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Cici Ali: Somalian Beauty

Since her discovery by scout master Elmer Olsen, Canadian model Cici Ali has brought her gorgeous brown eyes, killer legs, and most importantly diversity to catwalks around the world.

Hailing from Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto, she studied fashion at Humber College before deciding to pursue a full time modeling career. Today the 5’9 glamazon of Somalian descent, splits her time between Toronto and New York.

Much love and respect to Iman (the Queen of this). She deserves respect for being a game changer and putting the beauty of Somalis on the map. Although she has always said in comparison to typical Somali girls her looks were quite plain, she is quite beautiful and smart. For a long time she has been the ambassador representing what’s beautiful about Somalis to the world. I am glad other girls such as Yasmin W, Cici Ali, Ubah Hassan, Ayan Elmi are leading that torch today in the fashion world. She opened the door for all of them.

Cici Ali been spotted in fashion spreads for Sway, Glamour and Allure magazines, and she’s a fierce presence on some of the world’s most glamorous runways.

She has walked the catwalk for Attitude, 3.1 Philip Lim, Alexander Berardi, Andy and Debb, Brandon R. Dwye, Dennis Basso, Greta Constantine, Jason Wu, Joe Fresh, Keith Lissner, Lovas Wesley Badanjak, Paul Hardy, Pink Tartan, Ports 1961, Rebecca Taylor, Tracy Reese, Travis Taddeo, .Dimitri, Academy of Art University, Alexa Chung for Madewell, Arise African Fashion Collective, Behnaz Sarafpour, Christian Cota, Generra, Italian Designers Next Generation, Michalsky, No Ifs, Paul Smith, Penkov, Rachel Roy, Roksanda Ilincic, Sam Frenzel, Tory Burch, Twinkle by Wenlan, and Malandrino.

She also appeared in a campaign for Attitude.

She’s done editorial work for Flare (appearing also on the cover), Spade Magazine, and Vogue Italia.

Flare Magazine Germany

Cici is currently signed with Elmer Olson Model Management in Toronto, Modelwerk in Hamburg, and with Next Models in New York, London, Paris, and Milan. Ford didn’t do much for Cici, but she at least got a nice show list the seasons she was with them, ever since the move to Next all we’ve seen are catalog shots. I hope they aren’t going to market her as a solely catalog model, she has the potential to do so much more than that!

It’s a shame she never made a debut in Europe.

Arise Magazine African Collective Fall/Winter 2010

3.1 Philip Lim Spring/Summer 2010

Academy of Art

Arise Africa Spring/Summer 2010

Generra Fall/Winter 2010/2011

Tory Burch Fall/Winter 2010/2011

Rachel Roy Fall/Winter 2010/2011

Twinkle By Wenlan Fall 2010

Jason Wu Ready To Wear Spring/Summer 2010

Tracy Reese Spring/Summer 2010

Rebecca Taylor Spring/Summer 2010

NO IFS Fall/Winter 2010 Berlin

Greta Constantine Toronto Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2010

Elmer Olsen’s Cici Ali opening Paul Hardy

I adore Cici, her face is so engaging and magical. She translates very well in print and on the runway. Hopefully she does well next season and brings it up on the runway. I really want to see her do well.

Alexa Chung

I don’t understand why she wasn’t in Paris last season but I am keeping my fingers crossed for the next season. Her face is very classic and timeless – I can already see it working well with houses like Stella McCartney, Isabel Marant or Chloe – she just has a very easy to understand, accessible and natural beauty that would shine through wonderfully in clothes like that.

She has the kind of look that I think could do well in Paris. Imagine her in Lanvin – could be stunning!
She looks like Kerry Washington so much its scary..and her look screams…SCREAMS… make up campaign

Cici is featured in the Neiman Marcus February 2011 Essentials book, August Casual Book, and their “Ready Set Go” catalog. She’s featured in the Kate Spade Holiday 2010 ad campaign called “Mix and Mingle. And also modeling designs from Caroline Rose, Albert Nipon and more.

“Tribute to Black Beauties” Vogue Italia May 2011

New York is a fashion mecca for any aspiring model, but for Toronto native Cici Ali, hailing cabs en route to New York Fashion Week is all in a day’s work. Discovered at 14, Cici took a relaxed approach to modelling: She finished high school, and then studied fashion at Humber College before pursuing it full-time.

In May 2010 In between juggling castings for Glamour and Allure, Cici spoke with The Style Notebook about her Michelle Obama moment, her definition of Toronto style and her (refreshingly honest) thoughts on the size zero debate.

Were there any models you looked up to growing up?

“I was a tomboy, and I didn’t really read magazines growing up, but I remember Christy Turlington. I remember seeing her and being mesmerized by her natural beauty. She was the perfect essence of a model to me.”

Are there any models you look up to now ?

“It’s more their styling that I admire. Erin Wasson, I love—I like grungy, cool, DIY kind of girls.”

Is that how you would describe your personal style?

