Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Lifting the Veil on the Islamic Catwalk

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Lifting the Veil on the Islamic Catwalk

Article excerpt

It is the month of Ramadan. Muslims will be fasting during the day, and devoting most of early evening to prayer and introspection. What better time to reflect on Islamic fashion? Most of you probably think that religious people are not into fashion. Or that a person into fashion cannot be truly religious. Well, think again.


Islamic fashion is a mega-global business going out of its way to forge explicit links between the two. The field is led by Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan, where proliferating companies produce, target and respond to a growing number of fashion-conscious women. At last, Muslim women, from Timbuktu to Tyneside, can be covered and fashionable, modest and beautiful.

The current bumper issue of Fashion Theory is devoted to "Muslim fashions". "Wherever they are in the world," say the editors, Annelies Moors and Emma Tarlo, "Muslim women are engaged with fashion, whether through challenging the idea of fashion, adopting and adapting local and global fashions, or by participating in the development of new trends." Abandon any suggestions that bearded mullahs dictate or define the styles of dress worn by Muslim women, or that religious prescription is incompatible with fashion. Rejoice in the emergence of a thoroughly modest and modern (if, in some cases, fully veiled) Islamic catwalk.

Even in austere and ultraconservative Saudi Arabia the demand for fashion thrives. Saudi women have to cover themselves from head to toe in the state-sanctioned abaya (an all-enveloping black cloak), but underneath they hide the hottest couture from Paris and Milan. In Yemen and south India, the same abaya is transformed into a sophisticated, cosmopolitan dress--the latest Islamic haute couture.

Designers in Egypt and Iran look to India, Lebanon and Morocco for aesthetic stimulation. Malians look to Dakar and Abidjan. …

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