Meet Fashion's Freshest Face: Fatima Elsheikh
The rising model discusses being scouted, industry inspirations, and more.
The rising model discusses being scouted, industry inspirations, and more.
Photography: Alexander Cody Nguyen
Styling: Brandon Tan
Text: Bailey Bujnosek
“It’s insane,” Fatima Elsheikh says on her Zoom call with V, leaning against the wall of her childhood bedroom in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Her description is no hyperbole—“insane” is the best way to describe the whirlwind last few months of the nineteen-year-old’s life. After being scouted on Instagram by her mother agent in February of this year, Elsheikh went from writing research papers and taking economics exams to doing photo shoots and attending castings in fashion hotspots like Berlin, Germany. More recently, she signed to major agency Elite’s NY board. Like the rest of her fairytale-esque journey to becoming a model, it’s something she probably wouldn’t believe could happen if it hadn’t happened to her.
The rising model is still waiting for the reality of her new career to sink in. She recalls that when she first went to take digitals, “[My parents] were honestly more excited than me, funnily enough.” Though she’d been told for years that she should model—especially after going through a growth spurt in high school—Elsheikh could never envision herself appearing in the pages of her favorite fashion magazines. Of course, signing with two agencies and being requested for castings around the globe have helped ease her doubts about whether or not she can cut it in the modeling industry. Another thing that’s helped: having a positive mindset. “Remaining grounded and grateful for every opportunity I get makes everything fun and exciting for me,” Elsheikh shares.
With an effortlessly cool look and a down-to-earth personality that shines throughout our conversation, it’s clear Elsheikh is poised to take the world of fashion by storm. Below, Elsheikh talks about being scouted via DM, the fashion industry icons that inspire her, and how she likes to spend her time off the runway.
V Magazine: Where are you from? Would you say your upbringing and where you’re from shaped your view on fashion and modeling?
Fatima Elsheikh: I was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut for my entire life, but my parents are Sudanese. They immigrated to the States in the early nineties. Growing up first-generation Sudanese-American has definitely influenced my choices of fashion and view of modeling, just because it’s kind of like trying to be two cultures my entire life. It’s a culmination of those different worlds I’m a part of.
V: Did you always know early on that you wanted to pursue a career in fashion? Was that something you were thinking about, or did it not become a consideration until later on?
FE: I only saw modeling or being into fashion depicted in the shows I watched. I grew up with mainly brothers, and my parents were just not into any of that. They’re practical and just trying to get by. So, that didn’t cross my mind. It wasn’t until I was in high school and I grew a lot, where a lot began to tell me everywhere, “You should model.” It just seemed so far-fetched to me that I never even thought about it until I was scouted.
V: That’s a story that I’d love to hear, as far as how you were scouted and what that moment was like for you.
FE: Yes. It was pretty recent. I was scouted on Instagram, which is so 2021. I got a DM randomly back in late February of this year, from my mother agent [Ricky Michiels]. I’d come across his account before, just because he’s so popular in that world, and I had some mutuals—that’s probably why I came across it. But, I was working on a research paper and scrolling through my phone when I saw his DM. I thought he was a bot. When I opened it, I was like, there’s no way this is meant for me. But I got on a Facetime call and I got a contract with my mother agent Ricky.
V: You said you were writing a research paper. Were you attending university?
FE: Yes. I was doing Zoom classes for half a year in my childhood bedroom, because of the pandemic and everything being shut down. I was in this weird period where it wasn’t fun anymore. Just the same routine over and over again. I remember in the weeks leading up to [the scouting] I was hoping for something to happen. I don’t know what I was hoping for. It was so surreal for me. I went downstairs and showed my family the DM, and everyone was kind of in shock. That was crazy. Every time I think about it, I’m like, how did that even happen? Because I had, like, seven hundred followers on Instagram, and most of them were from high school and college. It was pure luck for me.
V: What were you studying?
FE: I was studying International Relations, and I was also studying the Arabic language. Right now, I’m planning to go back to school in the Fall, but it’s still kind of up in the air for me right now.
V: What was your family’s reaction when you told them you were pursuing modeling? Were they initially supportive of it, or were they more reluctant—feeling like it was a pipe-dream?
FE: Every time I’d go out with my parents, someone would stop me and ask me if I modeled. I always said no, and [my parents] always encouraged me to pursue that to a certain degree. But like I said, I never thought it was for me for some reason. I didn’t think it was going to happen. But they always were very supportive of it, and when I did get offered the chance to do it, they immediately were so encouraging. They kind of were the ones that dragged me out to take my digitals. They were honestly more excited than me, funnily enough.
