SHAFAQNA – The designers Dolce & Gabbana are used to creating headlines – and the unveiling of their first collection of their collection specifically designed for Muslim women did just that.
Featuring abayas (robe-like dresses worn by some Muslim women that cover everything but the face, feet, and hands) and hijabs (headscarves) formed of sheer georgette and satin weave charmeuse fabrics it’s designed to tap into the Middle Eastern market – one that’s booming right now.
So-called Islamic fashion is one of the industry’s fastest growing sectors, estimated to be worth more than £200 billion by 2020. As a result, fashion brands are trying to break into the market. Last year DKNY released a Ramadan collection that aims to harness the tradition of the annual period (mid-June to mid-July) that sees many Muslims buy new clothing in preparation for Eid. Similarly, in 2015 Uniqlo enlisted UK-born Muslim designer Hana Tajima to create a collection of ‘modest’ clothing to coincide with Ramadan.
For fashion-conscious Muslims it’s a welcome change. “Seeing Dolce & Gabbana launch in this market is definitely a positive thing”, Mariah Idrissi, 23, told The Telegraph of the Italian fashion house’s latest move. The devotee of fashion and devout Muslim was one of the first to make waves in the industry when she was picked as high street brand H&M’s first ever Muslim model. “I think [brands] are realising; let’s not just do it in that one month [Ramadan], let’s make this something to stay, because they’ve realised the potential and how much Muslim women spend on fashion.”
Nonetheless, she admits the Dolce & Gabbana move was such a surprise and that she had to double-check it was genuine when she first saw it. “It’s hard being a Muslim and needing to dress conservatively but loving fashion,” she said. “Nice ‘going out’ clothes are particularly hard. Everything’s either really dressy or really casual.”
Idrissi also receives criticism for wearing trend-led clothes and appearing in H&M’s ads. Whilst the most conservative of Muslims cover everything but their hands and face in something like an abaya (the “most modest dress a Muslim woman can wear,” explains Idrissi), she takes a more relaxed approach, always wearing a hijab (headscarf) but incorporating trend-led clothing into the rest of her outfit.
“Some members of the community still don’t get it,” she says. “I’m trying to explain to people that fashion is such a big, influential part of life, the same way that music is to movies. If we were more used to seeing Muslim women, then for all the negative media that we hear about Muslims they’d also be a positive side to it as well.”
But for Idrissi, working with H&M was just one way to break down the barriers between the fashion world and devout Muslims. “Initially, I, like others took the view that the fashion world indirectly discriminates against us,” she explains. “They say they’re diverse by hiring us as sales assistants but then they won’t use us in marketing to promote the brand.” But working with H&M changed her views – making her realise there are some fashion brands willing to diversify.
Nonetheless, there’s are challenges to getting more Muslims into modelling. “Agencies explained it’s the fact that if you are wearing a hijab as a devout Muslim there is no flexibility. Normally when they hire a model there’s a tick list; you have to be able to do runway, editorial, ads. But as a Muslim woman I wouldn’t be able to do runway – as soon as you come off the catwalk you’re getting man-handled, there’s men helping you change, walking around backstage. That’s a major criteria as a model that no devout Muslim woman could fill.”
As such, it’s important for Idrissi that at least things are changing in the retail world. And fashion loving Muslims like her will be able to buy into luxury trends. “It’s sad that it may mean the depletion of a lot of traditional Islamic brands but at the same time it’s great because these [luxury brands] are the brands that have the media coverage and the marketing. Without doing it directly, they are marketing Islam in a lighter way,” she explains.
Such is her belief that there are other Muslims out there like her, she’s actually launched haute-elan.com, which she describes as “the modest fashion version of Net-A-Porter”. You never know, it might just be stocking Dolce & Gabbana soon…