“I’m more laid-back, tomboyish with heels on. Lately, I tend to wear a boy’s V-neck with skinnies and high pumps. Maybe I’ll throw on a blazer or an old-school leather jacket. But I like to mix it up, I don’t think I have a definite style.”

What does “Toronto style” mean to you?

“There are so many different styles—it’s a city where everything goes. You have hipster style: people who keep it funky with funky patterns and different textures. Prep-posh styling, like big shoulders, big sunglasses, big purses—pretty much Yorkville! Then there’s downtown, which is like New York’s Lower East Side, with people wearing toques, T-shirts with holes in them, but which look kind of hot when paired with baggy pants.”

Who is your favourite designer?

“I really like Giambattista Valli. His clothes last forever—I wear it now and I will wear it in my 60s.”

Favourite place you’ve been?

“Definitely Beijing—we did a show for DTVI, which I wasn’t familiar with beforehand but it was a huge deal over there. It was amazing—they took us to the Great Wall and toured us around the countryside. One day we ate with farmers from the far west coast who had probably never seen a black girl with a huge curly ‘fro before!”

Favourite model moment that really stands out in your mind?

“In my first season I did a show for Jason Wu and I was so nervous! The runway was made from mirrors and I was the only new girl there. Backstage, I saw this huge group of photographers and security, and I realized that someone special must be here which made me more nervous. Then I looked over and saw Michelle Obama! Yeah, I actually saw her! But the story gets better. So then Jason Wu comes up to me and says that I look like his friend Kerry and that I have to meet her. I was playing along and went to meet his friend. A petite girl turned around and I realized that it was Kerry Washington! The whole show was so surreal.”

Has anything embarrassing or nerve-wrecking happened to you?

“After my first season, I got a call to head over to a photographer booking. I grabbed my heels and rushed over to this little office that was packed with girls. I was getting Polaroids taken, my hair was a mess, I looked frazzled and was wearing something you would probably wear to sleep. I asked what the casting was for and was told it was for Steven Meisel—the photographer of my life! It was the most horrendous thing ever but I will never forget that moment: It taught me to always be on point for any appointment.”

Is there anything you dislike about modelling?

“I’m slowly realizing that you can get into certain situations where you aren’t treated as a person, as horrible as that sounds. You go to a fitting, or a casting, you’re working with a client, and people talk about you as if you’re not there, like you’re a product. A few times I’ve spoken up, but that’s frowned upon. Some people do whatever they want to you, like taping your hair for a shoot or gluing stuff on your skin—treating you like you’re a doll. It’s understandable because you’re a model and that’s your job, but to constantly be accosted by it can be draining.”

There has been a lot of debate about model sizes in fashion. What’s been your experience with size pressure in the industry?

“A lot of models will probably never admit it, but some people in the industry expect you to be not just skinny, they want girls who are stick figures, emaciated and not eating for days. I’ve tried dieting, but it doesn’t make me happy and I don’t think anybody’s body should be put through that kind of pressure. I decided in the last couple of months that I am not even going to bother, and if someone won’t book me because I am not a double zero that is too bad for them!”

Do you have any advice for girls interested in fashion or getting into the industry?

“I know it’s a cliché, but be true to yourself. People will try to change you and people say so many different things, but you have to be true to yourself because at the end of the day you can only perform if you feel comfortable. You also have to work with people you feel trust and feel comfortable with because they are the people who have your career in their hands. Some people just want to be supermodels, but it takes time, so just work as hard as you can and do the best that you can.” As an awkward teenager, I remember reading magazine after magazine, desperate for beauty tips and makeup advice. I tried everything Seventeen Magazine suggested, bought the products Cosmopolitan hawked, and followed Glamour’s makeup tutorials step-by-step. I’d go through pages and pages, looking for pictures of girls who looked like me, with tanned skin, dark hair and dark eyes, but I rarely found a face I could relate to. I grew up with very little self-confidence, thinking I could never be beautiful until my skin was lighter, my nose was sharper, or if maybe I was a little taller.

When I was growing up, my Mom was Uber into The Arts, Fashion, Optimal Health, and Reading. By default I became a fan of those things as well. She took me to the ballet, Plays on Broadway, we traveled together. She constantly exposed me to African Americans excelling in every facet of life. I was empowered and began to recognize my own personal brand of beauty. It’s within you too, to look and feel beautiful. No magazine can tell you otherwise. No other person determines that for you. No matter what color you are, no matter how tall or how short, you are beautiful.

Beauty comes in all colors, shapes and sizes. Never look at Models to determine your own beauty and self worth. I must say this often because for me, Models are Art. They help illustrate a picture that gives a feeling about the clothes for that particular editorial, etc., not dictate my own ideal of self. You define your own path. Be true to your own self. Its about being you and not worrying about how others define you because people will always try. There is power in being able to define your own beauty. To see the beauty in others you first have to see the beauty in you. I’ve never let anyone define who I should be nor should you. Defy expectations. Be Brave. Be Kind. Be Free.
Living among so many people from various walks of life and countries, I have really learned to value the beauty that we all have. Despite our differences, we are more alike than different. Never forget that.
Even with all our imperfections, we were made perfect. The forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

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