Last week I spoke with French/Egyptian Omaima Salem, not only a top stylist in the world of fashion and Style Director at cutting edge magazine MARFA but fuelled by her confident spirit, we spoke about doing things your own way, dream therapy, working with legendary enfant terrible of French cinema – Gaspard Noé, surviving the weird Brexit variant, the lack of sin in accidentally crushing ants as you walk across the grass, and all of this as she hung up her curtains in her Paris apartment. The highlights lie in words below:
FL: I love Marfa, It feels different from other magazines and your parties are also very friendly for fashion parties. What is your role in all of this?
OS: I joined Marfa on the third issue and now we are on our 15th. I am the Style Director, which I am more comfortable with than Fashion Editor. In essence, we are a Pop Culture magazine that does not take itself so seriously. Yes, we are read by the fashion crowd that we naturally lean towards, but we are not trying to impress anyone, we just share the things that we like, with no agenda, while having fun.
FL: It’s nice to not take yourself too seriously, what makes you different to your peers?
OS: We don’t really look to our peers. What we do is very personal and voyeuristic. There are only five in our team, the Editor-in-chief, graphic director, just one main writer, a producer, and me. We all do interviews and the thread that runs through one issue to the other kind of blurs our lifestyle with fiction.
FL: So, whatever goes in the magazine is what you are into in the moment?
OS: Yes, it is a creative place to be.
FL: You have been working in fashion as a stylist for more than 10 years, how have you seen the industry change?
OS: It has changed for the better. Definitely. The diva thing, being horrible and pretentious is a thing of the past. People are more human, the younger generation, who suffered from this bad attitude, decided to not do the same. They have decided to be nicer.
FL: People have been treated horribly
OS: Now it is not a thing. If you behave like that you won’t work. You will only last a short time in the industry as no one will want to work with you. It is that simple. It is the world we live in, nowadays it is easy to see that there are many people that can do the job as well as you.
FL: The gatekeepers before, they managed to protect their positions of power.
OS: Definitely, that is now changing in life generally. The fashion industry though, with Covid, will change in the next few years even more so.
FL: Post-Covid, a lot of positivity will come surely? The celebration of being free again. Out of the Black Death came the Renaissance and turning away from God to trusting and developing science.
We live in a materialistic world where we have to explain everything scientifically all the time. Maybe we need to have the opposite.
OS: Maybe it will be the opposite for us. We don’t seem very capable of dealing with it. Maybe we will learn some humility and welcome in more spirituality. We live in a materialistic world where we have to explain everything scientifically all the time. Maybe we need to have the opposite.
FL: Whatever happens, fashion won’t go away will it, but wearing tracksuits and dressing down is surely going to be over after this.
OS: Yes, I think so. People will want to express themselves coming out of a crisis and to look fabulous, but wearing vintage will not go away. I do think there will be a couture renaissance. Handcrafted personal items for everyone.
FL: Has being forced inside help focus you on ideas for after this pandemic?
OS: We have been forced to focus on ourselves and to think about how we are living. Frustration is always good for creativity, it’s important for productivity.
FL: Fashion has led you to work in cinema in costume. Working on two incredible movies by Gaspard Noé. How was that?
OS: Yes, I worked on CLIMAX with a costume designer, sourcing and making clothes and on LOVE I was alone. It’s an amazing job when you have to get in the head of the director but with Gaspard, it always feels like a work in progress. You get some details and you have to make sense of it as it comes. At first, on CLIMAX, I knew it was going to be in the 90s and so no mobile phones. and that it was gonna be a movie based around dance and Huis Clos by Sartre, where no one gets to leave. That was the starting point. Apart from certain key scenes, key moments, it’s all in his head. He works organically and nothing is planned.
FL: Do you get involved when the script is finished?
OS: There is no script, it’s all improvised. He has key ideas – there are very certain things in mind but the rest is improvised. He is proud of that, to make a movie without a script. He starts a movie with two pages. That is what we get. We bring costumes and then he gives you some direction but he only decides what is going to be worn once you are on set. It’s all last minute which can be a nightmare obviously, so you really have to have a Plan B and C. To be on it. I understand his process, you cannot decide what colour shirt for example or which item is best until you are in this moment.
FL: But in CLIMAX they don’t change clothes
OS: Yes, that made it easier, but for LOVE I had to have A LOT of options.
FL: Have you thought of going to Hollywood with these two amazingly well-received films under your belt?
OS: I loved doing it but I wouldn’t like for it to be my main job, it is very interesting if you respect the director and you believe in the movie but what if I didn’t? It takes up a very long period of your time. I like my freedom and independence. I am used to, in fashion, on working on shorter projects. Of course, you are proud when you are doing something that matters and that will really last but you have so much less control in it all.
FL: Film sets are slow
OS: It is so slow and very boring once the prep is done but it is worth it sometimes for the magic. The prep is interesting, and to see how the movie process starts and then how it finally ends, you know, no matter how hard you try to manage to get into the head of the director you never really get to see how it works in there. After the shooting of LOVE I was sure that there was not enough, that there was no story but I was wrong obviously.
FL: You must have had opportunities to be chained down to a job, that would have threatened your freedom?
OS: I have been offered jobs as an assistant for people that were very well respected and everyone was like: ‘You should do it’. It was as an assistant for a super-famous stylist who had a terrible reputation, but I have to be able to respect the person I work with on a human level.
FL: How do you relax?
OS: I take a lot of baths, I smoke weed and I also smoke CBD.
FL: How do you differentiate from the two?
OS: CBD doesn’t make you high and it’s more physical rather than psychological. It is great to have that option. For me, it is amazing to be able to dream. The problem with weed is that you don’t necessarily remember your dreams and that’s very important to me.
FL: How are dreams important to you?
OS: They are half of your life no? If they exist then they have a serious function.
FS: How do you use them?
OS: I think about them a lot and I try to understand them. Why I have them for example. Certain dreams really really hit me and I will think about them for months until I can find an explanation for them. I find that very interesting. I’m not looking for meaning, I am looking into my parallel life and if I find a way to understand how it echos in my real life, then it’s enlightening I guess. Last year I started doing therapy using the Akashic Field Theory, theorised by Irvin Lazlo. It’s an ancient Indian mysticism and also linked to quantum physics research. The belief that nothing is in a vacuum and that everything is filled with information and recorded in a big cloud. My therapist taps into the cloud and gets to the information. I don’t need to talk for six months to talk about a problem I fast-forward all of that. She analyses dreams as well. It is sometimes important to talk to someone about your dreams, it is a mystic therapy I would say.
FIVE QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS:
What do you think of reptiles?
Reptiles are fascinating. Snakes particularly. I have a friend who has one and I spent last Saturday night staring at it moving. He stared at me too. It was truly special; I felt some sort of mystic bond with it.
Are ants conscious?
I think ants are conscious yes. They are conscious of each other.
When do you feel most free?
The freest I feel is when I’m naked in the sea.
Name a prophet not respected in this world?
Does water evolve?
Ice becomes water, becomes gas. Yes, water evolves.
Check out Omaima’s dream inducing playlist on Spotify: