Islamic Fashion In The News



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Fashionable Quandary

Original article here.

As Muslim women have become more affluent in the last decade or two, Islamic fashion has evolved into a lucrative industry. Yet, no one – not even designers, it seems – can actually define what Islamic fashion is.

DATUK Shah Rezza comes across as a suave, modern – even liberal – businessman. So what is he doing peddling Islamic fashion?

Because he is savvy enough to see the lucrative potential of fashion designed specifically for Muslim women.

Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir

But what makes garments “Islamic”?

According to the Quran, men and women are required to dress modestly by covering their aurat, which refers to the area from the navel to the knee for the former and all parts of the body except the face, hands and feet for the latter. However, there has been much debate on how this can be interpreted and how far one needs to go to ensure proper Muslim attire compliance.

If the idea is to dress modestly and not attract attention to yourself then surely “Islamic fashion” is a misnomer, as fashion is all about adorning oneself and attracting attention.

Shape evolution

According to Prof Madya Mohamad Najib Nor from the Textile and Fashion Department of the Creative Technology and Heritage Faculty, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, the Malay way of dressing has evolved over the centuries with the advent of different religions in the region.

He says, upon conversion to Islam, a whole new concept of covering up emerged among the Malay Muslims, who chose a kind of a tent shape.

Noor Kumalasari

He goes on to explain that the habbaya from the Arabian Peninsula became the kebaya matched with a shawl and sarong, which was tied in a style called tindih kasih.

Then there is the Turkish long tunic that became the baju kurung, worn with a wrapped and draped sarong.

The wrapping and draping concept appears in the Cik Siti Wan Kembang outfit (from Kelantan) that comes with a wide shawl and, later on (also for Kelantan women), the kain batik lepas, a piece of batik material.

“The bright 2m coloured fabric was used as a head covering; it became multi-functional to suit daily life,” says Prof Najib.

This was the origin of Muslim Malays’ clothing that, over the years, was further influenced by the trends of each era.

In the present era, Prof Najib thinks that most designers don’t quite understand fashion from the Islamic point of view.

“Most of them do not grasp what is required under the Islamic fashion concept. The Islamic silhouette does not emphasise the figure, especially the chest. The designs should focus more on practicality, in keeping with Muslim activities in daily life.”

Which basically means comfortable and practical clothing that a Muslim can wear while performing everyday tasks.

In today’s context, the most recognisable form of such comfortable, practical and, of course, modest garment in Malaysia is the baju kurung. That is a variation of the jubah that Muslim women elsewhere wear. Increasingly, Muslim women wear the outfit with a headscarf that’s called hijab in the Middle East but usually is referred to as the tudung, (cover) locally.

Rizalman Ibrahim

“As the name suggests – from the word kurung which means to confine – this shape of dress was to protect the human body from unwanted elements,” explains Prof Najib.

Adding style

With growing affluence and the increasing sophistication of Muslim women that have become very apparent in the last decade or two, Islamic fashion has evolved into a sought-after and lucrative industry of its own.

This is where Shah Rezza comes in. For the past three years, he has been organising the Islamic Fashion Festival (IFF) in Kuala Lumpur. Shah Rezza calls it a fashion festival and not fashion week because the latter is a serious business, involving international buyers and media.

He has no current equivalent at the moment, but he does have a plan to turn the IFF into an actual fashion week, take it to other major cities, and create an awareness of Kuala Lumpur as a major Islamic fashion capital, within five years.

Shah Rezza hopes by then KL will have several boutiques and designers that offer various Islamic attire. However, he does have a grouse when it comes to the designers: they are given general guidelines and allowed to interpret them freely, but they don’t seem to make an effort.

“They just put a hat or a scarf on the head and think that’s Islamic. The point is, the audience wants to see what Islamic fashion is all about. The show has to be different from mainstream couture shows.

Prof Mohamad Najib Nor

“There are some designers who go out of their way to cover head to toe and still look stylish and chic. The best is Sebastian Gunawan from Indonesia. Until this year, our theme was ‘Discover the Beauty of Modesty’ but next year it will be ‘Less is More’, meaning less flesh and more material.”

Since its inception three years ago, the IFF has featured creations by 180 designers from various countries, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. There has also been participation from international labels like Milo, Etro, and Nitya.

Apart from the designers not interpreting Islamic fashion accurately, there are also the Islamic scholars to contend with. They want to know why the designs do not conform 100% to Islamic guidelines.

