Saif Mahdhi: Fashion’s Wizard of Oz

Jessica Michault,

Saif Mahdhi is the fashion industry’s equivalent of the Wizard of Oz. He is the President Europe of Next Management and if you like a fresh face on the cover of a magazine, then you probably have this “man behind the curtain” to thank for it. Mahdhi, who has helped nurture the careers of Kate Moss, Carla Bruni, Anna Cleveland, Caroline de Maigret, Anja Rubik, Grace Hartzel, Lana Del Rey, Caroline Issa and Alexa Chung (just to name a few), is a someone who not only can spot talent in others, he knows how to cultivate it. But more than that, in an industry with a reputation for being fake and two faced he is renowned for his loyalty and commitment to his every growing band of beautiful and talented friends. And just like the Wizard of Oz, he is able to instill in each of them the ability to discover their full potential.

A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 13th issue of ODDA Magazine.


Saif Mahdhi

Q: You recently have been rediscovering your family roots in Tunisia. What brought that about?

A: Basically, I was born and grew up in Paris but my parents are immigrants and when I was I kid I use to come here like 5 times a year but when I became a teenager the cultural contrast were quite strong and I kind of moved away from my heritage and I didn’t explore it again for something like twenty years. Then last year I decided to come back for 2 weeks and I ended up staying for a whole month and I kind of reclaimed my country. I found hidden treasures and I wanted to help people rediscover this country. It started with me posting images on my Instagram and then my friends –  photographers, artists, models and fashion magazines – became interested. I really started to push people in my industry to take a look at Tunisia because our industry is very powerful and we can really present a new vision of the country to the world.


Q:  You famously started your career because you accidentally got off on the wrong floor when you were going for a job interview. Which makes me want to ask you if you believe in destiny and fate?

A: I honestly don’t know if I believe in fate. I do believe in being honest, being real and working hard and following your instincts. I come from a very poor background, my mom was a cleaning woman and my father was a garbage man. They never really went to school and they had a very tough life. But they sacrificed everything for me to get a good education and thank God I grew up in France were the national education system gave me access to so many things. So I am grateful for the life I have but I worked very hard to get where I am today. And I am very conscious that have a voice and that what I do can have an impact.


Q: So how are you using your voice?

A: First of all, I am working in an industry were women are very powerful. Where women make a 100 times more money than men for the same job. And I love that, it’s really important for me to empower that. For me women are the base of humanity and human beings. And so I am very protective of my clients. Basically when I started I never felt like I had any special talent, basically a go between between people. But then I realized that I do have a talent, which is to support the talent I see in the people around me. To spot it. To develop it. To support it. I just love human beings and that became the basis of my job. The word that I prefer to sum up what I do is a French work it is “accompagnateur” and I love that.


Q: So you are not interested in the spotlight?

A: No! No! That is not what drives me. Of course I am taking care of famous people, and because I work with them and I follow them I get to have this amazing life. But that is not my life. I don’t have any ego about the spotlight, I don’t exist through that.

The Instagram feed of Saif Mahdhi.

Q: You get your fulfillment through helping those around you succeed?

A: Oh yes! Its huge for me and it makes me extremely happy because their success is my success.


Q: What do you feel has been the biggest change in the industry and what you do since you started working?

A: I know this is a bit of a generic answer but it’s basically social media that has changed everything. Basically people can exist by themselves and they can promote themselves. Before to have someone like Steven Misel XX  or a designer aware of one of my clients I would have to Fedex over some pictures and I would have to talk about them and promote them. Today people can see my clients on social media and get a sense of who they are right away. Sometimes I post a picture of a new client I have just signed and my team will call me up and say “did you post something about this person” because they just received like five phone calls for options. All of that just because I posted their photo. It makes things move much faster. Which is great. But at the same time there is this endless craving for something new. All the time. Also today its more about being an artist. Not just being or doing one thing. People need to be models, actresses, painters, designers… before that was something the industry didn’t like. They wanted to have people stay in one area, doing only one thing.


Q: So how do you know when someone is the right fit for you. That a person is someone you want to take on as a client and support?

A: It’s a mixture of a lot of things. It’s the beauty first, for sure, especially for a model. But is also their personality. Their energy. Their ambition. It’s really just something you have…or you don’t. It’s hard to explain and its very instinctive. Also you really have to believe in them because sometimes it can be years and years for someone to become who they are.  You just have to support them.


GPS Radar

Jessica Michault is the Senior Vice President of industry relations at GPS Radar by Launchmetrics. She is also the editor-at-large for ODDA magazine and contributes to publications like the New York Times, the Business of Fashion, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mixte magazine.

the writer

Jessica Michault

Jessica Michault is the Senior Vice President of industry relations at GPS Radar by Launchmetrics. She is also the editor-at-large for ODDA magazine and contributes to publications like the New York Times, the Business of Fashion, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mixte magazine.

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