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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 9    Issue 18   01-15 February 2015

Hijab, Haute Couture and Globalisation

Professor A. R. MOMIN

Islam enjoins upon Muslim women to dress and conduct themselves in a modest manner. The Quran says, “…..And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their head cover over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their husbands” (Quran 24:30-31;33:53; 33:59). The majority of Muslim women around the world wear clothing that is broadly in keeping with the injunctions of Islamic Shariah, which includes headscarves, veils that cover the head and hair but leave the face open, face-covering veils and body-covering loose garment (burqa). There are substantial variations in the way the headscarf is worn by Muslim women in different parts of the world and even within the same country. Some wear a bandana-like scarf that is tied around the hair. Some prefer a loose-fitting scarf that covers the head and neck. Others wear what is generally called a niqab, a black veil that covers the face, leaving a mesh for the eyes. Forms of Islamic clothing for women are variously known as hijab, burqa, jilbab, abayah, niqab, purda, tarhah and chador. Though some Muslim women wear the headscarf out of parental or societal pressure, most wear it for reasons of personal conviction and identity. Women who wear the headscarf or veil consider it a part of their religious and cultural identity and a symbol of modesty and chastity. They say that the veil provides them with a sense of security and privacy in that it protects them from the nasty looks of men and from harassment and abuse that they sometimes experience on the streets.

Fashionable Islamic clothing for women has become increasingly popular across large parts of the Muslim world. In 2012 the worldwide Islamic clothing and footwear market was estimated by Thomson Reuters at $224 billion, the second-biggest market in the world after the US ($494 billion). It is projected to grow to $322 billion by 2018. Islamic fashion shows and festivals, international and local media, websites and blogs, social media and Islamic fashion magazines have played a highly important role in the growing popularity of Islamic fashion.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Dubai are the flourishing hub of Islamic fashion. In Indonesia, the growing demand for trendy Islamic clothing among women led to the establishment of an association of Indonesian fashion designers called APPMI in 1993. The association sought to involve Muslim female designers in crafting and designing fashionable clothing that combined Islamic ethos, national and regional motifs and contemporary Western style. It held fashion shows, launched boutiques and began marketing and exporting its designs to several countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Algeria, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and London. In 2008, Shafira, an Indonesian fashion designer company, launched its new fashion theme “Unity in Diversity,” which aimed to design fashionable clothing suitable for Muslim communities from diverse cultural and national backgrounds.

Islamic fashion festivals have been regularly held in Dubai since 2005, in Malaysia since 2006 and in Jakarta since 2008. Malaysia’s annual Islamic fashion festival, started in 2006 with the slogan ‘Discover the Beauty of Modesty,’ has visited Abu Dhabi, Astana, Dubai, Jakarta, Monte Carlo, New York, Singapore, Bundung and London and has been a trend setter in the Islamic fashion industry. It was included, for the first time, in the Milan Fashion Week held in 2012.

Fashionable garments for women, inspired by Islamic traditions and cultural patterns, are now being crafted and showcased by international designers in Europe. Muslim women in the Middle East generally don what are known as abayas: body-covering black robes, which are usually accompanied by headscarves. Now well-known international designers like Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, Jean Claude Jitrois, Blumarine and Alberta Feretti have undertaken a makeover of the abaya to cater to the tastes of rich clients in the Middle East. Some international designers, who have been impressed by the growing popularity of the headscarf across the world, have reinvented it to make it look trendy. Today the global hijab industry is estimated to be around $100 billion. A prominent trend-setter in the field is the London-based Hijabistas, which designs elegant clothing for Muslim women that represents a blend of contemporary Western styles and Islamic ethos. Hana Tajimo, who has a British mother and a Japanese father, converted to Islam while studying fashion at a college in Exeter, UK. She has founded her clothing brand Maysaa, which offers trendy Islamic designs. Her blog “Style Covered” receives more than 2,000 hits a day from Muslim women who like to wear headscarves and at the same time want to look stylish.

A new monthly fashion magazine “Ala” (meaning “beautiful lifestyle”) was launched in Istanbul, Turkey’s cultural capital, in July 2011 to cater to the tastes of modern Turkish women who prefer to wear the headscarf but at the same time are keen to keep pace with trendy fashion. The magazine is aimed at the promotion of modest Muslim styles in women’s fashion and shows only models in Islamic headscarves.

The magazine, which may be regarded as Turkey’s answer to global fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle, has a glossy finish with an eye-catching layout and photography. It features ads from such international brands as Gucci, Dolbe Gabbana and H&M. The magazine’s policy is to advertise only that clothing which is in conformity with Islamic values and traditions. It features fashion, décor, travel tips, health and child development. The magazine’s sales have surpassed those of Vogue and Elle in Turkey. Since its launch last July, the magazine has been selling more than 40,000 copies, and the demand is rapidly increasing.

Since 2011 an annual Islamic fashion pageant called The World Muslimah Award has been held in Jakarta, Indonesia. The pageant, organized by the World Muslimah Foundation, Jakarta, eschews bikini parades and instead requires the contestants to wear the hijab and encourages them to take part in recitations from the Quran and to engage in discussions and debates about issues and challenges faced by Muslim women in today’s fast-changing world. The contestants are also taken to visit slums and the homes of the elderly. The winner is awarded $10,000 worth of gold dinars, a gold watch, a pilgrimage to Makkah, a scholarship to study overseas and a culinary tour of South Korea.

The fourth pageant of the World Muslimah Award was held on 21 November 2014 in Jakarta. In all 18 contestants from several countries, including Iran, Tunisia, the UK, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Singapore and Trinidad participated in the pageant. Miss Unisia Fatma Ben Guefrache was crowned Miss Muslimah 2014.

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