When an 18-year-old from the Data Darbar area of Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport a decade ago to study, he had no idea he would one day become an international model.
Muhammad Ali Sobhani
Muhammad Ali Sobhani was working part-time, as were students from around the world who came to the UK to study.
One day, as he was packing his wares at a supermarket in London, luck was on his side.
A female customer asked her age and name and the third question was if she had ever thought about modelling. Ali laughed and replied in the negative.
He again asked Ali if he would be interested if given the opportunity, to which he said yes and left with his number and e-mail.
Ali, like the thousands of customers he met every day, forgot about the customer and the conversation with him and ended his shift and went home.
“I thought maybe this lady was joking with me. I like it in a way because no one has ever said such a thing.
When he woke up in the morning, he had received an e-mail from a modelling agency calling for an informal interview at an office in central London.
Ali had a holiday that day and he got ready and went to the agency’s office. There they had to wait for five to ten minutes and soon after the secretary told them they could go inside.
“When I went inside, there were huge pictures of the magazine on the walls and there were several awards on the table. The office inside looked very luxurious. Behind the table sat the same woman I had met at the market the day before.
He told Ali his name and occupation and said his agency wanted to work with Ali. Ali immediately mentioned his current job at Wilkinson Supermarket and said that it was very difficult for him to get this job.
“I can’t do anything else because the income from it runs my expenses.”
The woman smiled and asked how much she earned in a month. Ali replied eight hundred pounds. This money would cover their rent and food expenses, while the fee money they had brought with them from Pakistan. The woman smiled again and lowered her spectacles and said, “You can get more money just by doing a fashion show and that too for a job.
“Ali became silent and began to think that he did not know if this woman was joking with me or telling the truth.”I had heard from friends in Pakistan about modelling forgery, but then I thought it was such a big office, and this woman looked fine. Why would she waste her and my time joking with me? ‘Ali was thinking that the woman said that she would give him two projects today. We will give you two projects this week that will earn you up to a thousand pounds. The work will take only two to three days.
Will it satisfy you? ‘A thousand pounds was a big amount for Ali. He thought that with some money he would bring a couple of months’ rations and other household items. He immediately said yes but said he would have to give 30 days notice at his place of employment. To which the woman said that it doesn’t matter, at that time we will make your ‘portfolio’.In the language of modelling, portfolio means pictures of their published work. New models don’t have work to do, so their portfolio is developed by the agency.
The next day, after taking pictures of Ali and measuring his body, he was given a form in which his race was asked in a box. Ali wrote to Pakistani there. And wrote his full name Muhammad Ali Subhani. When the woman read his form, he asked her to write something other than Pakistani. Also, shorten your name.”I looked at him and said I am Pakistani and if I don’t write Pakistani then what will I write? And I have no other name. ‘The woman told Ali that she did not mind her being Pakistani or writing, but clients prefer Western models to promote their products. And the other thing is that their name is very big and it also shows that you are not a western model.
“They told me not to fill in the ethnicity box, but whenever someone asks you about your race between a fashion show or a shoot, you tell them Italian, Greek or Spanish.”He then asked Ali to shorten his name. The woman said that when she was a child, she was called by a certain name. She said that in school, because of her good cricket, she was called champ, which is derived from the world champion. Ali, 19, still doesn’t understand why he said that. When he went to his first fashion show: London Fashion Week a week later, there was no one but him from South Asia. Here he got an idea of the sands and traditions of the Western modelling world.
“There were mostly white people. The models were a black woman and a Chinese girl. When people asked me where I was from, I told them London and said nothing more.”They asked again. I got a little angry and I said what difference does it make where I am from or what my race is.” I’m here to work like all of you. ‘Over the next five years, Champ Imi began and ended with major shows such as London Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week. This is called open and close in the language of modelling and they do the same models that have a name in the industry.
Champ Imi Winnings
In 2014, Champ Imi became the first Pakistani model to appear in British Vogue magazine. In 2016, he also appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Huffington Post and men’s major magazine GQ. At the same time, she started getting offers from Pakistan and after working there for only four months, she was nominated for Best Male Model in Lux Style Award in 2018.
Leading Pakistani photographer Shahbaz Shazi, who has been working in Pakistan for 17 years, says Ali’s posing and the way he works cannot be compared.
“His style of posing is Western, and he is very professional and polished. There are so many types it’s hard to say. “
Ali says his credit goes to his agency, which for a long time not only trained him but also taught him the tricks of modelling.
The form is the religion of Allah. My mother used to tell me that I am very sweet and I look very good but I always considered her as my mother’s love. I never thought that I would earn money and fame because of my face.
“But I’ve worked hard, I’ve learned everything about modelling.”
According to a recent study by Ernst & Young, the rate of non-white people working in fashion and the arts in the UK is only 1.2%.
Ali says the situation is different now and many models are emerging, but for South Asian models working in the West, the problem they usually face is skill and self-confidence.
“Posing is very important in the West. You need to know the angle from which the photographer is taking the shot in front of you and how you can make it look better.
“I practised it for hours. You need to have a thorough knowledge of what you are doing, but another important thing is self-confidence. It will catch on immediately and then there are rumours that the posing of such and such model is weak.
Ali now lives in Manchester, where he is training to be an actor. He now wants to work in the Western film industry. This is their next destination.
“When a middle-class boy from Lahore, who didn’t have that many resources, can get here, I think other people can do the same.”