Shah Rezza argues that it’s about being gentle: “The religion itself took 23 years to complete. IFF believes that everyone will have their own pace (when it comes to covering up) and therefore IFF will create and present designs to suit each step and phase.

“We would love to rebrand Islamic dressing as a dress code that is more than just fulfilling religious requirements. Women should just love and be happy to cover up.

“IFF would also like to establish a circuit of Islamic fashion capitals with Kuala Lumpur being the major city. It should be an event that society looks forward to every year, an event associated with unifying people from diverse backgrounds and synonymous with charity.

“Most of all, IFF should be an event that lets the world know that there’s more to Islam than Osama bin Laden, terrorism and segregation. As Prophet Muhammad once said, ‘Allah is beautiful and indeed loves beauty’.”

Mix and mismatch?

Among designers, there are different schools of thought. Some like Kem Salleh from Kapas Couture are excited about the challenges while others like Rizalman Ibrahim do not believe there is such a thing as Islamic fashion.

Kem feels that it’s about infusing Islamic values and modesty into the world of fashion.

“As a designer label, we have to be open minded and not limit our creativity. We also need to educate Muslim women that Islamic fashion isn’t dull and conservative. Participating (in IFF) is a good way to show the world that Islamic fashion can be trendy, colourful and marketable.

Despite the gamut of styles at last year's Islamic Fashion Festival in Kuala Lumpur, some scholars feel that designers have yet to understand fashion from a Muslim point of view. - Montage by NORLIDAH RAMLI/THE STAR

“There are the main guidelines, such as covering the hair and the entire body and not being too figure-hugging. However, different designers may interpret them in their own creative ways, as long as the guidelines are followed.

“Islamic fashion is still new in the fashion industry. Further, how does one describe Islamic fashion? The tudung, for example, has been designed and interpreted in many ways. Some people just wear a shawl over their head and you can still see the front part of the hair, some will cover their hair with a scarf and you can still see their neck and some will cover the entire head.

“Islamic fashion is an educational process because some Muslim women who wear modern dresses may want to slowly transform themselves and begin dressing the Islamic way a step at a time. A good example is Datuk Siti Nurhaliza.”

Rizalman, however, feels very strongly that fashion and Islam cannot mix.

He has not participated in the IFF and neither does he promote Islamic fashion in any form for the simple reason that he doesn’t believe there is such a thing.

“Fashion is fashion and Islam is Islam. I don’t believe in mixing religion and fashion because religion doesn’t stop one from participating in fashion and Islam encourages us to be beautiful, so it’s about what you think fashion is.

The evolution of Siti Nurhaliza: From stage-y outfits in 1999, through what looked like a leather phase in 2004 and elegant dresses in 2006 to a scarf covering her hair today. - File photos

“Like the Arabs, you can wear shorts, skirts, and bustiers but you must know when and where to wear such clothes – at home among the women. But when you go out, you wear the jubah.

“When you mix fashion and religion there is no way out, that’s why you see mid-length kaftans with calf leggings. Like you put up a Quran recital and mix it with hip hop. Aurat is still aurat.

“The reason why we cover our aurat and wear the jubah is to stop people looking at us. But if you wear colour, beadings, etc, that’s to invite people to look at you, and that’s wrong.”

So how does he deal with clients that wear the headscarf and selendang and want him to design Islamic-style clothes?

“If someone asks me to design something with specific requirements, I don’t consider it my creation. I am merely rendering a service to my client.”

He finds it very irritating when people think his designs are Islamic fashion, as he says there is a difference between referencing culture in a design and using religion.

“Middle Eastern fashion is cultural, that’s where the reference comes from. If you’re thinking of clothes that cover, our baju kurung is already Muslim wear so why bother creating anything else?”

Rizalman believes that before anything else, when it comes to covering up, what Islam says is God’s law, and that, to him, cannot be changed according to whims and fancies.

Well-known Star columnist and activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir is also against the term Islamic fashion.

“I object to it because it implies that those of us who don’t wear these types of garments, particularly if we don’t cover our heads, are not Muslims. I think everyone should dress modestly and that is enough. Dressing in ‘Islamic fashion’ does not mean you are a better Muslim than one who does not.”

Like Rizalman, she feels religion and fashion should not be mixed: “Religion and fashion are two separate worlds. Yes, I think women have a right to dress in any way that pleases them and be modest about it as well. But I don’t think it needs to be called fashion. If it is fashion, not only is it by definition attention-getting but it’s also fleeting and transient and requires you to change every so often, even when there is no reason to.

