Glamouria - Melania Zilo: Remember Her Name By Hayat Ammouri

Melania Zilo: Remember Her Name
January 20, 2022
Melania Zilo

Images by: Alec Cupelli

Beauty by: Sarah Glynn

Melania is a girl who has just turned twenty. She lived between Italy, USA, Lebanon and France. She is studying in Florida where she currently lives with her family. Although Melania has always been close to the fashion world, she hesitated a lot before entering the field. Despite everyone's expectations for her to become a model, she forged a different path for herself, and was appointed Editor-in-Chief of "Strike" magazine in Florida, making her the youngest Editor-in-Chief of a print magazine in the world. Between her studies and a job that requires her to manage more than 50 people, Melania seeks to organize her life in a way that allows her to take care of herself and everyone around her and always change her surroundings for the better.

- Melania, your mother is Lebanese, your father is French-Albanian, and you are American; You were born in America where you live now, and you visit Italy frequently... Which country do you feel you belong to the most? 

I definitely feel Lebanese! I grew up in Lebanon and lived my teenage years there, and my grandmother, grandfather and my family lives in Lebanon. My heart is always there!

- What did you take from each country?

I took a bit of my attitude from France, in the sense of “Love to Live and Let Live", in life and work: I live my life and let others live theirs. From Italy I hope I took my elegance... In general, all these countries love life and love to party. They are humble and warm countries, and I am like them. I also consider myself very blessed  to live in America where I can be myself and share my perspective; a country that opens up many opportunities for me and allows me to flourish, something that other countries may not offer me. The United States is a country of immigrants, and we are what makes America beautiful and special. We are what makes this country amazing.

- What are you studying?

I am studying Political Science and Business Law. When I started, I chose Psychology. Having traveled between different countries, I wanted to know how each person thinks and get into their minds and understand their perspective, because I wanted to adapt to different personalities and different cultures. I wanted to go behind everyone’s brain and see why they behave the way they do. As time went on, I noticed that I was fascinated not only by people but also by structures and institutions. I think Political science is very interesting. It’s very unpredictable, and so is the human being. The systems we have built and upon which we depend are constantly changing and evolving. There is always more to learn. Whenever a person thinks that he knows everything, he discovers that he does not know anything! 

How did you choose political science?

I changed my major to political science during the presidential elections in America, as I became involved in my community and I was working with some institutions to encourage young men and women to participate in the elections and boost the young population’s’ vote. I was drawn to how the political system in America works. It was also an appreciation for citizens’ participation because in Lebanon we see so little of that…. I became eager to have a voice and have a say and see our power to make a change through voting, and our rights to speak freely and protest. Essentially I wanted to be active. I became fascinated with that and I wanted to be more involved through academics. The young generation can greatly influence politics and play an important and necessary role in any society that seeks change!


What are the world’s issues that interest you the most and think about the most?

The climate crisis frightens me a lot, but what frightens me the most is the reluctance of leaders to actually do something and work on finding solutions and applying them seriously. I am also terrified by the housing crisis in America.

- Psychology, fashion, political science...Do you not see that these are fields that are very different?

People laugh when I tell them about my major, but I think they don’t realize that politics runs everything in the world, including fashion!  Everything is political. Politics is how and who decides who gets what, where, and when. So is fashion! Consumerism affects institutional power and those dynamics in different systems. Fashion has the power to be a mechanism of protest and rebellion against these systems. I think I can use my academic background to bring a new perspective to the fashion world. 

There is so much more to fashion than who wears what. We hold the power we give to certain institutions. “The power is in our pockets”... We, without realizing it, elect the way we choose to spend money and boycott whomever we want.

How would you describe your relationship with fashion today?

My relationship with fashion today is different than it was when I was younger. I look at fashion with a different eye. I was young. I started attending shows and going backstage when I was four years old... my relationship was a bit bitter. It was visual, confined to everything I could see behind the scenes that dazzled the mind. Beautiful costumes and loud shows. I was also seeing beautiful models backstage and how they were wearing designers’ clothes; girls who are all the same size. I got a misconception about the concept and standards of beauty. Of course, I was fascinated by the designers' vision and creativity, but I didn’t look anything like a model. Fashion was directed at a particular audience, which made me not accept it. Fashion stood for things that I felt I needed to reject. I did not even admit my interest in fashion. But with time, fashion has evolved and I have matured; the fashion world has changed a lot in recent years. I found that there is room for everyone in this field... Today my relationship with fashion is much deeper.

