Ikemen #35: Zaher Saleh

October 31, 2017 5:00 PM

IKEMEN (ē´k´mɛn): Japanese Slang

"REALLY, REALLY, RIDICULOUSLY GOOD LOOKING PEOPLE"

Name: Zaher Saleh

Occupation: Partner and Creative Director at Zirkova Vodka, TV Producer, and Singer

 

The Italians have a word--sprezzatura--which refers to an elegant way of making it through life without any demonstrative effort. It doesn’t mean you’re not ambitious or don’t work hard, it’s just that you do your thing without ever coming across as thirsty. Singer, tv producer, creative director Zaher Saleh is the embodiment of sprezzatura.

Lithe and handsome, Zaher was born in Saida, a historic fishing town on the Lebanese coast of the Mediterranean. Each summer, his parents would bring him and his three brothers to middletown, USA to visit his cousins and uncles in Canfield, Ohio. “I loved growing up in the Middle East, but every summer, I couldn’t wait to go to Ohio and do things like going to Target or Walmart. It felt so exciting, so American.”   

Zaher was kind of an introverted teenager. He dreamed of being a famous singer and having fans all over the world, and would rock out in his bedroom to David Bowie, Michael Jackson and George Michael, singing their songs into his mirror, but never in front of family or friends. While studying advertising at Youngstown State University in Ohio, he happened to see a television ad looking for singers for season 5 of Star Academy, an American Idol-type show popular in the Middle East. On a whim, he sent in an audition tape, and so began his mythical journey. 

Within weeks, he was whisked off to Beirut to sing for the Star Academy’s producers and cement his casting in the show. His warm, earnest voice made him an immediate fan favorite, and he rose to the top-five before he was cast off the island. But that didn’t matter because by then, he was already famous. He returned to the States, recorded some pop songs, and produced and starred in a reality program for the Showtime Network in Dubai called “Yalla NY” about Middle Easterners who were working as creative professionals in New York. He had two hit tv shows under his belt, and he was only 26. 

“I started to question what was next for me,” recalls Zaher. “I started to look inward and ask ‘how am I being true to myself?’ “ It was around that time that he reconnected with a friend, Derek Anderson, the director/producer/writer known for his work on “Terminator Salvation” and “In God We Trust.” Derek and Zaher soon began talks with a nascent, award-winning vodka brand called “Zirkova” which was produced in Canada using traditional Ukrainan techniques. Zaher was brought on as a partner and creative director. “ ‘Zirkova’ means ‘inner light,’ and that’s what I was experiencing as I was becoming more conscious and learning about myself, finding my place in the world. My parents are Palestinian refugees, I am Lebanese, Palestinian, American. I want to bring people together.” 

Derek and Zaher wanted the vodka brand to have a distinct public service mission attached to it, so they dedicated ten percent of Zirkova’s proceeds to nonprofit alliances. They also launched “We Are One+Together,” a collection of short films highlighting “the triumph of the human spirit over prejudice, oppression and separation, created to inspire people to celebrate themselves and one another.”  

In honor of pride month, Zaher wanted to produce a short film dedicated to gay men from Syria who were seeking asylum overseas due to the civil war in their homeland. He cast the actors, and met with some directors in Los Angeles, but couldn’t seem to find the right fit. And then something dawned on him. “I wanted to deliver a message of acceptance and love, but I had to start with myself. This was my film, my story.” 

Zaher’s film, The War Within is about a gay Muslim man struggling to reconcile his sexuality with his faith and his family’s traditional values. It was released in June in concert with Visionaire World and Grindr. Thus far, the film has generated 120 million “user impressions” for Zirkova. It gave Zaher the courage to be true to himself, and he hopes it inspired others to “remove the filters that are placed on us by society’s expectations” so they can find their own true voice. 

Zaher’s voice will emerge in 2018 on his first full-length English language album which will be called “The War Within.” In the meantime, Zirkova has projects in the works with The Standard Hotel and with Steven Klein for Art Basel. Zaher hopes that whether you like to drink your vodka straight up, mix it in a cocktail or even if you don’t drink at all, that the message of accepting yourself and celebrating others is something that continues to resonate, from the fishing villages of Lebanon to the strip malls of Canfield, and every point between and beyond. 

 

 

WRITTEN BY KAREN FRAGALA-SMITH

EDITOR HOLLIS DE LANEY

 

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHIAKI KATO

 

related posts

IKEMEN #1: Thanos Samaras

IKEMEN (ē´k´mɛn): Japanese Slang

"REALLY, REALLY, RIDICULOUSLY GOOD LOOKING PEOPLE"

March 04, 2013 12:00 AM  |  People

INTERVIEW: HAIM? Never heard of them

Haim (pronounced Hime) are three sisters who put most of their male counterparts to shame. This girls completely own rock 'n' roll.

February 26, 2013 12:00 AM  |  People

MUN No.1 Aknari

Makeup artist and beauty expert Munemi Imai's organic nighttime youth serum, No.1 Aknari nourishes and repairs your...