“Following fashion can enslave you too. Does the Quran give fashion guidelines? No, it just tells us, men and women, to behave modestly. God is beyond fashion.”

Marina points out that “our mothers and grandmothers have been wearing traditional dress all their lives, so are we now saying that they are not Islamic?

“I think we should dress in our own custom and fashion, suitable for our climate. I am sometimes surprised that the people who fight so hard for the Malay language because without it, our culture will die, are so much less interested in preserving our own traditional costumes and daily wear.”

Former actress/singer/model Noor Kumalasari, who donned the hijab 10 years ago, frowns on the attitude of Muslims who believe that they can dress one way during solat (prayers) and in another, more liberal way, at other times. To her, this is irrational because “it is as if God is not watching us outside of prayers”.

Noor, who only wears black, says Islamic fashion should be “mosque compliant”, meaning, keep it simple. That applies to the IFF’s designers, too. “Otherwise, it might wrongly be interpreted that such designs are acceptable in Islam,” she adds.

Noor, however, believes that as long as there are clothes, there will be fashion, so to her, fashion is relevant to religion too.

“Simple designs are also fashionable. It is more challenging to design simple fashion, especially if it is limited to black. The objective of creating Islamic fashion should be different from normal fashion because making heads turn is not welcome in Islam. Islamic fashion should be based on practicality, presentability, choice of fabric, and creativity.”

Personal choice

For ordinary Muslim women, it’s about finding modest and practical clothing suitable for daily activities.

Lawyer Linda Harun, 30, who has been wearing the tudung for two years, believes a Muslim woman seeking to be fashionable contradicts Islamic teachings – but she doesn’t like being stereotyped as conservative, either.

“I like to look presentable and I find wearing long black jubahs do exactly that for the most part. But it’s annoying that people in general perceive women who wear the tudung to be conservative.”

To Farah Abdullah, a 25-year-old executive, clothes that cover the skin and are not too tight or transparent are in keeping with Islamic tenets. She wears the tudung, a decision that she did not make easily. “But once you wear it, everything else becomes manageable. I do get tempted by more fashionable dresses but I make do with other methods. For example, I will follow the colour of the season, but not the type of dress.

“Fashion is not just about clothes. You can still follow the fashion trends of shoes, bags and accessories, and forget about dresses and skirts that are not Muslim-appropriate.

“I think Islamic wear is evolving and becoming more and more fashionable. I like having plenty of styles to choose from when it comes to wearing the hijab.”

So is there such a thing as Islamic fashion? Are we trivialising a religious tenet or helping believers make it a part of their lives?

For this writer, writing this story has been a long and complicated journey. As a Muslim, I believe that when you cover up, you are submitting yourself to God, and fashion should really be the last thing on your mind. It no longer matters how pretty you look in public, it is about how your spiritual self looks to God.

As a fashion writer, however, I do admire the beautiful designs and the innovative ways in which designers try to marry religion and fashion. So I straddle the two worlds somewhat uneasily and try to find a balance. I believe the answer may be beyond all of us, and in the end, how one chooses to interpret religion is strictly between oneself and God.

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Look to the Quran
Original article here.

I READ the article Fashionable quandary in StarMag (Trends, April 12) and would like to make the following remarks.

Islam is a way of life and it is governed by Quranic injunctions that form the framework and basis upon which life is established.

Take, for example, the way women should dress. In Surah Nur verse 31, several aspects have been described. These include having an outer garment over an existing one, indicating loose clothing, clothing that does not reveal the contours of the body.

Though there are various interpretations of this verse, the Shafi’e School of Islamic thought (Madhab) permits the face to be exposed.

Other aspects refer to the lowering of one’s gaze, and who one can mingle with. What is most significant with the verse is that “they should not stamp their feet so as to reveal what is in their inner garments”.

On the basis of this and many other verses, including Ahadith, we can say that the mode of how Muslim women should dress has been established in accordance with Allah’s commands. This is the basic framework or outline on which Islamic fashion is established.

As for women dressing in black or any specific colour, well, that is a matter of choice. However, the Prophet Muhammad has said that a woman should not dress in a manner that would attract attention to herself, which could make her look like a whore.