Did fashion week affect you negatively at that time?

At first, of course. I grew up backstage at shows comparing myself and my body to models. When I was twelve, I tried to find out who I was and how I wanted others to perceive  me. I think we don't talk much about the mental health and what teenage girls go through in the Middle East. Yes, I had a hard time comparing myself to models and started doing certain things to look a certain way. I went through a tough period but with the right guidance and the right support I was able to overcome it. 

What is the best advice you would give teenage girls at that age?

It might not be the best advice but this is what worked for me. What has helped me honestly is to stop following girls who don't look like me or represent me. My advice, especially on social media, is to follow  people who look like you and stand for the values you believe in and who align with who you want to be. As for adults, parents, aunts, grandpas  grandmas... Stop body shaming your young kids. You should stop making comments about weight and appearance and embarrassing your children with regard to eating “You put on weight”, “You lost weight”..." These comments about your child’s body are harmful, especially at an early age when the girl is searching for herself, and even the boys. I feel that these observations are part of our Lebanese culture. As long as they are eating healthy and taking care of themselves, stop those comments.

Whoever sees you might be surprised that even though you work in the fashion industry, you are not a model. Have you ever been in this field? Did you ever try? Have you ever wished?

I tried once when I was sixteen. I was very eager to get started and I wanted to see if I had my place on the runway. I really wanted to live this experience. I also wanted to prove to myself that I can succeed as a model.

I contacted a number of international agencies in Miami, and one of the companies that reached back to me invited me to go visit them. I was so excited, but when they took my weight and my measurements, it was very passive aggressive: a very cold meeting. They observed me and this woman looked at me and said that I had a very pretty face but that I had to stop eating sugar, and start going to pilates, and exercise more, and then we’ll talk. I left the agency and I was very furious that this was all what she had to say. Instead of taking a pilates appointment, I went to my favorite restaurant, which specializes in Southern American cuisine, and had the best plate of fried chicken and waffles and sweet corn. I decided to stay away from modeling, but my appreciation and deep respect for models increased... It's a tough industry that will eat you alive if you are not strong enough. It’s a very disciplined line of work and some people have it in them, I don’t have it in me. Today I grew a little more and became more comfortable with who I am. I work on small projects and I enjoy working them, and I made my journey into the world of beauty, health and self love. Today I accept myself and my image and love and trust myself and accept how I may look sometimes.

What are the areas that draw you to fashion?

Creativity, production, and developing ideas at their infancy is very exciting to me. I fell in love with the process, the production and execution stages: I love being on set and watching the creative vision come to life: creating an idea, working on it, and turning it into reality. I love working with creative minds, discussing our differences and watching our different ideas and styles lend together in a beautiful project.

How did you become an editor at such a young age?

The first week I went to college, I sat down for an interview with the former Editor-in-Chief and told her that I love fashion and would do any job, but I wanted to work at the magazine. She was a little hesitant because I was only eighteen, and I had just entered college. An entire month went by and I hadn't heard from her until she called me and offered to be a "Assistant Fashion Director". I remember exactly two weeks later being in the car and telling my friend that I was going to be editor-in-chief in a few years.

- You knew?

Yes. I had a goal and a plan. I didn't quite know what the plan was but I had one… For two years, I worked a lot, more than you can imagine.

- In your opinion, what brought you closer to the goal?

I made myself noticed. I worked the hardest. I was working hard and late hours. I attended the meetings and was the last one to leave... I always expressed my opinions. Sometimes they would listen to to me and other times they would ignore me, but I was always frank, not flattering.  If I believed in a vision, I insisted on it. I think it is necessary for a person to stick to their opinion when they know they are right. I stood up for what I believed. I also did things that were out of my responsibility range, things that did not concern me, i.e. ask everyone if I could help them, such as writing a topic, or helping during photography, anything... I would make everyone around me “see” me and notice my work. When a person works hard, those around him trust him and appreciate his work. I learned that when a person perseveres, makes the effort, works honestly, their work will not pass without appreciation. A person must strive hard to reach their goal; you have to stand up for yourself and fight for what you want because no one is just going to hand it to you.

