Azza Slimene is busy. The Tunisian actress, entrepreneur and model, who was first discovered by the late Azzedine Alaïa on one of his rare visits to Tunis, is working on a new skincare brand, has two movies that will soon be released, just completed a Ramadan-themed TV series and is writing a script for a new film.
At this moment in Tunis, where she’s confined due to the pandemic, Slimene is working on that as-yet-unnamed film project – a film that she’s writing and which she plans to star in and direct. The topic? Mental health, which has been of primary concern to so many people who have spent months on lockdown due to COVID-19. “The movie is about a girl suffering from a toxic relationship with a married man,” says Slimene. “But in the end, we understand that she has a mental health problem, and that she never had the relationship. She made the whole story up in her head.”
Her new work comes on the heels of two recent film projects, both of which faced a delayed release due to the pandemic. The first one, “Corinti,” explores themes that remain taboo in Arab cinema. “It’s about a junkie,” says Slimene, “a man addicted to drugs. And I play his perverted and narcissistic girlfriend. Both characters die at the end.” Her second project also explores a risqué subject. Still untitled, the movie chronicles the life of a cabaret dancer who’s also a prostitute. “She has a double life,” says Slimene. “She takes care of her kids during the day and then lives a completely separate life a night.”
In addition to her acting and modeling, Slimene has been working on a new skincare line. “We’re using natural, organic and vegan products,” she says, “and the packing is made from repurposed wood.” The new skincare items, which are produced in France, include a hydrating cream, a night serum and a third product that’s still being devised. “The packaging is reusable,” she explains. “You can go back and fill it up, so you only need to re-buy the cream.”
Slimene’s relationship with fashion predates her acting and beauty careers. She gained prominence after a chance encounter with the late Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa. “I met him one summer in Tunis through Afef Jnifen, and he liked me at first sight,” she says, “told me to come to Paris. He invited me to stay at his place, to his atelier to work with him, to be his muse. He had only done this with Naomi Campbell before me. I even met Naomi Campbell and watched his last interview with Vogue when I was at his place. It was a dream. I was very lucky to meet him before his death.”
While she appreciates established fashion brands, Slimene also admires the new breed of Arab designers, particularly the ones creating sustainable wear and using recycled materials, including Bass Mode Couture and Secret Intime lingerie from Tunisia, as well as Born in Exile, which was created by Libyan designer and FTA Prize finalist for 2020 Ibrahim Shebani. “I’m super proud of them,” she says of the young designers.
Beyond fashion, Slimene was and remains active in various human rights causes, including women’s rights. She’s also an ambassador for No More Plastic. Most recently, on May 15, she organized a large demonstration in Tunis to support the Palestinian struggle. “It was huge,” she says. “We wanted to show the world that Tunisia stands with Palestine.” The large gathering was held in Tunis, in front of the Palestinian embassy, and included live interaction with people in Gaza. “It was a way for us to show the world what was really happening in Palestine.”