching up to do. There was Afef Jnifen, who broke the glass ceiling in the Eighties and early Nineties as a muse of couturier (and fellow Tunisian) Azzedine Alaïa. On top of that, the former model and current Project Runway Middle East judge, has worked for the likes of Giorgio Armani, Fendi and Roberto Cavalli alongside Naomi Campbell.
Jnifen was succeeded by Kenza Fourati and Hanaa Ben Abdesslem. Aged 26, the latter may look back on a career which saw her become the first Muslim spokesmodel of cosmetics brand Lancôme, in addition to walking the runway for names including Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta and Jean Paul Gaultier. It’s been quiet on Tunisia’s side ever since. Anis Montacer, organizer of the Tunisian edition of the Elite Model Look contest, hopes to chance this by joining forces with the Elite Model Management international agency network.
Models discovered by Elite’s global scouting network include world’s highest-paid model Gisele Bündchen, as well as original 90s supermodel Cindy Crawford. At present, Tunisia is the only country in the Arab-speaking world to organize the annual model search. “Nowadays, many girls from large families want to become a model when they grow up. Just like Kenza Fourati who won the Elite Model Look in 2002 and subsequently started working in New York,” Montacer says, when questioned about local perceptions regarding the modelling profession in the year 2017. About the local Tunisian market the Tunis-based model search’s organizer says, “Local brands are starting to work increasingly more with models. The culture of modelling agencies is still underdeveloped however and models tend to work for themselves.”
The chosen ones who will represents Tunisia at the Elite Model Look world finals later this year, are 21-year-old Raed Abidi and 22-year-old Syrine Selmi. “The winners are chosen based on many criteria such as their age, height, bodyline, proportions, their natural beauty and photogenic qualities. Also their personalities, energy and determination are taken into consideration. As well as all of the above, Raed has a great smile,” May Cope says of the male category winner who was picked amongst 16 finalists, composed of eight aspiring male models and eight aspiring female models. “Syrine is very elegant and moves gracefully on the runway,” the Elite Model Look France organizer adds.