Our interview with Abeer Pamuk, Humanitarian, Syrian, and Fashionista

Abeer is a master’s degree student at Brandeis University. She comes from a humanitarian background and the majority of her work has been in her home country of Syria, where she often went to the frontlines of the Syrian war to document the impact of humanitarian programs. Abeer was also an Atlas Corps Fellow in New York City with the American Express Foundation. She grew up in Aleppo and she now lives in New York City as she continues her studies in conflict resolution and coexistence. Abeer recently gave a TedX talk entitled, “How I won the Syrian War”.


What does fashion mean to you? How do you react to the idea some people hold that fashion is superficial?

Although you cannot control the world you can control how you smell, look, and present yourself each day. As women our lives are complicated. We can use fashion to navigate our world, make it safer, more familiar and make statements about who we are.

Everyone has a story that channels into the way they dress and place themselves in our world. Fashion can bring together your heritage, family, name, and other core things that are dear to you. For example, I often use floral prints or floral accessories, and my name in Arabic means “fragrance of a rose”. Wearing flowers reminds me of my family, the name my mother chose for me, and how when I was a child, she used to bring me a rose every day when she came back from work.

How has living in New York impacted your fashion sense?

The New York style conveys the personality of the city- you have to be sharp, you have to be quick. I still remember my first days here and seeing how women dressed to go to work compared to their evenings. There is always something interesting in the way they put themselves together. I noticed how well sharp, simple outfits worked in office spaces. Women would wear simple accessories with little make up and through their elegance they could walk into the room and transform it. You can imagine how busy the days are for women in the city, and they still find ways to be beautiful, even going up and down the subway stairs. I love seeing people being alive, happy, busy, and buzzing around.

Living in New York I had to figure out how to cut the time I spent getting ready and still look good. I found ways to do my make-up faster in the morning and choose outfits that don’t need a lot of thinking to look good.

What do you like the most about Maven Women’s Chelsey dress?

No matter how you style it, the Chelsey dress will look beautiful. The color is simple and the cut is one where you can dress it up or down depending on your accessories. I know that I am safe if I am wearing this dress as no matter how I put it together, it will look good.

The Chelsey is definitely a city dress and one that saves you time getting dressed. Just put some good earrings with it, a watch, and beautiful heels and you are ready to face the giant city.

How did fashion and beauty help you during the war in Syria?

There is an expectation that when you are from war you look like war, but that is not true. Fashion and beauty were my sanity.

Gradually the war starts taking things from your life-your electricity, your water, your friends. Fashion and beauty were a defense mechanism saying that you cannot take me. If the war manages to change that then it’s the most significant damage it can do to me, and I didn’t want people to say I had changed.

I’ve always been interested in textures, how fabrics can go together, and how different colors coordinate. It is beautiful, calming, and it helps you find yourself. I used to iron my shirts with a teapot when we had no electricity. I never left my house during four years without electricity with a wrinkled shirt. That was my statement about what was going on around me. People would ask me why I was so worried about ironing my dress if I could die any minute, and I’d say, “If I’m dying, I’m going to die dressed up”. It would make me feel like I’m not going to die today. It worked and it gave me the space every morning to do something that I enjoy doing before heading out to face one of the most dangerous cities in the world. 

I still remember taking my make-up table to my balcony because I couldn’t see anything inside. I would see Aleppo burning down in my mirror and I would tell myself I wasn’t there. I was focused on drawing the perfect eyeliner. Beauty took me out of where I was into a normal, simple activity that would give me time for myself. I would tell myself that I’m just going to focus on one thing right now, like drawing my eyeliner. It would make me feel normal to stand before a mirror and look at myself like all other young people my age did every morning. It gave me a sense of normality in times when everything was not normal.

What do you wish American women knew about the lives of women in Syria today?

I think women everywhere have the same interests. American women need to know that Syrian women are more similar to women in America than people think. I bet you if you put women from 20 different countries in one room and started a conversation about the earrings or dress one woman is wearing it would go for an hour and also lead to deeper topics. There is connection between women if they are gathered in one place more than they can imagine. If you encounter a Syrian woman try and speak with her the way you would any American woman and you will see that you are to connect.

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