RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Mariah Idrissi didn't know she'd be the talk of Britain when she appeared in an ad for the fashion giant HandM. It was a big deal because the British model wears a hijab, the head covering that some Muslim women wear to conceal their hair. She's one of the hijab-wearing fashionistas who hopes more people will accept Muslim culture as a vital part of the British mainstream. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Mariah Idrissi shows up for our interview in an Erykah Badu-style turban, a loose-fitting pinstriped shirt and Jordans. She completes the outfit with a tiny nose ring, and she gushes about her recent modeling stint.
MARIAH IDRISSI: It's - I mean, it was amazing. I didn't expect it to get this big, to be honest. I thought I was only - going to show me for about two or three seconds. No one would really notice. But now it's gone, like, viral. So - yeah, it's really incredible.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Wear socks and sandals. Look fake. Look chic. Look sheikh.
FADEL: The ad featured old and young models, people of different ethnic backgrounds and one man with a prosthetic leg.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There are no rules in fashion.
FADEL: Now 23-year-old Idrissi is becoming a symbol for fashionable, young Western Muslim women who opt to cover their hair. British Muslims hope it's a sign they're being accepted as part of the tapestry of British society. Idrissi, a petite woman who's ethnically Pakistani and Moroccan, isn't a full-time model. She runs a salon with her cousins and specializes in henna tattoos.
IDRISSI: I think it's become such a big thing because I've kind of broken that barrier between Islamic fashion and mainstream fashion.
FADEL: And she's not the only Muslim face who has burst into mainstream popularity in Britain. A British baker named Nadiya Jamir Hussain is a favorite on a competitive cooking show called "The Great British Bake Off." Iman Abou Atta oversees a project that tracks anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain. There are a growing number of attacks on Muslims, and a majority of victims are women.
IMAN ABOU ATTA: Sixty percent of the victims are women and are usually women who wear the hijab, so who've got an identifiable dress code that says that they're Muslim.
FADEL: Abou Atta says she hopes the HandM ad will help people accept that Muslims are part of Britain's diverse society.
ATTA: It will attract so much of the young generation, the young Muslim girls that feel now empowered in a way that their veil is not a problem and it is part of the mainstream. It's part of the identity and culture of London.
FADEL: As for the model Idrissi? Well, she never really thought her appearance would be groundbreaking. She follows popular hijabi fashion bloggers online. And she's never personally dealt with prejudice in London.
IDRISSI: I've never had any odd looks, nothing. I will say I'm quite thick-skinned. I wouldn't notice, I don't think, anyway (laughter).
FADEL: She even jokes about her appearance when she is singled out, like on a recent trip to Berlin.
IDRISSI: They did stop me to see, like, what was in my turban. And I told them - I was like, don't worry, there's no grenades. It's just a clip (laughter).
FADEL: Idrissi says not everyone's used to seeing a woman in a scarf, so why not joke about it and explain rather than get angry. Leila Fadel, NPR News, London.
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