bal harbour blog

Ubah Hassan

Q&A

Ubah Hassan, the Somalian model who counts no less than Ralph Lauren, Steven Meisel and Bruce Weber among her fans, considers herself one of the luckiest models in the world. Between trips to Marrakesh and Paris, we caught up with Ubah to discuss the challenges that still exist for black models, her favorite New York neighborhoods and what she's wearing this Fall. — Tali Jaffe

BH MAGAZINE: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
I was born in Somalia, but I moved to Canada when I was 10 and then to New York just three years ago.

What do you most miss about your home in Somalia?
The beautiful weather.

Now that you’ve spent some time living in New York, do you have a favorite neighborhood there?
It is very hard to pick; I love different neighborhoods for different reasons. If I want to shop I go to the West Village or SoHo, for restaurants I go to Tribeca, for brunch and vintage shopping I go to the East Village, and when I want to relax I go to the Upper West side.

Your name is quite beautiful. What does it mean?
My name means Flower in Somali. It is spelled with an “x” instead of an “h” at the end; in Somali the “x” is silent.

You must travel a lot for work. Does one destination stand out as your favorite you’ve had the opportunity to visit?
I'm blessed to have a career that takes me all over the world. But we are usually in and out in 72 hours or less, so you don't really get the full effect of the destination. But if I have to say which country stands out in my mind, it would be Morocco. I loved everything about it: the food, the shopping, the gardens, the people. It’s an amazing place.

Is there a photographer you especially enjoy working with? Is there one you'd love to get in front of?
I have been very lucky to work with Bruce Weber. I think he’s the most amazing photographer and I would love to work with him again.

You had a major moment with Ralph Lauren in 2008, first closing his spring show and then becoming one of the faces of the brand. Tell us about those experiences.

I'm one of the luckiest models alive to work with Ralph and his team is like winning an Oscar. Everyone knows his talent, but when you meet him and work with him, you get to see how wonderful he truly is. He is calm and full of self-awareness. I loved every moment of it.

You’ve been one of several models who have been vocal about the challenges black models face in the industry, namely the lack of representation on the runways. Have you seen any progress since you’ve entered the industry?
In April of last year I had an interview with Iman and we talked about this very issue. Initially, I never thought there were problems. I just thought I was new in the industry and I had to work extra hard. I do think some progress has been made, but it’s a slow process.

Fashion is fun, but it’s also about forward thinking. So when they don't hire colored models, to me it means that the industry is not as forward or creative as it should be. There are a number of people pushing this issue with their clients and making major inroads, like [former model, agent and current editor-at-large of Vogue Italia] Bethann Hardison, casting agents, like John Pfeiffer, Jennifer Starr and James Scully and Vogue’s Andre Leon Talley, to name but a few.

In 2008 you were featured in the buzzed-about all-black issue of Italian Vogue. What kind of response did you receive from the issue?
It changed my career I will forever be grateful to Steven Meisel for casting me.

Are you involved in any charity work?
I’m involved with a few charities. I work with FEED Bags (feedprojects.com) and did a PSA for them, and I’ve done work with Women ONE2ONE, a great organization that helps women living in extremely impoverished countries.

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I love to cook, so I might have a dinner party. Or maybe spend the day at a Korean spa or Turkish baths.

Where are some of your favorite shopping destinations?
Has to be Paris, I love shopping in Paris.

Is there one look for fall you’re most excited to wear?
My new Rick Owens leather jacket and Lucky Brand boots.

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