Photography by Dylan Don
Less than four years ago, she was at the center of a French prostitution scandal. Now she's a lingerie designer who counts Karl Lagerfeld among her fans.
"If I'm sad, it's impossible to think about pretty things," says the eveningwear and lingerie designer Zahia Dehar. "If I'm not feeling good, my job takes longer." So, in the interest of productivity, Dehar, who is 21, has transformed her atelier on Paris's Rue François 1er, just down the street from Christian Dior, into a resolutely cheerful place. The parlor, where she receives couture clients and displays pieces from the four collections she has thus far produced, is outfitted with heart-shaped pillows and chairs, and carpets meant to look like puffy clouds-all of them Dehar's designs. The walls are trimmed with giant bows. It's less a buzzing hive of garmentos than a Barbie Dream House. "I live the dreams now that I had when I was a little girl," she tells me in a breathy coo.
On the surface, Dehar's life looks very "pretty princess": She spends three hours each morning getting ready for work, her big blonde hair and dramatic makeup professionally done. Her eyes are so enormous and doe-like that the temptation to frame them with extravagant false lashes is impossible to resist. Business casual for her is a circulation-threatening pencil dress from Prada, Victoria Beckham, or Dolce & Gabbana, paired with stilettos. Her two dogs-Enzo, a German spitz, and Miyuki, a shih tzu-accompany her everywhere she goes. At her spring 2013 show, she traveled down the runway for her bow in a horse-drawn carriage framed by a heart-shaped garland of flowers while petting a newborn lamb. "Sometimes I still think I am 6," she says, laughing. "Except my body has changed."
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Her body did indeed change, and that's when her troubles began. Dehar was born in a small town in Algeria and moved at age 10 to France with her younger brother and mother. Obsessed with glamour, Dehar was out on the town as soon as she was able to fill out a micromini, snaring suitors with belly-dance moves she'd picked up from campy Egyptian films of the '70s. By 16, she was a fixture at posh clubs around the 8th arrondissement and was charging wealthy men thousands of euros for her considerable charms. And then, in 2010, just after her 18th birthday, she was busted in an underage-prostitution sting that nabbed several high-level players from the French national soccer team. (Prostitution is legal in France, but only if both parties are over the age of 18.) Threatened by the police with deportation to Algeria (a country not known for its kind treatment of "fallen women"), Dehar became known across France as la scandaleuse.
It's easy to understand how one might barricade oneself behind hearts and furry animals after such an ordeal. But Dehar did not get where she is now-set up in a 6,500-square-foot office; enlisting Karl Lagerfeld, Ellen von Unwerth, and Terry Richardson to shoot her look books; posing for David LaChapelle and Pierre et Gilles; about to launch a ready-to-wear lingerie line meant to compete with Agent Provocateur-by playing My Little Pony and wishing for a brighter tomorrow. No, she has managed her situation quite ably. To begin with, after one painfully honest interview with Paris Match in April 2010-she spilled about being bought "as a gift" for the 26th birthday of her former client, the soccer star Franck Ribéry, and added that he was "neither particularly gallant nor well mannered nor even very nice"-she disappeared for more than a year. "I just hid out and cried all day and thought, What has become of my life?" she recalls...
Read the full story and see more photos of Dehar here
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