As a number of designers were heralding a return to glamour on the runways this season, Rawdah Mohamed, a 27-year-old Somali influencer living in Norway, was delivering it on the streets in the form of face-framing feathers, dramatic eyewear, and even a medieval-style mesh snood, all of which she wore with a hijab. Grandeur suits Mohamed, a healthcare professional working with autistic children, who can trace the start of her international street style career back to last August when she attended Oslo’s Spring 2019 season; between shows, she found time to sign as a model, due to her striking features and unconventional style. Mohamed was active on Instagram before that, though, followed mainly by modest-dressing Muslim women who were intrigued by her ability to take readily available pieces—from H&M or Zara, say—and pair them chicly in what she calls an East-West mix.
Mohamed’s foray onto the international show circuit has not been easy; Paris did not reveal itself as a City of Light to this influencer, attending the shows there last month for the first time. From negative body language to the intense scrutiny she received for entrance to shows, despite carrying an invitation in hand, Mohamed discovered that discrimination remained rampant, even with the strides that have been made in terms of diversified casting. “I really wanted [fashion] to be a place where I could just be myself and everyone would just accept me for who I am,” she says. “I was very sad to realize that, no, this is yet another place where I still have to fight to be me and to be able to free to dress however I like and to look however I like.”
Mohamed, who has worn a hijab since she was about 7 years old, has been fighting this fight since she moved to a small town in Norway. The bullying she was subjected too, however, only strengthened her resolve to wearing the hijab. “I never really liked the idea of having to adjust the way I speak or the way I look just because it makes other people uncomfortable,” she says. “I just continued wearing it and it sort of became my shield and something I was proud of.” In so doing Mohamed has unintentionally become a role model—an exemplar of a modern day Muslim woman wearing fashion clothes. For Mohamed, the hijab is a form of expression, not oppression. “I’m definitely using it to make a statement that, yes, I’m a Muslim woman, I’m doing this, and you guys have to deal with it—just like I was using it when I was a kid growing up with my hijab. I feel like I’m doing the exact same thing with fashion. Deep down I’m hoping [by my doing this] it will be easier for other girls.”
Here, Mohamed speaks to Vogue about her unabashed love of glamour and fighting for real inclusivity in the fashion world.
When did you start wearing a hijab?
I’ve been wearing it since I’ve been a first-grader, I think. I used to wear it back in [Somalia] and I wore it when I came to Norway. I’ve never taken it off. I didn’t think much of it because in my home country everyone was wearing it, it was part of the uniform so you didn’t really think much about it. The only ones that were not wearing it were the Christians, so it was just like, ‘Okay, this is what we do.’
What was the reaction to your hijab in Norway?
Norway is a small country and I came to a very small town. Because of my hijab and because of my skin color—we were the few black people in the community, and you know some of my classmates had never seen black people before—so it was very, very difficult and obviously there was a lot of bullying but I think [that] made me continue to wear it. The adults in my life were saying, ‘If it helps with the bullying maybe you can take it off, or maybe you can wear it in a different style that’s not as covering,’ but I didn’t want the bullies to win. I didn’t want them to have such power over my life.