(Image courtesy Mr. Erbil)
Hipsters, it seems, are changing Africa & the Middle East.
If the ideology of a hipster is to repurpose the old and make it their own, then there is no better specimen than the dandy man. Much envied for their visual pomposity and smugness, modern-day hipsters – like the dandies of the 19th century – also place particular importance on their physical appearance and leisurely hobbies.
Today, this fashion vernacular applies not only to wealthy cities like Singapore, Melbourne or New York. This global ‘gentleman’s club’ has spread its membership in the most unlikely of places, like Iraq and Congo.
Iraq: Mr Erbil
Of all the words you’d associate with Iraq – war, Saddam, Bush – fashion is probably not one of them. Iraq is probably more known for its war on ISIS than a war on stray beards, but thanks to a small band of Kurdish men in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, that image is evolving.
Just head to the Instagram page of Mr. Erbil – named after the ancient citadel in the middle of Kurdistan – and you’ll find dandy men in a photoshoot straight out of the pages of Monocle, sporting coiffed pompadours and luscious beards and dressed in sharply-tailored suits. The Kurds may be deep in war against ISIS and battling an economic crisis, but these men are using fashion as a tool to raise awareness about Kurdistan’s modernity as a way of looking forward.
These gentlemen – ranging from 18 to 32 years old – are part of an outward-looking generation of students, doctors, engineers and shop owners who have grown up in an environment not too different from Singapore’s: they shop online, speak English, and are attached to their smartphones, only that they’re doing so in Kurdistan.
Much like the well-dressed literati who discuss daily matters at tea houses (chaikhana) in Erbil’s historic citadel, Mr. Erbil get together to discuss the latest trends. The group also highlights the works of amazing women who have made a positive change in the country – these include Ruwayda Mustafah, a noted socio-political author in the Kurdistan region, and Dashni Khan who has dedicated her time to helping refugees and female ISIS survivors.
It’s easy to dismiss Mr. Erbil as urban peacocks, but the change they’ve instigated is like something out of a hipster textbook.