Iman Hariri-Kia’s debut novel is at the center of fashion media’s digital awakening

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“I read a lot of Teen Vogue when I was younger,” Iman Hariri-Kia says on Zoom, wearing a dark fuchsia blazer the same color as the cover of her debut novel, A hundred other girls, released last week. Sitting at the dining table in her fifth-floor walk-up building on New York’s Lower East Side, she touches the gold necklace around her neck as she speaks. “At the time, it was much more ambitious than relatable for me. It showed all these thin, white, upper-class women who weren’t necessarily direct reflections of myself.

Born and raised in New York to Iranian parents, Hariri-Kia attended a private school in Manhattan, where she felt like “a fish out of water.” The author, editor and writer experienced racism at a young age and as a result, felt frustrated with her honey-colored skin and naturally thick body hair. Books and writing became a way for her to momentarily escape her situation and find her own place in a world where she didn’t quite fit in.

It’s a similar story for Noora, the main protagonist of Hariri-Kia’s novel. A witty blogger in New York, Noora lands a job at Vinyl magazine, her dream publication, as an assistant to iconic diva-like editor-in-chief Loretta James. Noora’s dream quickly turns into a nightmare when she’s at the center of a turf war between the print and digital teams, and finds herself facing tokenization as a supposedly Middle Eastern writer. purge his trauma into articles for clicks and likes.

The cover of Iman Hariri-Kia’s first novel, A hundred other girls.

Courtesy of the author

Inspired by her own experience working in the media – Hariri-Kia was once a rookie assistant at Teen Vogue –A hundred other girls draws heavily from digitizing the publication and shifting policy toward covering more social justice topics in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory. “Ultimately this was the start of the digital media boom, young people were writing and editing for the site, and the print magazine receded at what many would consider the height of its popularity,” recalls Hariri Kia. “Looking at how decisions were made behind the scenes, it was the first time I felt like this was the right one. [material] for fiction”.

Throughout the novel, Noora struggles to navigate a media landscape in which she is misunderstood and exoticized, but always remains eager to write and share the stories of marginalized people without losing her integrity as a journalist. . Hariri-Kia describes many parts of the book as “autofiction”. But “that said, I definitely romanticized the whole thing. I’m not as spunky and messy and salacious as Noora,” she adds with a laugh.

While pain, exploitation and long working hours tend to lurk behind the surreal glamor of a career in fashion, Hariri-Kia’s characters use their everyday outfits to express their identities. Noora attends her job interview in a tie-dye “slinky dress” she picked up at Beacon’s Closet; Saffron, a nonbinary publisher from the Midwest, wears a jumpsuit with cowboy boots and an arm covered in tattoos; and Leila, Noora’s ultra-feminine older sister, likes to wear tight dresses and sexy jumpsuits reminiscent of Donna Summer or Iranian pop star Googoosh.

“I wanted to dress all of my characters fabulously, and I wanted to show that people from different backgrounds are often the tastemakers in the play,” says Hariri-Kia. The first novelist sits with O to discuss her own wardrobe, her favorite designers and how to use fashion as a way to “fake it until you make it”.

Photograph by Louisiana Mei Gelpi

What were you wearing yesterday and why did you wear it?

I bought this costume from Frankie Shop that matches the cover of my book. Yesterday, I wore it with basketball shorts and a vintage Prada bustier shirt, and little heels. I felt like the coolest person in the world.

Who is your ultimate style icon?

Probably my mother, Gisue Hariri. She’s an architect, and when I was younger, I was embarrassed by the way she dressed. Her outfits were so structural and she always loved being the loudest dresser in a room. She emphasized to me that clothes should be a living, breathing organism, and that I should think about how clothes and fabrics move, not just how they look. It definitely influenced me – I always thought about playing with shape, texture and movement more than color and cut.

How would you describe your personal style?

Eclectic and dynamic. I’m influenced by a mix of East and West so I’m interested in including calligraphy [in my wardrobe]wearing clothes and accessories created by designers in the Middle East, and making sure that every time I leave the house, I try to point out something about myself that I may not be able to say at all the people I meet on the sidewalk.

How did you style the closets for your characters?

This book makes many comparisons with The devil wears Prada, which focused on high-end brands and haute couture: the world of print fashion. In contrast, my book is more about the awakening of digital media and the split between the old and new guard. I wanted to capture the style of the new generation, which is inclusive, a mix of used and high-end brands, and intends to recycle different parts. So, for example, Noora’s best friend at work, Saffron, has that really cool Brooklyn style, while Noora’s older sister, Leila, is always in a sparkly jumpsuit.

Photograph by Louisiana Mei Gelpi

How important do you think it is to have femininity and sex appeal in fashion?

For me, it boils down to, how does dressing and owning your sexuality make you feel? Do you feel safe and beautiful? Do you feel closest to yourself when you dress to showcase your inner Venus? It’s a subjective choice, and I don’t think there’s a right way to own your sexuality and be a “good feminist.” Leila perfectly embodies someone whose inner person is sexy, confident and provocative. She dresses this way because she feels in control and limitless.

Who are your favorite designers from the Middle East?

I love Melody Ehsani. I’ve always wanted to buy her cherry earrings from her boutique on Kenmare Street in New York, but it closed during the pandemic, so I didn’t get the chance. Canada-based designer Dorian Who is fantastic – the way she constructs her pieces is truly artistic. I also love Zarin Nasr, an Iranian calligrapher who prints silk by hand on different kaftans and dresses, and Maryam Nassir Zadeh is also one of my favorite designers. I wore her silver sandals a lot this summer.

What’s the last thing you bought?

I just received a pair of vintage Prada pumps. They’re satin, patterned, and multi-textured, and they remind me of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” The heel is small, so I could walk in it.

I think sometimes when you have impostor syndrome and you’re navigating new environments, whether you’re the youngest in the room or the only woman of color, it’s nice to wear something that gives you a little more confidence. It helps you pretend until you make it.

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