As a photographer with over 700,000 followers on Instagram, Isabel Martinez is as influential as influencers get. This week, she decided to use her platform to make a statement, releasing the short film “I Am Syrian,” which features top models like Molly Bair, Lineisy Montero, Soo Joo Park, and Hanne Gaby Odiele backstage at Fashion Week. Here, Martinez take us behind the scenes.
Why did you make this video? When I saw that image of the tiny body of an innocent Syrian baby, I was heartbroken like many others. These photos opened the world’s eye to this humanitarian tragedy and to the worst refugees crisis since World War II. A few weeks later, a teacher at the Communication University of Barcelona made a video with some advertising industry professionals in Spain supporting Syria, just saying “I am Syrian.” They reached out to me, but I was in New York at the time for fashion week, and about to go to Paris. It inspired me to make the short film “I Am Syrian” while I was at Paris Fashion Week. I thought that it would be a great way to make people from the fashion industry aware of this humanitarian crisis.
How did you film it during fashion week? Sometimes during fashion week there is downtime. Backstage, models are waiting for their beauty looks, trying on the clothes or walking in a rehearsal, but they are also checking their emails, iPhones, reading, and waiting. I took advantage of these moments.
How did you ask the models to participate? In a very spontaneous way. I introduce myself as IsabelitaVirtual on Instagram. I asked them if they know the conflict in Syria, and while most of them knew about it, they didn’t know the details.
Which models were interested in being in the video? This is the most incredible part. Almost all of them were interested in being in the video, there were just some of them that couldn’t. (Even the ones that said no like Gigi Hadid or Jamie Bouchert were open to listen—Bouchert even congratulated me for the initiative). It was definitely an unusual backstage request!
When I asked the model Nykhor she said yes, and immediately began to cry she was so excited. I didn’t know that she uses the hashtag #refugeegirl on Instagram. She told me that she was trying to raise public awareness of the problems in Sudan and that the fashion industry is supporting her.
I remembered Vivienne Westwood in her last show defending climate revolution. She is an activist of social causes, so I asked her if she wanted to participate. She was open to do it after the show, but then it got hectic and backstage was full of celebrities and I lost the chance.
What are your goals with the video? Fashion is about dreams and about people. The fashion industry is very powerful, but in general is accused of being frivolous and superficial. The truth is that there are a lot of people in fashion who are not just thinking of themselves. These models wanted to participate supporting others who also have dreams to reach. We all should support people who are victims a war. I think it is part of the responsibility of people who are in fashion not just to use their image for a brand or promoting themselves posting selfies on Instagram. These models did it not for money, just for doing something good for others. It’s a great little gesture.