Since Jackie Kennedy vacated the position of “First Lady of Vogue” in the late 60s, the fashion world has been anxiously looking for a replacement. While Michele Obama made a great candidate with her support for new American designers, she is not stereotypical beautiful; a tall African-american woman of broad shoulders, thick proportions and toned arms, she is a far cry from her fashion counterpart, Naomi Campbell.
Asma al-Assad, photographed by James Nachtwey for the article A Rose in the Desert, in Vogue magazine, March 2011 edition. [Source: presidentassad.net]
Enter Asma al-Assad. The mysterious First Lady of Syria is “…glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement”, or to sum it up: tall, skinny and blonde. She is intelligent, speaks at least 3 languages fluently. Her features remind you of an older Helena Christensen. The one catch: much like Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, she would not pose for pictures or give interviews to anyone.
The Atlantic does a great job of explaining what comes next:
November and December of 2010 were busy months for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. He rebuffed international nuclear inspectors, rejected U.S. attempts at diplomatic engagement, stretched out peace talks with Israel (Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman accused him of undermining peace, calling Syria “the center of world terror”), ducked fallout from WikiLeaks revelations that he had attempted to arm Hezbollah with Scud missiles, and celebrated his tenth anniversary with first lady Asma al-Assad, whom he married only a few months after succeeding his father’s 30-year rule and who herself spent those two final months of 2010 hosting a reporter from Vogue magazine, which on Friday published a glowing profile of her.
In November and December 2010, Vogue thinks it has landed the interview of the decade. Perhaps they have finally found an elegant figure that is more suitable to Vogue than that of Mrs. Obama’s.
Perhaps it did not occur to Ms. Joan Juliet Buck - the writer of that flattering Vogue piece entitled A Rose in the Desert, whose excerpt you read above- to pick up a newspaper or turn on Al-Jazeera in her hotel room so she could watch the Arab Spring uprising in Tunisia that same December 2010.
If you muscle through the 3,000-word opus to Mrs. al-Assad, there is no mention of the fact that the al-Assad family has ruled Syria for 40 years and 2 generations, or how Damascus is now a hub for terrorists from Hamas, Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad. Instead, you will read that “Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors”. Apparently actively spying on domestic and foreign civilians is commendable in the house of Wintour.
Buck (…) proceeded to have some very deep thoughts about Syria. For example: “Syria. The name itself sounded sinister, like syringe, or hiss.” (The horrific quote has already spawned a hilarious Twitter hashtag, #countriesbyvoguewriters. A favorite: “Czech Republic. The name itself sounded like what I should have done before writing that Vogue article.”)
But Ms. Buck goes further. After procuring time with Bashar al-Assad (a journalist’s dream!), the only politics she makes mention of is how they decide whether to order pizza or buy a new puppy. “The household is run on wildly democratic principles. ‘We all vote on what we want, and where,’ [Asma] says”. If only the Syrian people could say the same.
Asma al-Assad, her husband Bashar al-Assad and two of her children, photographed by James Nachtwey for the article A Rose in the Desert, in Vogue magazine, March 2011 edition. [Source: presidentassad.net]
It’s not only odd and embarrassing that Ms. Buck did not do her research before submitting her piece to Vogue; there is also a lesson in this for all of us: not all fashion icons are created equal, but all dictator wives are obsessed with shoes.
From the Guardian:
Some of Asma al-Assad’s prospective purchases arouse polite comment from her friends. On 3 February 2012, she was browsing the internet for luxury shoes, according to an email titled “Christian Louboutin shoes coming shortly”. She wrote to friends sharing details of new shoes on offer, including a pair of crystal-encrusted 16cm high heels costing £3,795. She asked: “Does anything catch your eye – these pieces are not made for general public.” One friend replied dryly: “I don’t think they’re going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately.”
Since the Syrian uprising began on March 2011, it is estimated that 16,000 people have been killed. But as the innocent perished, Asma al-Assad fought stress much like the average American soccer mom: she went on a shopping spree. She furnished her coastal
home palace, which offers breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, with more than 130 items priced at at a grand total of £270,000 (approximately US$ 430,000), custom ordered from the United Kingdom.
Again, the Atlantic provides context for perhaps the most startling portion of Vogue’s March article:
Much of Vogue’s article appears to familiarize the Assads in small but persistent ways; it notes, for example, Bashar’s “startling” electoral victories but not that he was the only candidate. It lists one detail after another portraying Bashar and Asma al-Assad as fun, glamorous, American-style celebrities: trips to the Louvre, a story about the couple joking with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Asma’s effort to give Syria a “brand essence,” the fact that all three Assad children “go to a Montessori school,” and countless references to Christianity. Though the Bashars are Muslim, like nine out of ten Syrians, the article meticulously associates them with Christianity, detailing their Christmas tree, their love of Christmas music, Asma’s visit to a Catholic orphanage, and a Christian children’s concert that is said to bring the audience to tears. The article ends with Bashar ringing a Christmas bell, declaring, “This is how you can have peace!”
Ms. Buck tells Newsweek she was “duped” into writing such a glowing review of Asma al-Assad. Doubtful, as from Vogue’s own admission, the piece was a whopping full year in the making. Most likely, the “flash of red soles” was enough to blind her to Mrs. al-Assad’s disregard for the Syrian people.
I think Ms. Buck finally understands what it’s like to be a fashion victim.