Fashion / Style

Our June digital cover stars Hanan Ibrahim, Manahou Mackay, and Brodie Townsend on transformation

Change is a funny thing. For some of us, it is hard to digest, causing a kind of heartburn even when it is supposed to be welcome. Change transforms us, for better or for worse. It forces us to grow through the crust of discomfort and access parts of ourselves that were shrouded away by contentment. Is there a correct way to process transformation?

In the midst of change, our emotions snag like loops of thread on elements of our previous selves and previous lives, previous ideas, memories, connections. If change wasn't hard enough to handle, we will always be reminded of the ways in which it can make us feel so utterly divided internally. A relationship with transformation is something that binds Manahou Mackay, Hanan Ibrahim, and Brodie Townsend together. For models Mackay and Ibrahim, their personal exchanges with transformation span both their professional lives and their relationships with identity. For Townsend, transformation is at the centre of his work as an actor.

These links are what drew RUSSH to the three creatives as our June digital cover stars, their limbs snaked in Bulgari's iconic Serpenti collection in honour of the House's 75th anniversary – a design that has enjoyed a long history of endless metamorphosis. Here is where transformation is explored, celebrated, mythologised. Change is hard, but imminent for those who plan to do any living at all.

Left: JACQUEMUS dress; LUDOVIC SAINT SERNIN top from Chinatown Country Club; BULGARI necklace, bracelets, earrings and rings. Right: TONI MATECEVSKI top; SAINT LAURENT jeans; BULGARI necklace, bracelets and ring.


For Ibrahim, who is the first of the three cover stars I speak to prior to the shoot, transformation will "always be about evolving as a person and not being afraid to evolve, regardless of how it might come across to people." She tells us, "Staying true to my own evolution is what transforms me as a person, as a model, as a speaker, as a human being."

Ibrahim's biggest moment of transformation in the past year was, most notably, her choice to become a part time Hijab-wearer. It was a moment for her, where, despite the discomfort of change and the myriad reasons why it might feel easier for her to not shift into a new exploration of her identity and her relationship with her faith, prioritising a life where she lives on her own terms was paramount.

"Coming out with photos of myself without my hijab for the first time and experiencing what it's like living on my own terms, it's been a huge identity shift for me. It's more than just the images, or not wearing the scarf, it's what it symbolises. What that has symbolised for me, for such a long time, I always correlated being a faithful woman to wearing my hijab. So just exploring what my faith and spirituality are without the physical aspect of covering up, has been truly transformative."

KIKO KOSTADINOV top from Chinatown Country Club; BULGARI necklace and rings.


Ibrahim's experience helped open her up to asking herself about her beliefs in a way that she hadn't explored yet. "It made me ask a lot of questions about myself and who I want to be. I've also had hundreds of women write to me about their own transformation, their own experiences, and how they were able to relate to me, as a Muslim woman, and as a black woman in this industry. It has been really incredible, and really has had such an impact on me the past few months," she says, although noting that this transformation did not come without push back from her community.

"It was really confusing for a lot of people, just because the concept of wearing hijab part-time isn't something that is accepted or talked about, it's very taboo. And for me to come out and speak out openly and identify as that has been divisive for a lot of people," she recalls. "People can't understand when anything that has been so stern is being revolutionised in this space in particular, even just with conversations about the invisibility of women, and us being able to make decisions for ourselves, is still somehow hard to talk about."

For Manahou Mackay, visibility is something that she has been thinking a lot about lately, especially when it comes to being a model with a voice. As she moves more comfortably into being someone with a platform, she is also taking control creatively where possible, which has been an important aspect of growth for her this year. She explains the reasoning behind why it feels so vital for her, over the phone. "It goes back to when I was young, and when people's first impression of me was what they see. So, in a world where your identity is so inferred by others, just by glance, I feel that the more I grow into myself as a person, the more I want to correctly articulate me as a human being and me as a soul via the world of aesthetics, which is why it is becoming increasingly important to me to have a really strong voice in all of the things that come out of me," she says.

This conversation can often be met with the unfortunate 'diva' stereotype, which Sophie Wilde touched on in our March digital cover interview. It remains a threat for almost any woman who works in the entertainment industry who chooses to advocate for herself, no matter how professionally or gracefully it may be done. The reality is that, when women occupy these kinds of roles, where their faces, bodies and voices are hijacked – in Mackay's case – for marketing and to articulate other peoples' creative visions, they are almost always stripped of agency, no matter how much our industry would like to believe it has progressed.



Left: CHANEL jacket, top and pants; BULGARI necklace, bracelets and rings. Right: CELINE vest; LUDOVIC SAINT SERNIN top from Chinatown Country Club; PASKAL skirt from Parlour X; BULGARI necklace, bracelets, earrings and rings.


And with all of the progression that fashion has actually undertaken, there is still an industry-wide divide on how much of a voice models get to have on set. On a fundamental, human level, is it ever ethical to remove it entirely?

"Not all models want to be reduced completely to just the shell," she muses. "Behind that shell, there's an entire universe, and I think it fails whatever the project is, or whatever your goal is, to not recognise that there's so much more talent and insight to the girls on the set than just their appearance. By taking that voice away, you're doing everybody a disservice, because they could enrich your project in ways that you had no idea."