Many Malaysian Muslim women think they are dressing in accordance with Islam when they wear the tudung (head covering) but in truth they fail the test when they then sport tight fitting clothing that details the outline of their bodies, a clear prohibition in Islam.

How the Pakistanis, Afghans or Malays dress culturally is something else. Often, we find a lot of cultural practices undertaken in the name of Islam are downright unIslamic.

As for the statement reported in the story by Marina Mahathir that, “Dressing in Islamic fashion does not make you a better Muslim than the one who does not”, she is right because how one dresses only forms one aspect of Islam. But she is also wrong because, whether she likes it or not, Allah has determined the framework of how women should dress themselves.

Marina also said, “Does the Quran give fashion guidelines? No, it just tells us, men and women, to behave modestly. God is beyond fashion.” Yet, if the verse I quoted above is not related to fashion or the way a Muslim woman should dress, then what is?

The truth is that most Malaysian Muslims are ritualistic robots who go through the daily rituals, such as prayer, fasting and going on the Haj, without thinking much while the rest who don’t follow guidelines are left to their whims and fancies. It would be better to turn to Allah for forgiveness and to strive for improvement rather than to be rebellious.

Haji Mokhtar Stork
Batu Caves, Selangor

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A Lifestyle Revolution
Original article here.

An Aussie designer has been making waves with her range of activewear for Muslim women.

A DECADE ago, a “Muslim swimsuit” would have been an oxymoron. Indeed, conventional Islamic notions of femininity have been depicted as anything but athletic.

More contemporary modes of thought, however, have come to recognise that while Islam does highly promote female modesty, it also promotes good health, which requires excercise. Some believe there is a middle ground where these principles can be reconciled, and many modern Muslim women are now living active lifestyles without contravening their Islamic values.

“We were always encouraged, from a young age, to participate in sports and swimming, but as we got older, heading towards puberty, it was more difficult to join in due to not having suitable modest clothing to wear,” Aheda Zanetti recounts her experience as an Australian-Lebanese Muslim women growing up Down Under where a culture of sport, outdoor recreation, and time spent on beaches is prized as intrinsic to the country’s identity.

Muslim women wanting to simultaneously embrace this culture and their religious beliefs have been invariably faced with moral and practical limitations. Not compromising their faith ultimately meant that they were excluded from what is practically a national pastime in Australia.

In phone and e-mail interviews, Zanetti explains that it was for these reasons that, in 2006, she launched her fashion line, Ahiida, releasing a Muslim swimsuit she called the Burqini, and the Hijood, sportswear with a hijab hood fitting. Now, Muslim women are not just enjoying beaches in Australia, but some are patrolling Sydney’s Cronulla Beach as part of Australia’s first Muslim lifeguard team.

At the time of its release, the Burqini was a revolutionary and somewhat controversial product, and Zanetti faced some backlash, she says in an e-mail interview. She has been called a terrorist online. She has received a death threat. Conservative Muslims have expressed contempt for the Burqini, claiming it reveals too much of womens’ figures, and a visitor at the ShiaChat website (shiachat.com) said, “This is like playing a game with Allah”.

But the response from the vast majority of the world was glowing, and the Burqini has been endorsed as culturally and religiously appropriate by the Australian Islamic Council and the former mufti, Sheik Taj el-Din al-Hilali.

Zanetti, whose business is “bigger and stronger than ever” today, says the only challenge has been keeping up with the global demand.

It is perhaps no surprise that Malaysia, which has a strong resort culture and is cultivating an increasingly health conscious society, has responded positively to these fashion innovations. While Zanetti has not heavily promoted her label in Malaysia, she says she has found a very keen market here.

Sitinorshikin Mohd Said, who has been retailing another brand of Muslim swimwear called Safi in Kuala Lumpur for only a year says there is already an overwhelming demand: “At last, there is swimwear for Muslim women and everybody is very happy.

“Usually, Muslim women feel very embarrassed about wearing T-shirts and aerobic pants when they swim. Also, many hotels do not allow them to swim in such clothes because the cotton damages the swimming pool. Now, everybody is (thanking God), and happy and very comfortable.”

For some women in other parts of the globe, however, Muslim swimwear has taken some getting used to: “Do you remember that moment that you wore (the) hijab for the first time in public? You felt simultaneously proud and nervous. Well, be warned: you’ll feel the exact same anxiety the first time you walk out in a modest swimsuit,” Gulsen A. wrote on Zanetti’s testimonial page. “Being shy, I deal with this by staring straight ahead and avoiding eye contact.”

