Zoe Helali

Zoe Helali in Conversation with Magazine by Runway Gallery

Magazine met the muse who captures the allure of the 20s, and its an era we never want to leave.

These roaring 20s may look slightly different from the ones Fitzgerald promised, but that doesn’t stop Zoe Helali thriving in her own golden age. The vintage aura of the Berlin-based model has charmed Vivienne Westwood, Guido Maria Kretschmer and Giorgio Armani with her distinctive visage; however, there is more to Helali’s talents than what meets the camera lens. 

While Miss Helali may have established herself on the Kurfürstendamm, she has her sights set firmly on Museum Island, as when the model is not gracing the pages of Vogue, she is painting in her studio, in the heart of the German capital. Zoe transported Magazine into her sparkling era, (minus the whiskey cocktails, unfortunately) and reignited our hope for the decade with her love for the Jazz Age aesthetic. 

Zoe Helali, let’s begin by telling us how the 20s influenced your style. 

It was the time of glamour, freedom and independent and strong women. It was also the era of elegance, like Coco Chanel, and it was the start of a beautiful mix between masculine and feminine style, like Marlene Dietrich.

But what about the 2020s? What are your plans for the decade, and are you excited to see the golden 20s play out over the coming years? 

Yes, I am very excited to see more themed parties around Berlin, along with more elements of the decade in art, fashion, and movies. The 20s will never end because we all are still too buttoned-up, and most of us have lost our childish fantasy. Over the decade, I plan to continue with my projects, as I did before. I also want to visit London more often to experience the local art and fashion scene. 

Speaking of Berlin, how does living in the capital nurture your creativity? 

Berlin is a magical and energetic place with a very multicultural scene, which has been my home since I arrived when I was 17. It’s full of so many facets: poor and rich, freedom of style, and a host of art and culture events taking place around the clock. For me, it is the centre of art and culture in Europe, as it was in the 20th Century. 

This means you have been a part of Berlin’s fashion industry since you were only 17. If you could give your teenage self some advice from what you know now, what would it be? 

Listen to experienced people. Stay true to your self, and don’t become an Instagram copycat. Work in jobs that fit your personality and allow you to feel good. Also, follow your gut-feeling. It’s a crazy business, so it’s essential to stay grounded.

On staying grounded, do you find that painting is a therapeutic activity you can use to escape from your career?

Yes, but not only from my modelling career. While painting, I reach a new kind of solitude and silence which is very relaxing. My thoughts are free to create the structure, form and colours. The canvas is my instrument, and I am playing the music. I love these moments. 

Similarly, most of your works include an element of nature, whether this is a flower or a butterfly. Do you find your paintings contrast the bustling atmosphere of Berlin? Is there a reason why you want to detach your work from the city?

Yes, somehow. I love the jungle because it’s wild, and I love nature which I don’t have in the city. I miss nature sometimes, the silence and pureness. I also admire butterflies with all their colours and beauty. I am connected to them with my feelings.

Which of your paintings has left the biggest impact while painting, and why?

Every painting tells a different story. However, Hermaphrodit auf Schachbrett is particularly special to me. It explores the masculine and feminine, the freedom of women, and LGBTQ+ boundaries in our society.

Hermaphrodit auf Schachbrett by Zoe Helali
Zoe Helali, let’s speak more about your career as a model. You once shared how modelling allows you to express your dreams, wishes and fears. Please expand on why you chose to describe your career in this way?

For me, modelling is not just about walking down a runway. Instead, it’s an opportunity to express the art of the fashion designer. My life is about dreams, wishes and fear. However, I am also using my fear to make my dreams come true and find new visions in my desires. 

Throughout your career, you have worked with Armani and Vivienne Westwood’s likes, but which collaboration has been the most memorable for you, and why?

While opening the Armani show, I acted like a Geisha, in order to match my outfit. It was a beautiful moment. I also found the opening of Guido Maria Kretschmer’s Pina Bausch show memorable. My performance at this show was also very emotional, as the music and the beauty of her ballet brought out many feelings. 

Many point out the similarities between yourself and Kate Moss, but which contemporary fashion figure are you most influenced by? 

No one, to be honest. The time of admiring beautiful supermodels has somehow passed, and I found my own style a long time ago.

Personally, I see the runway performance as both passion and art. As a model, I always try to put on a performance that tells a story, instead of simply showing the fashion. When I am dressed in haute couture pieces, I feel magical, like a piece of art on a stage. Fashion is passion. It is a magical art.

There are many artists, but I would have to say French Cowboy for sure. 

Are you as excited at the possibility of a Zoe Helali X French Cowboy collab as we are? If so, you can keep up to date with Zoe’s latest work visiting her website here, or follow her Instagram @zoehelali.

By Megan Slack– Contributing Editor at Magazine by Runway Gallery