And what of her most transformative moment this year? For Mackay, it also had to do with hair. After her bleached bob had taken sufficient damage, Mackay decided to crop it into a pixie cut to give her hair its best chance at being healthy again. For her, it opened a door to having a conversation with herself about her relationship with femininity. "I had to really go within to understand the masculine attributes within myself that I had squashed out my whole life because, of course, I'd spent the last 10 years running towards this ideal of womanhood that is perpetuated in modern society," she tells me.

"It really sent me towards this big introspective, redefining moment of what I would allow myself to be as a being, beyond the ideas that had been ingrained about what it means to be a feminine being. It helped me to tap into my true balance, rather than sticking to one side of polarity," she says.

For her, this practice of detachment spanned far deeper than vanity. It sheared Mackay of all of the preconceived ideas that she had internalised around womanhood and forced her to listen to something much more vital: her soul. "It's like, my true pursuit was never womanhood, my true pursuit was free will and reflection of divine self. And that can mean absolutely anything. It's a boundless combination, a balance of masculine and feminine, and so many other things. It made me realise that the label of transgender woman wasn't something that I chose, it was something that was placed upon me by society trying to categorise me yet again. But I exist beyond the category."

Left: Brodie wears CHRISTIAN DIOR Blazer, Pant and Skirt; LUDOVIC SAINT SERNIN top from Chinatown Country Club; BULGARI necklace, bracelet and ring. Mana wears CHET LO top from Chinatown Country Club; LOUIS VUITTON jeans; BULGARI necklace, bracelets, earrings and rings. Hanan wears DION LEE dress; LUDOVIC SAINT SERNIN top from Chinatown Country Club; CHRISTIAN DIOR shoes; BULGARI necklace, bracelet, earrings and ring. Right: Mana wears ALIX HIGGINS sweatshirt; CAROLINE REZNIK skirt; BULGARI necklace, bracelet, earrings and rings. Hanan wears LOEWE top; LUDOVIC SAINT SERNIN top from Chinatown Country Club; ALIX HIGGINS skirt; BULGARI necklace, bracelet, earrings and rings. Brodie wears PRADA dress; BULGARI necklace and ring.


Shedding of hair has often been chronicled as a rite of passage for women, like snakes shedding their skin – a moment to leave the old behind and embrace the new. In Greek and Roman mythology, snakes were believed to possess transformative and regenerative powers for their ability to shed their skin. This universal energy in constant renewal was symbolically represented by the ouroboros, the symbol of a snake biting its tail to form an infinite circle, without beginning or end, and the now iconic shape of Bulgari's Serpenti collection.

Brodie Townsend is the last person I speak to, finding a moment to talk between rehearsals for the second season of Heartbreak High, the series in which he made his acting debut. Being his breakout – and only, thus far – acting role, Townsend is still letting his creative process as an actor take shape, but for him, at this point, it's not so much about transformation as it is about investigating the self, pulling parts of his character out from within.

"It's about finding something in me that already exists," he says. "For me, I feel like it's a bit more internal work, internal growth and finding different, interesting things about yourself and how you would be in certain situations. I feel like that's transformative, but it's also being, if anything, more true to yourself."



Left: Brodie wears SAINT LAURENT blouse; LUDOVIC SAINT SERNIN top from Chinatown Country Club; BULGARI necklace. Mana wears CELINE top; BULGARI necklace and earrings. Right: CHANEL top; BULGARI necklace and earrings.


This is an opportunity for growth in itself, heaving up facets of our emotional makeup to be put on display, examined, and ultimately judged. It is this process – if not one of becoming someone completely different – that is sure to change us the most, little by little, accidentally inviting growth as we go deeper within ourselves.

For Townsend, this method is only possible when he is able to get back to himself in real life, too, a sentiment that is fertilised best when he is home in Perth with his family, stripping back the layers and going to ground. "Obviously life has been a bit crazy, and it's very different to my beginnings. I've recently spent a lot of time at home in Perth, and with my mum," he says. "It's weird how much growth you go through by going backwards a little bit – just getting back to basics, relaxing and seeing old friends. I felt like I got to come back to myself and who I was before, and who I continue to be is all the same thing now."

This sentiment is echoed within the anniversary collection. A timeless icon that has always stayed true to itself and will continue to do so even through its many evolutions over 75 years, this is what Bulgari's Serpenti is connected to, above all else. Conveying tales of artistry and empowerment and endless transformation, Ibrahim, Mackay, and Townsend all make a very convincing case for the power of transformation.


Brodie wears CHRISTIAN DIOR Blazer, Pant and Skirt; LUDOVIC SAINT SERNIN top from Chinatown Country Club; GIORGIO ARMANI shoes; BULGARI necklace, bracelet and ring. Mana wears CHET LO top from Chinatown Country Club; LOUIS VUITTON jeans; CHRISTOPHER ESBER shoes; BULGARI necklace, bracelets, earrings and rings. Hanan wears DION LEE dress; LUDOVIC SAINT SERNIN top from Chinatown Country Club; CHRISTIAN DIOR shoes; BULGARI necklace, bracelet, earrings and ring.


FASHION Charlotte Agnew
TALENT Mana Mackay, Hanan Ibrahim and Brodie Townsend
HAIR Pete Lennon
MAKEUP Molly Warkentin
Special thank you to Sir Stamford at Circular Quay

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