Yet Hamidah Mohd Said, one of Sitinorashikin’s customers in Kuala Lumpur, says the staring is for all the right reasons: “People look but then they ask, where do you buy this from? Even in Western countries, people are very nice and ask me about the swimsuit.”

However, some Muslim women may feel that this conspicuousness may compromise one aspect of their beliefs, that is, that women should be modest and not attract attention. When women wearing these swimsuits are stared at, that’s exactly what happens, they attract attention.

For this reason, Zanetti has looked into making the garments fit the contemporary cultural context of her Western Muslim clients: “I design sportswear that offers not only full coverage suitable for the veiled Muslim girl but that also blends in with the Western style of clothing,” she says.

Zanetti has also kept in mind that conceptions of modesty and appropriateness vary between different Islamic denominations and individuals, so her range offers garments in both slim and modest fits.

“We cater for all types of women with different needs. From the extremely modest woman who needs to be with her children while they’re swimming and the everyday girl who enjoys swimming with family and friends to the working or fitness girl who wants to swim laps.

“We are not hear to judge or compare the needs of these women – just use common sense and enjoy!” Zanetti says.

The emphasis on common sense and practicality in Muslim swimwear has given Muslim athletes a very professional air – the swimsuit almost resembles an Olympian, Ian “The Torpedo” Thorpe-style suit.

This is a huge improvement, as the practicality of the traditional hijab has been questioned in sport before and has hindered Muslim athletes’ elegibility and credibility. A prime example is the soccer and tae kwon do tournaments in Quebec in 2007 when Muslim athletes were forced to withdraw because officials decided that their hijabs would pose a safety risk.

There is no doubt that Muslim swimwear is a safer option than swimming in yards of loose fabric, not to mention being much lighter than wet burqas. In fact, Muslim sportswear is even safer than conventional sports attire when it comes to offering protection from the sun.

And athletes simply look more convincing in Muslim sportswear compared with traditional wear. An Ahiida Hijood even featured in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games: it was worn by Bahrain’s Roqaya Al-Gassra, who won her 200m heat

“It’s great to finally have a high performance outfit that allows me to combine my need for modesty (with a need for) breathable, moisture-controlled fabric,” Al-Gassra says in statement issued by the Australian trade commission, Austrade.

Obviously, even in the short time it has been around, Zanetti’s Muslim sportswear has already changed the lifestyles, even the social existences, of many Muslim women. And this is only the beginning, “we’ve just started!” says the designer, who is working on a new range. Get set for more waves....

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Cover Up In Style
Original article here.

Modesty can be fashionable as seen at the recent Islamic Fashion Festival.

HERE’S a question: How does one cover up completely for modesty’s sake and yet still look good? Surely designing clothes for the fashionable yet devout Muslim woman is no mean feat.

Firstly, there is the need to ensure that the aurat (for the woman, it encompasses everything except the face and hands) is not exposed. Secondly, you don’t want women to look like they’re wearing shapeless sacks.

Ghea Panggabean dazzles with her take of Islamic bridal wear.

Thus, the Islamic Fashion Festival (IFF) was a much looked forward to event, especially since it’s ultimate aim is to make Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta the hub of Islamic fashion.

The average fashion-conscious Muslim woman faces a daily chore of what to wear to the office and after. Obviously, this concern was at the top of the list, judging from the crowd of women checking out the lifestyle collection by Malaysian and Indonesian designers at the sixth Islamic fashion festival, held at the JW Marriott Hotel in Kuala Lumpur recently.

This was a more sober and practical collection compared to the couture creations of the Gala Dinner held the night before.

The designers showcased a collection of smart-casual, career wear, formal and even swimwear, in a variety of prints and colours.

Khoon Hooi brings layers to the wedding dais.

While Malaysian designers showed a greater propensity for motif-driven fabric and beading, the Indonesians displayed a penchant for kerawang (embroidery), songket and circular applique.

Malaysia’s Khadani’s pastel pink print batik organza collection consisting of long tunic- and kaftan-inspired tops paired with flowing skirts or trousers presented a complementary contrast to Jarumas’ semi-formal hand-drawn batik chiffon baju kurung-inspired designs in blue, green and turquoise.

Atim Agoy presented a career wear collection of long jackets, pantsuits, skirts and shirts that leaned towards solid colours while Aktif Bestari offered a selection of swimwear for mother and child. It seemed rather odd though that some pieces in the swimwear collection – composed of long tunic tops and snug long pants complete with cap – should be studded with shiny crystals ... that’s swimming in style for you.

