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Bardia Zeinali
via @bardiazeinali on Instagram

How Instagram artist Bardia Zeinali is making fashion funny

From Paris Hilton to Hari Nef – people can’t stop talking about these clever fashion clips

Behold Paris Hilton, her hair in cloud-like waves that evoke soft serve spilling out from a McFlurry machine, speaking directly to camera in an Instagram video. “Congratulations,” she says. “Wishing you so much success. Kill it babe, love you.”

The subject of her well wishes? One Bardia Zeinali, a baseball cap-wearing director who, until recently, served as the “visual content creator” at Vogue, where he shot videos for the magazine’s website and social media accounts. He also happens to possess the best Instagram of all time, which is full of films that are hilarious and aesthetically beautiful, generally shot with just an iPhone. While Zeinali has yet to acquire a massive, meme lord-esque following, his fans include the likes of makeup mega mogul Pat McGrath, every Cool Downtown New York Person (Petra Collins, Jeanette Hayes, Adam Selman, the Vaquera kids), a yacht-load of supermodels (Adwoah Aboah, Aldridges Lily and Ruby, Hari Nef, Slick Woods), and yes, Hilton herself, who serves alongside McDonald’s and Britney Spears as one of his primary obsessions.

Zeinali’s work is sharp and playful, with expert riffing on imagery from fashion and pop culture (he says he got into fashion via his childhood hoarding of magazines with Britney on the cover). His time at Vogue enabled him to shoot countless celebrities and supers, but Zeinali always manages to take fashion films to a weirder, genius place, poking light-hearted fun at the industry. There’s the mini horror movie about hating Boomerangs; behind-the-scenes footage of the supermodels from Vogue’s March 2017 cover, soundtracked with a recording of the classic Mean Girls line “you can’t sit with us;” a paparazzi-inspired trip around the Louvre in which “Winged Victory” stands in for Gigi and Bella; a video of his friends in Halloween masks dancing around Duane Reade that made me laugh so hard an unwanted biological function occurred (I peed). He doesn’t have much formal training, but you could never tell. “I was always making little videos, my whole life,” he tells me. “It started out when I was younger. In Windows Movie Maker I would make Britney Spears tribute videos. I remember I made one of her and Kevin Federline to the song ‘She Will Be Loved’ by Maroon 5.”

ME AGAINST THE MUSIC

A Canada native, Zeinali, 27, grew up wanting to become a musician. “I was sure that I was destined to be a pop star,” he laughs. “I did Canadian Idol. I did talent shows. I did everything.”

Zeinali didn’t feel like there was a place for him in the music industry – and his voice has changed from cigarettes – but it’s not all bad. “I'm kind of happy I didn't make a career out of it anyway,” he says. “I feel like it's still so sacred. I'm not trying to make money off of it so it's still special. I kind of feel like a little bit of that dream and fantasy in fashion, too, is killed a little bit after you work in it.” He jokes that he might record an “emotional sympathetic techno” album.

But while he may not be recording professionally, music is an essential part of what makes Bardia’s videos different. A song will provide a joke or contrast. He used Pink Dollaz’ “Bad Bitch” for a video of Bella Hadid modeling a Pat McGrath lip kit; a death metal cover of “These Boots Are Made for Walking” for a piece condemning Uggs; a slowed down version of “Beautiful” in a video celebrating Halloween ghouls. “Contrast is what makes it interesting,” he says. “Or I’m super into this idea of new nostalgia, where it's a song or a sound that people kind of understand and it resonates with them, but it's a different version of it that they haven't heard. You're able to connect with it, but it's still fresh and new.  It still feels like something that's kind of like, ‘Wow, what the fuck?’”  

PURPOSEFUL POP

Bardia has also managed to make short films that deal with our current political clusterfuck without feeling corny or pandering. He made videos at the Women’s March in D.C. (one was set to Madonna’s “What It Feels Like For A Girl,” naturally) and the initial post-election Trump protests. Vogue even sent him to Standing Rock on hours’ notice, and the resulting films are deeply sensitive. “We did it in a beautiful way, I think,” he explains. “It was about giving the people there an individual platform. Showing the faces of Standing Rock.”

“Everybody was super receptive, too,” he continues. “When we said it was for Vogue they got really excited. There’s a moment where a woman is applying her lip gloss and she says, ‘Oh, this is for Vogue. Let me put on my lip gloss.’”

Things got more personal after the announcement of Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban (a block of which was just thankfully held up in appeals court). Zeinali isn’t a practicing Muslim, but his mother and several other relatives are. “Those are my people and I feel responsible for protecting them and their reputation and how they're presented,” he says. He documented a New York protest against the ban, and while the resulting video is defiantly joyous, it hasn’t been easy.

“It's frustrating,” says Bardia. “I think that there isn't an accurate representation of Muslim people in general at all, anywhere, in media, in anything. There isn't much of a voice. I just felt like I kind of owed that to my family.”

THE POWER OF THE DREAM

Back in 2013, writer Sarah Nicole Prickett described social media thusly: “If Twitter is the street, Facebook the suburban-sprawl mall, and Pinterest some kind of mail-order catalog, Instagram is the many-windowed splendour of a younger Bergdorf’s, showing all we possess or wish for.” And Zeinali’s Instagram account is envy-inducing, sure – there are even pictures of the Met Gala (Zeinali has been to the Met Gala three times – the only three times he has ever been to the Met). But it never seems snobby. “I don’t like fancy things,” says Bardia. “I hate nice dinners.”

And while it’s unfair to describe Zeinali as an Instagram personality, the platform has had a major effect on his life and career. Superiors at Vogue admired his account, and he likes just having a place to put his work. “I didn't have any kind of professional training or any serious intention of doing any of this as a career, but it was an area of interest and I had that platform,” Bardia says. “[Instagram] kind of created something for me.”

Does he ever think that Instagram is irritating? “It's annoying because it can be so heavily curated,” he continues. “I mean, it's cool that you can kind of present yourself in any way you want, but that's kind of what makes it not very genuine or authentic. It just depends. I think that my Instagram is a fairly good representation of me and my personality.” He pauses.

“Actually, I think I'm a little more extreme in person, to be honest. I think it's a little toned down.”