 What did you do in the time of Covid?

Over the past two years we have had a lot of time to reflect on who we are and what we want to do. I launched a website about health and well-being. My website The Mad Love Club is a platform for myself to speak, and where I can express myself. It is a crazy love for the other, for myself, and for the earth. Through the site, I like to discuss many topics, including fashion, politics, health, well-being, society and the environment. I also got bored talking to the walls in my room, so I decided to talk to the same walls but through the microphone and I launched my podcast. I taught myself and searched online, on Google and YouTube, and asked some good friends. You can achieve anything if you just look it up. Everything is “googable”, Google it. Use YouTube. There are so many resources to help you do anything you want. This is how the podcast came to complement my idea. Some people like to read, but others like to listen more. This is how I launched “What That Mouth Do”.

Do you ever think of  fashion design?

I like the idea, but I'm not good at drawing.

Who are your favorite designers?

I love the work of Martin Margiela. It's impossible to get bored looking at his collections and watching his shows. I also love Phoebe Philo's era of Céline; it speaks to my personal style, and she is someone I really admire in the fashion industry.

Who are your favorite Arab designers?

(Melania is silent…she stays silent….laughs, and shyly responds) Everyone knows what I am going to say… I always had a deep respect and appreciation for Mme Reem Acra since I was a child. I have always loved and respected her deeply, and appreciate her work very much. I used to see her backstage when I was little and watch how she works... I like her positive energy and vitality.

In every girl's closet...

A blazer that matches her style. It doesn’t need to be a boring black blazer. Personally, I like jackets with men's cuts and a large size, as if I took them from my father's closet. This is in addition to a classic white button-up shirt.

Where do you spend the most money?

On the shoes I guess! I love shoes so much...I just bought Nike's Jordan sneakers for my birthday, designed by blogger and stylist Aleali May, and they're currently my favorite shoes. I am obsessed. The history of athletic shoes intrigues me a lot. I love the fashion of basketball culture- it fascinates me, and so does the mix of basketball and fashion. I think I draw a lot of inspiration from it.

What are the fashion trends that you are excited for this fall?

It may not be a  trend but perhaps a new attitude towards fashion: the rise in rebellion. The best  type of style is the one that doesn’t follow any rule. People are becoming more daring and excited to try new things, not sticking to what they know and what others are wearing. As we emerge from this difficult time, it’s cool to see how people have adapted and how to take it to the next level.

The trends you wish would disappear...

The trends I don't want to see, the knitted gilet or the sweater vest... I can't stand it even though it's trendy today. It’s a staple but maybe it's because I don't know yet how to wear it, no matter the color and the cut... I won't try it.

A piece that can add to your style instantly? 

A leather jacket, a woman can wear it with anything and make the look more elegant, always and immediately... It makes the outfit 10 times better! I also love cowboy boots, with anything and everything. It drives people crazy but I love it, I have to.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change in the world of fashion? 

Can we stop pushing over consumption to the general public and cut the bullshit on PR packages?? I want us to get rid of the new era of influencers pushing the idea of consumerism. Stop encouraging the idea of buying in a permanent way... I wish we'd preserve our clothes instead of constantly renewing our wardrobes. I also don't like products or fashion pieces companies send to influencers to promote online. I wish the influencer would wear what she liked instead of promoting a piece that a certain company sent her.

How do you expect this change to happen?

I am excited to see the few brands that are making a shift to their approach in production and how much they're encouraging sustainability. A new brand in Florence  for example (recently worn by a Doja Cat) Avavav, has launched a collection that's 80% made from leftover and recycled fabrics from major fashion houses such as Burberry, Fendi and Jacquemus. I think they were trying to make a statement when it comes to sustainable production and slow fashion. I am excited to see other brands be as daring and bold enough to make changes like that. Use it as an opportunity to be more innovative than ever before. This is the goal of most fashion houses today. We will also see a big change in technology for sure as it will play an important role in fashion.

I see you care a lot about the environment...

