Conflict and militancy may be first things that occur to many about Iraq, but a group of young fashion-conscious Kurds are hoping to help project a brighter, more optimistic image – and perhaps effect social change along the way.
The group calls itself Mr Erbil, after the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq that has been at the frontline of the struggle against the militants of the Islamic State (IS) group.
Mr Erbil’s launch and first photoshoot last February quickly made waves on social media. Dubbed “gentlemen’s gatherings” in a recent profile in Vocativ, it took place at the city’s ancient citadel, a UN world heritage site.
The pictures of the 20 men posing in latest Western men’s fashion – specifically, the style recently associated with hipsters, replete with the trademark sharp suits, tight trousers and lovingly trimmed beards – became wildly popular on Instagram.
Widely dubbed “Iraq’s first gentleman’s fashion club”, Mr Erbil now has some 30 core members and more than 25,000 fans on Instagram, and a Facebook presence too.
The style may be Western, but Mr Erbil stress that what they are doing mixes “modernity” and cultural heritage, by harking back to the lifestyles of the traditional Kurdish landowning class, the effendis.
According to the Vocativ article, in days past, the “effendis” – literally, “lord” or “master” – would dress in their finest clothes to attend cultural salons or visit tea shops.
The group says that the focus of their activity is to organise trade shows and cultural events to promote fashion as “aesthetic expression”.
But it is not just about fashion – there is also a serious, almost political side.
Mr Erbil sees itself as something almost akin to a movement representing young Iraqi Kurds who are looking for a better life and want to promote Kurdish culture to the world.
The group even hopes to effect social change and challenge traditional attitudes, particularly on women’s rights.
The Mr Erbil account frequently posts pictures and musings about women’s issues in Kurdistan, Iraq and the world.
The effect Iraq’s near-constant conflict has had on women’s lives is also a frequent subject.
Every Thursday, Mr Erbil writes a post on the “girl inspiration”, in which they promote women working on behalf of the community.
One of them is Dashni Morad, who gives workshops in leadership skills to women who survived the massacre and rape of members of northern Iraq’s Yazidi sect by IS militants.
“The effort she puts in for humanity, love and peace is so impressive!” says a post by Mr Erbil post on 19 January. “Keep up the good work, you are making us proud.”
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