Iman Hariri-Kia’s Debut Novel Centers Fashion Media’s Digital Awakening - Upsmag - Magazine News

Iman Hariri-Kia’s Debut Novel Centers Fashion Media’s Digital Awakening

“I read a lot of Teen Vogue when I was younger,” Iman Hariri-Kia says over Zoom, clad in a deep fuchsia blazer the same color as the cover of her debut novel, A Hundred Other Girls, which came out last week. Sitting at the dining table of her fifth-floor walk-up on New York City’s Lower East Side, she touches the gold nameplate necklace around her neck while speaking. “At the time, it was a lot more aspirational than relatable for me. It showed all these thin, white, upper-class women, who were not necessarily direct reflections of myself.”

Born and raised in New York City to Iranian parents, Hariri-Kia attended a private school in Manhattan, where she felt like “a fish out of water.” The author, editor, and writer experienced racism at a young age, and as a result, felt frustrated with her honey-toned skin and naturally thick body hair. Books and writing became a way for her to momentarily escape her circumstances, and find her own space in a world where she did not exactly fit in.

It’s a similar story for Noora, the starring protagonist of Hariri-Kia’s novel. A witty blogger in New York City, Noora lands a job at Vinyl Magazine, her dream publication, as an assistant to the iconic, diva-like editor in chief, Loretta James. Noora’s dream soon turns into a nightmare when she’s pitted in the center of a turf war between the print and digital teams, and finds herself dealing with tokenization as a writer of Middle Eastern descent, expected to purge her trauma in articles for clicks and likes.

The cover of Iman Hariri-Kia’s debut novel, A Hundred Other Girls.

Courtesy of the author

Inspired by her own experience working in media—Hariri-Kia was once an entry-level assistant at Teen Vogue—A Hundred Other Girls heavily pulls from the publication’s digitization and political shift toward covering more social justice topics in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election win. “Ultimately, this was the beginning of the digital media boom, young people were writing and editing for the site, and the print magazine folded at what a lot of people would see as the height of its popularity,” Hariri-Kia recalls. “Watching the ways in which decisions were made behind the scenes, it was the first time I thought to myself that this is the right [material] for fiction.”

Throughout the novel, Noora struggles to navigate her way in a media landscape in which she is misunderstood and exoticized, but still remains hungry to write and share the stories of marginalized people without losing her integrity as a journalist. Hariri-Kia describes many parts of the book as “autofiction.” But “with that said, I definitely fictionalized everything. I am not as brave, messy and salacious as Noora,” she adds with a laugh.

While pain, exploitation, and long working hours tend to flicker behind the surreal glamour of a career in fashion, Hariri-Kia’s characters use their everyday outfits to express their identity. Noora attends her job interview in a tie-dyed “slinky dress” she thrifted from Beacon’s Closet; Saffron, a nonbinary editor from the Midwest, sports overalls with cowboy boots and an arm covered with tattoos; and Leila, Noora’s ultrafeminine older sister, likes wearing curve-hugging dresses and sexy jumpsuits reminiscent of Donna Summer or the Iranian pop star Googoosh.

“I wanted to dress all my characters fabulously, and I wanted to show that people from different backgrounds are often the tastemakers in the room,” Hariri-Kia says. The debut novelist sits with W to discuss her own wardrobe, favorite designers, and how to use fashion as a way to “fake it till you make it.”

Photograph by Louisiana Mei Gelpi

the author iman hariri kia

What were you wearing yesterday, and why did you wear it?

I’ve gotten this suit from Frankie Shop that matches my book cover. Yesterday, I wore it with basketball shorts and a vintage Prada bustier shirt, and little heels. I felt like the coolest person in the world.

Who is your ultimate style icon?

Probably my mother, Gisue Hariri. She’s an architect, and when I was younger, I was embarrassed by the way she dressed. Her outfits were so structural and she always liked being the loudest dresser in a room. She stressed to me that clothing should be a living, breathing organism, and I should think about the way clothes and fabric move, not just the way they look. That definitely influenced me—I’ve always thought about playing with shape and texture and movement more so than just color and cut.

How would you describe your personal style?

Eclectic and vibrant. I’m influenced by a mix of the East and the West, so I’m interested in including calligraphy [in my wardrobe], wearing clothes and accessories created by Middle Eastern designers, and making sure that every time I leave the house, I try to signal something about myself that maybe I can’t tell everyone I pass on the sidewalk.

How did you go about styling your characters’ closets?

This book renders a lot of comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada, which was focused on high-end labels and haute couture: the world of print fashion. In contrast, my book is more so about the awakening of digital media, and the rift between the old guard and the new guard. I wanted to capture the new generation’s style, which is inclusive, a mix of secondhand and high-end labels, and intent on upcycling different pieces. So for example, Noora’s best friend at work, Saffron, has this really cool Brooklyn style to them, while Noora’s older sister, Leila, is always in a bright power suit.

Photograph by Louisiana Mei Gelpi

the author iman hariri kia

What do you think is the significance of owning femininity and sex appeal in fashion?

For me, it comes down to, how does dressing and owning your sexuality make you feel? Do you feel safe and beautiful? Do you feel the closest to yourself when you dress to highlight your inner Venus? It’s a subjective choice, and I don’t think there’s any right way to own your sexuality and be a “good feminist.” Leila perfectly embodies someone whose inner person is sexy, confident, and provocative. She’s dressing that way because it makes her feel in control and limitless.

Who are some of your favorite Middle Eastern designers?

I love Melody Ehsani. I always wanted to get her cherry earrings at her shop on Kenmare Street in New York, but it closed during the pandemic, so I didn’t get the chance. Dorian Who, a Canada-based designer, is fantastic—the way she builds her pieces is really artistic. I also love Zarin Nasr, an Iranian calligraphist designer who does silk printing by hand on different caftans and robes, and Maryam Nassir Zadeh is one of my favorite designers as well. I’ve been wearing her silver sandals a lot this summer.

What was the last thing you purchased?

I just got a pair of vintage Prada workplace heels. They’re satin and patterned and multitextured, and they remind me of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” The heel is small, so I’ll actually be able to walk in them.

I think sometimes, when you’re experiencing impostor syndrome and navigating new environments—whether you’re the youngest in the room or the only woman of color—it’s nice to wear something that gives you a little boost of confidence. It helps you fake it till you make it.

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