In the words of Naomi Salabi, “It’s more than body positivity, it’s about showing the nuances, the realness, that everybody can be beautiful in their own way, and you don’t have to fit to a certain size.”
Naomi Salabi, 22, is a French model, born and raised in Paris to an English/Irish mother and a French/Tunisian father. Since beginning her modelling career at the age of fourteen, she has gone on to model for infamous brands such as Levi’s, H&M, Primark, and Calvin Klein, making her Paris Fashion Week debut for the hugely successful and empowering designer Ester Manas in Autumn-Winter 2021-2022.
While still in her teens, Naomi was approached by a photographer who asked if she would be open to having her picture taken at the National Museum of History in the Center of Paris. After posting the outcome of this shoot online, she began to garner positive feedback and more photographers approached her asking to take her picture. In these early photoshoots, Naomi organized the whole thing: clothes, styling, makeup, hair. “It was so fun,” in an extracurricular activity kind of way while you’re still at school.
Slowly but surely, Naomi began to garner attention on social media and started to think about signing with an agency in order to take this to the next step. But for Paris, she was either “not tall enough” or “not skinny enough.”
When Naomi was 17, one of the biggest agencies’ Paris office contacted her and asked her to come in, meet with the team and check her measurements. During that time, they were developing their curve section with Ashley Graham and wanted to see if she could fit in with their criteria. As soon as she arrived, the head scout said “Oh, you’re too short, but we can send your profile to London.”
A few weeks later they replied that she was too small for London and Naomi began to lose hope a little bit. “Growing up, I only ever saw those typical heroin-chic or Victoria secret angel types walk the catwalk and be on runways,” but in that moment while Naomi was getting turned down by agencies, she knew deep down that patience was the most important virtue, she had to believe in herself and continue to do what she does.
Finding her agent and signing to Nev’s Models in London
It was around the time when Naomi was in her second year of a BA in Film at the University of Exeter that the stars started to align. She thought, “you know what, I’m just going to graduate high- school, go to Uni and see if an agency in England will take me.” And so that’s what she did.
Fast forward a few years, right before COVID-19 took hold of the world, a scout from Paris messaged her saying “Hey I saw your profile. I would love to represent you as a mother agency and help find you other agencies.” He set up some meetings with agencies in London and Salabi took his orders to go try her luck in London.
After visiting a few agencies, she was redirected to Nev’s Models agency, representing the likes of Bruna and Anyoluwapo. Immediately when she walked through the door, they said, “Yeah, we’ll take you,” you’ll be great. The rest is history.
How has your experience been in the fashion industry so far?
So far “my experience of the fashion industry has been really good.” Having never thought that she would be able to do this as a job, every opportunity that she gets and the people that believe and trust her is “a blessing.” In January 2022, Naomi booked her biggest campaign for Levi’s and was flown out to Barcelona, Spain for the shoot. “I’m so lucky I’ve met the people that I met. I still work with the same photographers, and it’s so nice to be surrounded by people who believe in you and motivate you.”
After signing to London, Naomi went on to sign with agencies in Brussels, Barcelona and New York clearly proving to be quite the model on the rise.
Tell me about Paris Fashion Week and walking Ester Manas?
“Growing up I just never thought that someone would want to see me on the runway. It was crazy to me to get my first show. I’m just super grateful for Estelle and her work, showing the fashion industry that real bodies are the norm too.”
When it comes to body diversity and progress, the catwalks of Europe lag behind. In New York, emerging designers welcomely call on their friends or community members to walk the catwalk, giving a rise to the real-person models and inclusive spirit that unfortunately lack in Paris and Milan. But as journalist Nicole Phelps accurately puts it, “a token curve model is not the kind of change fashion needs.”
Together with her partner Balthazar Delepierre, the French designer Estelle is “making clothes to welcome everyone” and sending them out in size-inclusive casts. For Manas, the unrealistic “summer body,” airbrushed in its entirety by advertising and media needs to be deconstructed and problematised. It is possible for comfort to also meet beauty and sexiness. Ester Manas thus prides itself on stretch fabrics, gathered and ruched for a one-size-fits-all flexibility, featuring cut-out fabrics that offer the sex appeal of their new swimwear line.
In February 2022, Naomi Salabi finally met Estelle, one half of Ester Manas who had asked her to walk the October 2021 fashion week show but unfortunately couldn’t attend. Fast forward a few months to when they finally met, Naomi was immediately confirmed for the show.
“It was amazing. So many different body types, and it made sense. Seamless from start to finish. I felt so confident, empowered and like I deserved to be there” says Naomi. Up until this moment this show remains a highlight in her career, underlining the role emerging designers such as Ester Manas in Paris are playing to promote real bodies in the fashion industry as the norm too. In the words of Naomi Salabi, “I think it’s more than body positivity, it’s about showing the nuances, the realness, that everybody can be beautiful in their own way, and you don’t have to fit to a certain size.”
What to expect from Naomi Salabi in the future?
Salabi is set to take London in January 2023, moving there full-time to experiment more with her style, her image and collaborate with photographers and creatives in the city. “I feel like London is such a cool and open-minded place for that. I feel super inspired by the people there and the designers” For the meantime, leaving the Parisian fashion scene to pursue a different, more experimental direction in London is her focus, but Paris will always be her home.
by Sarah Ourahmane