November 28, 2012 2:30 PM  |  People
OSCAR DE LA RENTA

OSCAR DE LA RENTA: AN AMERICAN ICON

For decades now, Oscar de la Renta has been synonymous with pure American luxury, dressing the upper-east side’s ladies who lunch, Hollywood’s red carpet, and first ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy-...

November 01, 2012 3:02 PM  |  People
Photography Chek Wu.  Top, BOTTEGA VENETA. Ring,bracelet HOORSENBUHS.

Hunger Games Starlet, Isabelle Fuhrman

今月28(金)日本公開映画「ザ・ハンガー・ゲーム」で決死の殺し合いゲームに挑むクローブ役の15歳の少女、イザベル・ファーマンが本誌に演技や、恋愛について語ってくれた。

September 23, 2012 4:42 PM  |  People

What's Zombie Boy Like on the Inside?

Nicola Formichetti’s muse is a walking Mugler moodboard.  To Mugler, rare is remarkable.  And Genest is nothing if not a celebration of the rare.

September 21, 2012 1:35 PM  |  People
Wiz Khalifa

Blog Party: WILL PRINCE

Julia Lang is the 25 year old blogger behind www.geeksndfashion.com.

August 30, 2012 1:53 PM  |  People
From his latest collection titled, Atom

Noritaka Tatehana

Shoe designer Noritaka Tatehana harnesses his secret forces of shoe construction to snag the attention of international fashionistas like Lady Gaga and Daphne Guiness.

August 26, 2012 10:50 PM  |  People

Blog Party: Dreamland

We are all different with one distinguishing similarity; we all have that special place in the back of our minds, the “box” as we’d like to name it, in which we store our biggest dreams, greatest...

August 14, 2012 12:26 PM  |  People
Beau Dunn

LA BEAU DUNN

Hollywood it-girl, Beau Dunn, multi-talented model, actress, artist and philanthropist, was born and raised in Beverly Hills, the daughter of a...

August 07, 2012 1:20 PM  |  People

Blog Party: Ciao Summer

Joanne Hegarty is a London based blogger and journalist who writes daily posts on how to live stylishly through fashion, interiors and food.

July 13, 2012 1:39 PM  |  People
JFK in classic chinos and Wayfarers

Blog Party: Why I Love The Classics

It’s recently dawned on me how most things in life are cyclical - everything eventually comes back around for a second play; rock n’ roll bands had their day in the 60’s and again in the 90’s;...

June 30, 2012 12:15 PM  |  People

A Strong Man: Scott Lipps

As CEO and founder of one of the world’s most prestigious modeling agencies, the orchestrator behind a premier fashion blog, the star of an E reality TV show, and the drummer...

June 07, 2012 3:20 PM  |  People

Pro-Surfer Andres Carreras Makes a Splash with new Sponsor, Cloud Kicker

J. Andres Carreras was born in 1991 and is a pro surfer from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Though only 21 years of age, Carreras has been surfing for 9 years.

June 06, 2012 12:43 PM  |  People

Blog party: There is no such thing as your instinct

Julia Lang is the 25 year old blogger behind www.geeksndfashion.com.

May 28, 2012 11:55 PM  |  People

Blog party: Nautical but Nice

My name is Joanne Hegarty and I write the blog, Ballet Pumps And Roses, which has daily posts on living stylishly through...

May 08, 2012 3:55 PM  |  People
The Otic Ear Cuff by Robert Anthony www.robertanthonydesign.com

blog party: Hidden Treasures

Nayla , Noor and Rawdah Al Naimi are the three sisters behind the blogs Cocoa Butter, Celebrities Style and Unbreakable Diamond.

May 08, 2012 3:37 PM  |  People

Mischa Barton – The Full Interview with TWELV mag Issue: 001

Mischa Barton – The Full Interview.

Issue: 001

 

 

May 01, 2012 11:59 AM  |  People
Me wearing the CAMDEN Biker Jacket by THREE FLOOR

blog party: One, Two, THREE FLOOR!

Julia Lang is the 25 year old blogger behind www.geeksndfashion.com.

May 01, 2012 11:07 AM  |  People
Photo by Maria Karas

Good Ol’ Georgia Boy

Sean O’Pry, Fashion’s hottest male model get’s a dirty makeover and muses about the simple life. 

May 01, 2012 11:05 AM  |  People

DJ-ing his Way From England to L.A.: Zen Freeman Opens up to TWELV About his Latest Endeavors

“A celebrity in his own right, [Zen Freeman] DJs and promotes for the hottest events and venues worldwide.

May 01, 2012 10:08 AM  |  People

A Shining Example: Lauren Bush On the Noble Mission of Curing Hunger Through Fashion.

When it comes to using fashion as a force for profound humanitarian good, Lauren Bush has cornered the market.

May 01, 2012 8:31 AM  |  People
Eric Waroll wearing Rad by Rad Hourani © Jean du Sartel www.timeoftheassassins.com

blog party: Paris Gone Wild

Eric Waroll is the fashion editor and blogger of EricWaroll.com.  At just 21, he is quickly becoming a significant part of the young Paris fashion scene.

May 01, 2012 8:18 AM  |  People

Pages

SITE BY: monocomplex©Marbles & Marbles International Inc. Drupal Development by: DivDiv, NYC
▲ back to top ▲