Muslim fashion for women: Modesty meets trendy style

Muslim fashion is still fighting Western prejudices. “Many people believe that all Muslim women must cover their bodies and faces,” says Jill D’Alessandro, curator of the “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” exhibition at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. For the first time, a museum has dedicated an exhibition to fashion consciousness of women in Islam. “We want to show that there is also a great deal of fashion freedom for the majority of these women.”

“Contemporary Muslim Fashions” is an opulent exhibition that showcases around 80 different styles and outfits. Many items are on loan from Middle Eastern and Asian designers. Caftans, headscarves and colorful designer dresses can be seen alongside the controversial burkini and the sports hijab made by Nike.

The de Young exhibition shows the full range of fashion freedom that Muslim woman have and embrace

Trending: #Hijabistas und #mipsterz

Muslim fashion designers call their style “modest fashion.” It is an industry that has been expanding over the last several years. “Muslim women spend $44 billion (€37 billion) on fashion annually,” says Jill D’Alessandro, and the trend is rising. She describes a “zeitgeist” spurred on by new fashion magazines such as Vogue Arabia, and also by social networks. There, a new Muslim coolness is being put on show by “hijabistas,” the Muslim answer to “fashionistas,” and so-called “mipsterz,” Muslim hipsters.

Read more: Can Instagram fashionistas help save the planet?

Major brands and designers have long since adopted this trend. In 2015 clothing retailer H&M featured a model with a headscarf in an advertisement for the first time. In 2016 fashion company Dolce & Gabbana launched a collection for Muslim women. Japanese chain Uniqlo also has its own line for Muslims. The exhibition at the de Young museum also features designs by Oscar De La Renta and Dolce & Gabbana: Western designers who are also orienting themselves towards Muslim fashion.

A model wears a bomber jacket with the US Constitution scripted on the back (Sebastian Kim)

Some of the designs featured make political statements, like this bomber jacket with the US Constitution scripted on the back

Read more: Fashion’s marketing to Muslim women draws ire in France

New perspective

The idea for the exhibition came from the Austrian museum director Max Hollein, who formerly headed the San Francisco Museum of Fine Art and before that served as the director of the Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main. Planning began in 2016, shortly before Donald Trump was elected US president. Now, the show is opening at a time when anti-Islamic attitudes are increasingly visible and voiced in America. But “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” does not want to be seen as a reaction to this. “We don’t want to solve problems, but to offer new perspectives on a very exciting part of the fashion world that has long been ignored by the Western world,” says D’Alessandro.

“Contemporary Muslim Fashions” will be on show in San Francisco through January 6. It will travel to Germany in spring 2019.

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