I love to follow technology news related to the world of fashion, the intersection between fashion and technology. I follow the new techniques that designers use, especially Iris Van Herpen who is a cool example. I also like the idea of digital fashion. I am happy when the designer takes advantage of the new technologies available.

Are you excited that the shows are coming back in person or were you happy that they were digital? 

This period of time that we went through made fashion somehow more accessible to the public, and that makes it interesting and special… but I do miss the feeling of attending in person and being backstage. Nothing beats the energy of 10 sleepless nights in a row, staying up to see the content you created. I am excited to get to experience the shows live again soon.

- What does Lebanon mean to you?

Hhhhhh… I feel like crying... This is the longest I have ever been away from home.

- You don't live in Lebanon, and you call it home?

Of course. Lebanon is my home.

- You don't even have the Lebanese citizenship?

They should better give it to me soon or we will have problems! They must give me the citizenship! Yes, my mother is Lebanese and she cannot grant me citizenship, and this law must be changed. Regardless, I still consider it my home.

I miss the people. They are resilient and I carry this part of me here. I think I inherited it. Lebanon is also my grandfather and grandmother, and "Teta's cooking". It is no coincidence that my favorite café here is owned by a Lebanese, and I just had the "Arouss of Labneh and Zaatar”...

We Lebanese are known for our strength and motivation to do things and brilliant ideas we bring to other places. Our drive to achieve success. I like to follow the success stories of Lebanese women and the Lebanese in my community. Is it crazy to say that Lebanese are good at everything they do?

Do you know you’re a success story too?

I hope to be successful!

- I tried to find the youngest Editor-in-Chief in the world, and I found one girl, who was sixteen years old, for a magazine she had created and launched herself. And a girl who was the editor-in-chief of a magazine at the age of eight. If you are not the youngest in the world, you are definitely among the youngest in the world. What do you think of that?

Oh really??? "Wow"! Am I? I have to check at Strike. Well, this is evidence that reaching any goal is possible on the condition of diligent work, effort and seriousness. We need new young and creative minds. Of course I respect the history of fashion, its roots and the big names in it, but it is time to open the way for a new, diverse generation of different individuals. Entering the world of fashion makes sense, but some barriers must be broken first.

Your saying in life...

"Nothing matters"... It could be a good or bad saying, I don't know. Let's do what we want and what makes us happy, because nothing in this world is that important and nothing lasts. Make the most of what you can while you are still here.

What are the Arab values that you live by?

Being hospitable, celebrating and making those around me and making them feel warm, welcomed and special. I also like to cook for people. I make sure they are well fed in my home….I think it's also the Lebanese hospitality.

What do you wish you knew at the age of twelve?

Don't listen to people who makes fun of you! I wish I had ignored them. I had many ideas, dreams, and ambitions when I was young, I let them be crushed by the ridicule of others, who thought I was weird or naive. If I had heard my own advice, I would have achieved many goals in my life. Follow your intuition and believe in yourself.

- You have a little sister, who considers you her ideal... How do you behave in front of her to be a good role model for her and your followers on social media?

I think she is my highest role model... I always try to deal with her with honesty and openly, and to be my true self without creating a false ideal. She sees every aspect of me, my good and my bad, the ugly and the real.  I am a human just like her who makes mistakes. I don’t try to create a perfect persona. No one is perfect. People make mistakes and learn from their mistakes, and I hope she learns from them too, as well as everyone around me. I also hope she still loves me the way I am.

- How do you envision your future? Do you have a plan or a dream or a clear image?

Yes, I know exactly what I want, but I do not know yet how I will achieve my ambitions.  I will try. I’d like to continue the work I'm doing right now for the rest of my life, and maybe in the future retire and live a very quiet life on a farm with horses... A fashionably quiet in life, immersed in nature.

What is the message you send to your friends in Lebanon?

I am so proud of you, of your resilience and strength after everything you have been through and everything our country has been through. I can’t even begin to express my feelings… I wish I could give you the biggest hug.. Lebanon and the Middle East in general is so resilient and there is nothing we can’t survive. We are stronger than our circumstances and we will prevail at the end of the day. 


To Follow Melania on instagram:@cowboymila

To Subscribe to her podcast:What That Mouth Do

For The Mad Love Club:Click Here

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