V: That’s awesome!
FE: Yeah, I’m super grateful, honestly.
V: Even though you’re very early in your career, as a model of color, what has been your experience in this industry? Do you feel like there’s been any change or growth in the short time since you started out?
FE: I’ve always been aware of the horror stories. Models of color, specifically Black models, not being treated to the same standard as others. I was nervous, to say the least, but so far I’m really lucky. I haven’t experienced any of it. Every person I’ve worked with or come across has been super kind and welcoming towards me, and makes me feel appreciated. I was expecting for someone to be like, “You need to change your hair.” But no one has ever tried to alter me to any degree. Whenever I’m on shoots, it’s always been having the correct makeup shades and all that stuff. Basic things like that which a lot of people don’t get. For me, the things I was scared about haven’t happened, and I can only hope that that says a lot about how much the industry has grown. But I definitely think there’s always room for improvement, because I don’t think that everyone has the same experience as me.
V: What was the journey to signing with Elite?
FE: I signed with my mother agent back in late February. It was the best agent I could ever ask for, and I was grateful to have that. Around the end of May, I get a text from my agent. He told me the scouting agents at Elite have been wanting to meet me since April or so, since he posted me on his Instagram. He thought now was the perfect time to introduce me. At the beginning of June, I went to New York for a meeting with them and at the end of the day they offered me a contract. That was insane, because I was super happy and grateful just to have a mother agent. I never thought about signing with a bigger agency anytime soon. To have that happen so fast, I don’t know—all the doubts I had about myself seemed weird to think about, because people were interested in me, and I wasn’t used to that.
V: Obviously you’re a fresh face in the industry, but with that in mind, is there any advice you’d offer to new models that are just getting their start?
FE: The biggest thing, I think, is not to overthink it. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of it, and try to focus on getting big and getting out there. You’re putting so much pressure on yourself, which only hurts you in the end. For me, not taking myself too seriously and just enjoying and living in the moment is the best thing to do. I think that’s when everything starts to fall into place as it’s meant to be. Remaining grounded and grateful for every opportunity I get makes everything fun and exciting for me.
V: That’s great. Speaking of the opportunities you’ve had, what has been your favorite moment in your career thus far?
FE: Literally, like, a month after signing with my mother agent, I did two test shoots—which you need to start your book a little, to have something on the website for clients to see. I get a call after taking my economics exam one morning, and my agent is saying that this very big client wants me to be in a runway show for them. I was like, what? And he told me, “I need you to get a video of you walking and send it over to me.” I’d never done a runway walk. I could barely walk in heels. So, I immediately closed everything, got ready, and had my little sister take the video. I sent it to [my agent] and a couple of days later, I was being flown out to Berlin for a casting. It was my first ever casting, which was so surreal, because at the same time that I was doing schoolwork and writing papers, I was part of this other world: in a hotel in Germany, by myself, having everything ready for me. It was insane.
V: Had you traveled abroad by yourself before?
FE: That was my first time traveling abroad by myself, and my first time in Europe—let alone Germany. It was crazy for me.
V: Who are your heroes and inspirations in the world of fashion? And what influences your personal style?
FE: A lot of my inspiration comes from the nineties, the early two-thousands. Within the industry, I think, a lot of the icons: Iman, Naomi Campbell—those people I’ve always seen. I think for a lot of young Black girls, those two are so graceful and beautiful in everything they do, so they’re definitely my big fashion industry icons. As far as my style, I just love movies. I love watching movies from the nineties and early two-thousands for style inspo, then going to the thrift store to find things that are cute and emulating that vibe.
V: Is there a specific wardrobe staple or piece of clothing that you feel like you couldn’t live without?
FE: A good pair of straight-leg jeans and any kind of top is always what I’m wearing. I’ve been really into platform shoes and sandals. Those are my staple. As well as jewelry. I’m always wearing jewelry, layered.
V: What’s the best advice that you’ve received since you entered the industry, and who gave it to you?
FE: At my first meeting with my mother agent Ricky, he was saying how you should always have fun with everything you do. That way, you’re enjoying the moment. I always kept that in mind. When I met up with my agents at Elite, I heard that again. It’s been something that’s reoccurring, and I always remind myself whenever I have doubts and I’m just thinking about it too much. Having fun is the best advice I’ve been given.
V: Outside of modeling, how do you like to spend your free time?
FE: I live in Connecticut and I come from a big family, so I’m always with my siblings. We’re either going thrifting or looking at antique or vintage stores, or going and finding new nature spots around here—the best hiking trails, lakes, beaches. Just being in nature is how we spend our time out here.