She has been called the “eighth wonder of the world,” “the new Eve” and “the fashion world’s guilty little secret.”
Finally today, millions of fascinated observers will get something like an answer to the question that has perplexed Europe’s lingerie scene for more than a year: Who, exactly, is Zahia?
For those unfamiliar with her made-for-tabloids backstory, Zahia Dehar is the talk of Paris, a doll-like beauty who rocked the sports world two years ago when she admitted to being an underage call girl who shared the beds of several of Europe’s leading soccer stars (who still face criminal charges issuing from the affair).
Last winter, though, Zahia rebounded from the scandal when she emerged as a couture lingerie designer and a major fashion plate courted by style magazines, artists and photographers. Oh, and she is still only 20.
No doubt about it, Zahia had the world on a string in 2012. Her celebrity soared so quickly in France that the football scandal became known as ‘L’Affaire Zahia’ and its central figure simply as ‘Z’.
Sugar daddies lined up to bankroll her budding empire. Karl Lagerfeld made Zahia his protégé, Ellen von Unwerth shot her latest lookbook and iconic actress Isabelle Adjani took her under her wing.
And somehow, defying critics and moralists, Z delivered not one but TWO rather awesome haute couture lingerie collections in 2012. Altogether, not a bad start for the Algerian-born nymph who once admitted to earning $20,000 a month as a prostitute when she was just 16.
Throughout her fairy-tale rise to fame, though, observers have had enormous difficulty figuring out the truth of Zahia, or at least cutting through all the media-generated myth-making.
Tonight’s premiere broadcast of the 80-minute documentary ‘Zahia From Z To A’ from director Hugo Lopez aims to correct that — but don’t expect any more headline-grabbing confessions.
We learn that Z watched 60s movies about Egyptian princesses as a child and dreamed of living their lives; that she wears tight pencil dresses to make her walk in small steps; that she doesn’t sleep much because the passing of time makes her sad. Oh, and that despite all the cruel jokes about her intellectual limitations, she’s as sharp as any 20-year-old overnight media darling can be expected to be.
“People think I do not know what I want,” she says, “or that if I don’t speak it’s because I have nothing to say.”
Perhaps the most surprising admission in the film is Zahia’s assertion that, despite the wrong turn she took in her mid-teens, she’s always wanted to be a fashion designer — with a clear sense of the aesthetic she wants to promote.
“For me, vanity is something touching,” she told Le Parisien. “A free woman is a woman who has the opportunity to control her femininity. … If femininity is not so important to some, it is because they believe that women themselves are not important either.”
Which brings us to her lingerie — if, in fact, it can be called that. Zahia’s first two collections don’t look much like undergarments: they resemble elaborate, very sexed-up boudoir costumes. Powder puffs and cherry blossoms and rosettes and fig leaves on a sheer tulle base … the kind of thing a highly paid escort might wear to set the mood.
Until now, it’s also been unclear how much input Zahia actually has in her fashion collections, which are bankrolled by Chinese investors and fabricated by top Parisian artisans. If anything, the film aims to dispel those doubts and reaffirm Z as the centerpiece of her own fashion house, more prodigy than protégé.
‘Zahia From Z To A’ airs on France’s Premiere cable channel as part of their coverage of Paris’s haute couture fashion week, and it’s clearly timed to generate enthusiasm for Zahia’s next collection. (The brand will grow in 2013 with pop-up shops appearing in major cities around the world.)
But is Zahia really the next big brand name in couture lingerie? Is she really France’s new Bardot, as so many have said?
Or is she, as critics suspect, merely the Pia Zadora of Europe’s predatory fashion elite, a child-like bonbon living a dream-like life and exploited relentlessy by those entranced by her carnal appeal? Stay tuned.
In the meantime, below are some looks from Zahia’s first two lingerie collections.
[NOTE: Want to view ‘Zahia From Z To A’ in North America? The best option is to monitor YouTube for uploads after tonight, or follow the website of Paris Premiere, which will likely make it available for online streaming after its first broadcast cycle.]