Meanwhile, the mother and daughter team at Sri Munawwarah provided a fashionable twist to garments for the pilgrimage with lots of bling and embroidery along the edges of all-white dresses, with the option of diamante- and crystal-studded black scarves.

Go for a dip in swimwear from Aktif Bestari.

Joining the fray in offering niche garments was Indonesian Itang Yunasz’s collection of prayer wear. Itang presented a varied selection of all-white and elaborate telekong (head covers) with touches of embroidery and beading with matching bags and mats to boot!

Maia’s Keranchang series of tunic and kaftan-inspired outfits in satin, chiffon silk and tulle featured sheer fabric over solid. Her prowess in the art of embroidery was clear; the collection was generously embellished with beautiful kerawang and shiny detailing.

Jeny Tjahyawati’s focus was on elaborate headgear and sleeves, while Hannie Hernanto displayed an enthusiasm for circular applique on an aqua-coloured collection of matching tops and trousers.

The Islamic bridal wear collection saw a noticeably younger set of women in the audience.

Shafira Malaysia wows with this elegant cloak with golden embroidered edges.

Shahirah Boutique and Dezzaine Butik got the ball rolling for the Aroosah Showcase in aid of the Pahang Flood Relief Fund; frankly, both collections had a little too much going on with over the top elaborate head gears, puffed sleeves and gowns.

The guest designer showcase was no better, offering an overdose of dazzling white and shine, elaborate embroidery and head gear with splashes of colour thrown in for good measure.

Malaysians Carven Ong and Michael Ong thankfully both kept it sweet and simple.

Carven worked in his signature classic style with a bow at the back and pretty diamante clusters at the front, while Michael opted for a simple full-length jubah-inspired gown with intricate embroidery at the chest and frills at the sleeves.

Indonesia’s Jovian Mandagie turned up the glam factor with a sexy form-fitting embroidered white number with a mermaid tail; hot on Mandagie’s heels was Melinda Looi’s creation in a glamorous swirl of lace and silk chiffon.

Elaborate embroidery is the mainstay of Indonesian Maia’s creations.

Treading off the beaten path was Calvin Thoo’s fur wraparound and bubble skirt which looked right for a wedding in winter.

Merry Pramono from Indonesia presented a puffed songket skirt and short kebaya-inspired top with frills at the neck and sleeve ends. Melvin Lam, meanwhile, bagged the trophy for the largest and not so attractive headgear of all.

Ghea Panggabean, once again dazzled; her rendition of a long kebaya top and songket paired with a veil with gold embroidered trimmings was a treat. This was a personal favourite.

Unfortunately, there was a no-show from designers Datuk Tom Abang Saufi and Radzuan Radziwill. Well, there’s always next year.

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Islamic Fashion: Creatively Conservative
Original article here.

(AP) After years of turning heads with her riotously colorful frocks in Malaysia, fashion designer Tom Abang Saufi can't decide whether to shed a few shades on her batik dresses for the Middle East.

"If you wear red and fuchsia in the desert, you'll stick out like a sore thumb," she says. "(But) it's slowly getting to be accepted because the Saudi Arabians are well traveled people. They're global, they wear Roberto Cavalli and they're all very colorful."

For many, Islamic fashion might seem synonymous with strait-laced garments that leave everything to the imagination, but some Asian designers are trying to equip modern Muslim women with a wardrobe that obeys both sartorial trends and spiritual dictates.

This fusion of creativity and conservatism is showcased in the Islamic Fashion Festival, which has entered its sixth year and runs through Thursday in a Kuala Lumpur hotel. Malaysia, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates take turns hosting the event.

The festival opened last week to a catwalk show audience of Malaysian royal princesses and corporate women who cheered an avant-garde celebration of chiffon and crystals that cast off black burqas, austere abayas and homely headscarves. Shows featured 1,000 outfits by top couturiers from Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Diverse influences lent a twist to typically loose tunics and serpentine skirts.

Models strutted the festival runway in silver-shot scarves sparkling with Viennese-made Swarovski crystals. Some designers drew inspiration for their evening gowns, prayer clothes, bridal outfits and full-body Lycra swimsuits from Indian Mughal carpet motifs, Spain's Moorish palace patterns and even Moroccan scenes from the classic film "Casablanca."

