Men’s style is in a rare era of influence right now, and it’s one that’s being embraced globally. Case in point: Palestinian-Canadian Insta-star Leena Alghouti.
With a relaxed and effortless sophistication that’s all her own – and a penchant for menswear – it’s safe to say that 27-year-old Alghouti is leading the way, building a fashion narrative that’s constantly nuanced and swerving away from tired clichés.
Blazer, t-shirt, trousers, prices on request, Burberry
Although hijabi women have finally been more visible in the fashion industry over the last few seasons – with models such as Halima Aden, Ikram Abdi Omar and Feriel Moulaï appearing on catwalks – Muslim women are still often wrongfully represented in media and fashion. Because of a percieved impression that they are identical and should embrace a one-dimensional approach to modesty, what they decide to wear is often a source of debate.
With her ever-evolving closet, Alghouti isn’t afraid to represent herself on her own terms. She totally adheres to a fluid conception of hijab, while also blurring fashion’s rules of gender. Subverting fetishisation with her unapologetic sense of style, she has been able – through fashion – to express her multifaceted identity. And as her Instagram account shows 273k followers, it’s clear that her influence is far-reaching.
Clifton steel leather watch, $2970, Baume & Mercier. Blazer, $1640, trousers, $820, Valentino. Sweater, price on request, Kenzo. Heels, Leena’s own
Your approach to style seems so innate. Have you always been into fashion?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been into fashion and liked playing with it. I was the odd one, experimenting with weird styles. I always looked different to others. I even had an emo-gothic phase and then, I went for the total girly look. Funnily enough, the darkness in me is coming out again as I’m getting older. My love for fashion actually intensified when I went to university to study graphic design, as I was so thirsty for creativity.
If you could swap wardrobes with anybody, who would you choose?
Probably Reese Blutstein (@double3xposure). I love her 1980’s-inspired nostalgic vintage aesthetics. It reminds me of how my mother used to dress.
Blazer, turtleneck, belt, trousers, prices on request, Bottega Veneta
Classima steel watch, $1825, Baume & Mercier. Blazer, $1000, trousers, $305, Kenzo. Shirt, $690, Valentino
What is your biggest fashion obsession?
Oversize clothes! I love them so much. They’re comfortable, and you can have fun styling them in different ways precisely because there is a lot of fabric to play with.
Your elegance seems so unforced. Why is comfort key?
I need to feel casual 24/7. It’s important for me to show people that you can look super stylish and polished while being comfortable. I don’t agree with the saying, “beauty is pain”. How is that fair? The first thing I think of, before even picking my outfit, is comfort. That’s probably why I give out this effortless vibe. Although to be honest, it actually takes me a lot of time to find the balance between style and practicality.
Is this how the idea of wearing a men’s Dior suit to a party comes about?
I didn’t want to wear a dress because I’m extremely picky with dresses. It has to be perfect; otherwise I don’t wear it. Thing is, I knew everybody was going to wear chic gowns; but with a hijab, gowns are tricky. So that’s how I thought about the suit. I was a bit worried but I felt so amazing at the party. It was one of my best moments because I felt so comfortable with myself.
Jacket, shirt, belt, trousers, prices on request, Saint Laurent
By experimenting with fashion while wearing a hijab, you are defying norms. Why is it interesting for you to play with different references?
I don’t believe in constructed gender roles, these are just clothes at the end of the day. It’s not because society has decided that some things are for a female and some others are for a male that I can’t wear menswear. It doesn’t make sense to me and I want to challenge that gendered conception of fashion. I love buying men’s clothes because it’s where I usually find what I like: oversized, comfortable, dark pieces. It makes me feel more confident and I enjoy styling the clothes in a more feminine way. I think people should explore a lot more, be more daring and think outside the box. It’s all about personalising your outfit. It doesn’t have to be menswear if you don’t want it to be menswear; it’s up to you to make it you. Obviously, our society is more rigid, but I think we’re progressing and people are opening up their minds.
You love taking style risks, right?
Funnily enough, this hasn’t always been the case. But if you want to know who you are and find out what is your inner style and personality, you must. You won’t know until you tried it. I see fashion as an experience and if I had not been experimental, I would have not found my true self.
Is fashion a tool for reclaiming your narrative?
Of course, I’m obviously challenging misconceptions people might have of Muslim women. But thinking about it, I don’t want to reduce my story to a response to Western stereotypes. I just want to be me and be free. Having said that, I totally feel in control of my narrative. It celebrates the notion that identities are plural. I am nobody to say that there is a right way or a wrong way to wear the hijab; there’s just your way.
I just want to be me and be free... I totally feel in control of my narrative. It celebrates the notion that identities are plural.
Is fashion truly becoming more inclusive?
You still find people who believe in archaic rules but social media disrupted everything. We’re seeing more diverse personalities emerging with their own definitions of style and beauty. We’ve seen campaigns and magazine covers championing diversity. It’s great to see brands working with so many different people and finally challenging the status quo. I’m sure this is something that will only get better.
How do you hope to make the most out of your work and influence?
The more my following grows, the more responsibilities I have. I know many young girls follow me and I need to make sure to always be the best version of myself on social media. I definitely want to be a role model, yet without dictating how people should be. The message I want to spread is that they don’t need to fit a standard. Don’t try to look like others, believe in you and be unique.
Photography: Prod Antzoulis
Styling: Keanoush Zargham
Production: Amira El Raghy
Fashion assistant: Mohamed Elashy