Art, when successfully purposed, offers its viewer the opportunity to imagine, create and inspire. That’s how we felt at bazaar when we first laid eyes on Zeina Almusallam’s brilliant images on her Instagram account @Kuzmoz, which dually serves as her personal micro blog. To say that we were interested to meet this person is an understatement, as little did we know that the enigmatic Zeina would indulge our intrigue with charm.
She’s inspired by street fashion, coupled with a nostalgia for the seventies era in Kuwait that is constantly conveyed through her styled photos. Her styling skills, imaginative by nature, led her to co-found Label Zed, also considered Kuwait’s first professional fashion photo-shooting agency. In this light, we see Zeina as part of a budding movement of Kuwaitis that aim to create new perceptions by challenging the social stigmas of today.
To build a career as a stylist and creative director, Zeina works her ministry post by day and puts her talent as a creative art director to work by night. In between these two very different positions, she roams the old streets of Kuwait City reveling in what were once Kuwait’s landmarks. Zeina’s pictures deliver a version of Kuwait we may only know through historic photos. An English Literature graduate, the images Zeina presents are influenced by a medley of literary works (Alice in Wonderland being her absolute favorite), music, street fashion and the natural beauty of a historic Kuwait. Whether it’s the old town, a forgotten alleyway in Salmiya or an overgrown tree nearby her grandmother’s house, Zeina is continuously dazzled by Kuwait’s natural beauty.
We see her poised on the cover of this issue ever so gently and whimsically admiring a tree abound with native flowers also known as ‘ward el majnoona’. She appears more as part of the gorgeous canvas of wild flowers in a studied painting rather than showing off her bag or the shoes she wore that given day. She always goes back to places that are dismissed, overlooked and forgotten. Zeina softly adds, “I seem to always live there, I go to these places to seek out this history. I caption Kuwait in my photos for a reason. People say that Kuwait is boring and that we have nothing, and I wish to disprove that. All I can say through my photos is that Kuwait is definitely worth a walk.”
She is regularly bombarded with questions about her choice of locations, as many think that she is usually outside of Kuwait when she posts her incredible pictures. More importantly, they ask how she puts her wardrobe together. To this, she laughingly scoffs, “People think that I plan my outfits according to where I choose to carry out a photo-shoot. To be completely honest, it is literally all the result of random drive-bys. If I choose to come back to a certain location, it’s simply because I’m in love with it, and see so much potential in what it could technically offer to enhance a canvas I have in mind.” This is where the challenge begins: creating magnificent photos where fashion effortlessly meets art by taking a familiar corner and making it unfamiliar. It is this skill of disengagement in Zeina’s physical art, which takes the viewer by surprise.
Zeina’s pictures almost seem studied and meticulously planned. Technically, she does stand in front of the camera and direct the photographer, any photographer, with an indelible knack for visualizing how an image will turn out. She prides herself in her ability to perceive a shot before it is taken. She adds, “It’s all a matter of my perception. When I see something, I tend to instantly visualize a final canvas in my head. Well, I’m always visualizing canvases in my head. Perhaps that is why I jump at the chance when I see a window of opportunity that captures what I have in my mind. A picture is finally complete when it is substantiated with words.”
According to Zeina, no post is complete without words. Not to purposely serve as an explanation, but to complete the final outcome she wishes to convey. This is how the mini stories began, we follow her through wondrous locations and search for more. Once she successfully portrays an emotion that instantly captivates the viewer, Zeina knows she’s at her final stages toward publishing a post.
Perhaps Zeina is taking us through her exploration of Alice in Wonderland. Although written by Lewis Carroll in 1865, society’s obsession with its imagery lives strongly in the present. What we fail to remember, however, is the powerful connection between words and imagery. Albeit, the captions to Zeina’s photos might make no sense to the viewer, but such is art—it is completely subjective. A hashtag like ‘Kuwait’ goes a long way to show her followers that such beauty does exist here and that we simply need to explore. She explains that many people fail to realize that she is styling a scene, rather than a look. Kuwait, after all, serves as her ‘wonder land.’ Generally, Zeina is not the subject of her photos. Her style might instantly beg the viewer to comment; yet her photos represent a collective piece, a full canvas in which she makes sure she blends in. Still, her online following grows due to her wardrobe choices, which either strike a tone of praise from her followers, or one that is of discontent.
Love her style, or hate it. Either way, Zeina isn’t fazed, and that’s why we admire her look. She’s effortless, no outfit changes are required and no filters necessary – wardrobe and personality-wise. She initially expressed her style explorations via her blog, Urban Ribbon, where Zeina’s tendency to not conform to what society dictates as ‘in’ or ‘out’ is expressed with no abandon. Rather than getting worked up about what people might think, she chooses to disengage, and adds, “It’s not about knowing about the latest trend, it’s about making what you see in fashion work for you. It is an invested personal interest in an item that makes you own it. It’s an attitude.” Since she doesn’t care to fall into a certain bracket of socially acceptable fashion-choices, and classifies her style as fashionably agnostic, she is embraced by a growing online following that is mystified by her androgynous style. Inspired by places, she chooses rebellion in beauty, “I won’t be forced to like something. I will be loyal to my country, yet I don’t care to agree with every fashionable trend. I am not a fashion enthusiast – I’m a street style enthusiast. Fashion and style are eternally different. I am not them – I am not the typical Kuwaiti fashionista. I do not get paid to represent a brand nor do I want to emulate a person who labels themselves as such.”
In looking to grow her work with co-founder of Label Zed, Khaled AlZawawi, she finds the perfect connection between physical art and street fashion. She adds excitedly, “We are both creative art directors in that sense. We offer our clients an all-encompassing solution when it comes to creative fashion shoots.” As for future plans, Zeina is very excited about developing a business that delivers a reinvented version of the classic thrift store. Because she’s in love with the seventies era in Kuwait, Zeina is looking to develop a concept that is feasible and at the same time extremely detached from commercialism. She leaves us with her squeaky imitation of a segment of society she doesn’t wish to represent, “I see myself as a business owner of my own boutique.” Zeina laughingly concludes, “That’s how they all sound to me, and I will never be that.”
What do you most value in your friends?
Their diversity and acceptance. Over the last few years I have managed to surround myself with the most honest and culturally open group of friends anyone would’ve asked for. I value the strength in their openness and their abilities to being true to themselves in any given situation.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To have pizza from places all over the world without ever gaining weight… ever.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is running out of the time to achieve what I want in life.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My anger. I admit to having a bit of a temper here and there.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Blind judgment; It irritates me a lot when people judge others for things that go against the general taste and aren’t necessarily wrong or right. Also, the need for strangers to state their opinions on matters that do not concern them makes my blood boil. (Oddly, it’s impossible for people here to hold their tongues.)
What is your greatest extravagance?
I can never hold back on leather jackets, vintage shops/items (those are practically non-existent here) and precious stones rings (stacks upon stacks…upon some more stacks)
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Seriously” – I use it in every way possible. And “No.”
What is it that you most dislike?
Celebrity idolizations, shallow people and their materialistic concerns, when people limit me for my gender. (ie. “but you’re a girl”)
Which talent would you most like to have?
Playing the cello.
If you could have any job, what would it be?
I would be a professional ballerina.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
I have yet to formalize it.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Where would you most like to live?
Japan; aside from it being home to my all-time favorite animes/manga, their street fashion is hands down, killer.
What are your favorite words to live by?
Live and let live.