Indonesian designer Ronald Gaghana's ensemble, considered the centerpiece of the launch, was adorned with Japanese kimono-like sleeves and intricate African embroidery.

"It's a global market for us. For me, it's very important as a designer to (go) abroad to see everything" in the latest trends, said Gaghana, whose custom-made Islamic dresses cost at least $2,000 each but are snapped up by women who want something fancy for special occasions.

Fashion gurus say Islamic apparel is a fast-growing segment of their worldwide industry, fueled by growing numbers of affluent, liberal Muslims who want to balance propriety with style and globally renowned designers such as Elie Saab whose creations can fulfill religious rules.

"When I went to do my fashion exposition in Paris in September, the clothes that people were interested in were Islamic fashion," said Malaysia's Tom Abang Saufi. "There's going to be money made from this because it's huge."

Tom says she has begun exporting Islamic attire to the United States, where Muslim women "want to be a little bit more trendy than what is being given to them from Yemen." She hopes to expand her collections to other countries with sizable Muslim populations, such as China and France.

Designers are also targeting Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, where stores in Jiddah have begun openly stocking a new generation of cloaks, or abayas, that swap all-black, drab traditions for vibrant color and flamboyant glitter.

Some non-Muslim designers are getting in on the action, including Malaysian ethnic Chinese fashion maverick Lee Khoon Hooi, whose idiosyncratic zipper necklaces and tulip-shaped gowns have been sold in boutiques from Beverly Hills to Taipei.

Even though modesty is Islamic fashion's overriding theme, Lee insists experienced designers will face little trouble adapting to the restrictions and coming up with chic creations that would appeal even to non-Muslim women who want to experiment with a different garb.

For this week's festival, Lee pushed the boundaries with slinky, silk satin dresses that came in nude-colored hues and dropped waistlines.

"I just twist (my usual creations) to make it longer, less sexy (but) keep it elegant, feminine," Lee said. "You can still see a little bit of the (female) shape, so it's not like a tight corset. Sometimes covering up, (you) still can be sexy."

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Islamic Fashion Not Only For Faithful, Designer Says
Original article here.

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - Islamic fashion is broadening its appeal beyond the faithful as women everywhere are increasingly drawn to its flowing lines, says renowned Malaysian designer Melinda Looi.

Looi, who hails from a dressmaking family, first caught the public's eye with her prize-winning graduation collection in 1995. The award-winning designer spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of the Malaysian International Fashion Week:

Q. Do you think Islamic fashion is catching on?

A. My designs are not very Islamic. I'm slowly making Islamic clothing, because I think the Islamic fashion events are really getting big, so I'm slowly involving myself in all that, since I live in a Muslim country, and there is a huge market for it.

A lot of people like the Europeans really love wearing the abaya dress, it's a huge market, so we are slowly doing that. In our collection every season in our ready-to-wear we try to put in some kind of design that is inspired by the Muslim culture.

To me it's interesting, it's nice, I think we can make it look really modern and yet a little conservative.

Q. How do you see Malaysian fashion evolving?

A. I think Malaysians are all very talented. Because we are all influenced by the three different cultures. We live in a country where we grew up with three main food and costume influences -- Indian, Malay and Chinese, so you get inspired. That has helped us to be more artistic, and also we look into fashion in a very different way. We like to combine the traditional with the modern and make an internationally acceptable kind of look.

Q. What is needed to carry the Malaysian fashion industry to the next level?

A. Well, just support -- especially financially, because fashion is not a cheap business. So if you want to build a brand, if you want to promote yourself, if you want to sell, you need money. Just to get people to know you, it's a long journey, it's very expensive. So I guess if there is a lot of support from the government, from the private sector, we will grow faster.

Plus, in Malaysia the resources are very little. For designers it's very difficult, we have to import everything. Otherwise I would love to have Malaysian-made fabrics, to put into my collections. So in a way, its kind of sad.

Q. What's your biggest market outside Malaysia?

A. For the ready-to-wear, it was the United States, now it's more Europe and slowly, more of Southeast Asia. The couture is mainly Middle Eastern, some Malaysians, royalty and also some from Australia. I think the Middle East has more parties and they need more of that kind of dresses. Whereas Asia, as long as it's long dresses, you can consider yourself well dressed for a formal event. I think the Middle East culture is different. They really want to pay for designer clothing.

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4 comments:

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Modestkini said...

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Hari Kishan said...

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