Queen Fawzia Fuad: The Style Icon


We first came across Fawzia Fuad’s striking photograph as Queen of Iran, decked with glittering diamonds and distinctively 1940s hair and makeup and thought, ‘’Wow, they don’t make them like that anymore.’’ Often compared to her contemporaries, Hollywood actresses Hedy Lamar and Vivien Leigh, it's no wonder this royal remains an enduring style icon.

Looking at her photographs it’s easy to be swept away by the glitz and glamour but if you look closely one thing is clear, she embodied the phrase, "Poor little rich girl." Primped and primed from a tender age, Fawzia was educated in Europe, and like most princesses, was always kept under the watchful eye of female chaperones. Sir Cecil Beaton, who described the royal as a Venus when he photographed her for the cover of Life Magazine said, "She had sad and mournful eyes, pitch-black hair, a perfectly sculpted face and soft, graceful hands bereft of the wrinkles of labour."

Fawzia was born into a time of political uncertainty, as her brother, the King Farouk, famous for his insatiable appetite (in more ways than one) failed to recognize and address the needs of his own people. It was not long before the young princess, at the tender age of 17, was entered into a political marriage to Iran’s Crown Prince, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

The royal wedding in 1939 was a sumptuous affair and dazzled the public - who doesn’t love a royal wedding? Unfortunately their marriage was not to be a happy one. Described as beautiful but shy, the princess seemed reluctant to be a part of public life. The couple in their first year together had a baby girl but life at the royal Persian court was a struggle for Queen Fawzia. It was said that her mother in law was controlling and possessive, the king’s twin sister as well was known to be ferociously jealous of her brother’s affections. And then there were her husbands extramarital affairs, it is said that the Queen who did not- or would not- speak Farsi spoke French at court. After she arranged for separate sleeping quarters, the King who would tap at her door was often replied with: “Pour l’amour de Dieu, partez!”

The Queen increased her trips to her native home for what she described as health reasons, until one trip, she never went back. The divorce was taken care of in a discreet and amicable manner citing the major reason for the divorce as Tehran not agreeing with the Queen’s health. Her daughter would remain with her father in Iran and meet her mother on trips to Switzerland. Some may say the reason for the divorce was because the couple hadn’t produced a male heir, others that life was simply unbearable for the Queen in a foreign land she did not want to be a part of. It was after all not a love match but merely a political alliance.

Soon after her divorce, the now Princess Fawzia married Colonel Ismail Chirine, a graduate of Cambridge and a former Egyptian war minister. Following the 1952 revolution, Fawzia’s brother, King Farouk I was removed from the throne, leaving Egypt never to come back. Throughout the revolution and many other political unrests Egypt has gone through, the Princess chose to remain there. She had a daughter and son, and lived a quiet and much humbler existence in Alexandria with her husband. 

Whether she was happy at last, it is only for us to hope and to reflect in our heavily filtered lives the fragile facade behind beauty, wealth and influence.

Article and illustration by Noor Bashiti

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