Modest fashion — also popularly known as Islamic fashion — has immense lucrative potential and the world at large has realised this. Consequently, one has observed a burgeoning milieu of brands latch on to the ‘modest’ bandwagon, presenting sartorial options for women who cover themselves from head to toe. This, as it turns out, may not always be a good thing.
One observes a market dichotomy in modest-wear designs, yo-yoing from the subtle to the garish, the elegant to the over-the-top. At one end of the spectrum, a large number of international fashion heavyweights such as DKNY, Mango and Tommy Hilfiger now bring out sporadic ‘modest’ lines specifically aimed towards their Muslim clientele. Even the lofty catwalk of New York Fashion Week saw its first ‘Islamic’ collection last year, courtesy Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan who had the models in her show walk out wearing the ‘hijab’. This integration of anglicised aesthetics with the abaya or head-to-toe cloak has led to some very interesting innovations in silhouette, fabric and colour.
On the other extreme, one sees the abaya trundling towards veritable costumery. An obsession with glitter and sequins lends its wearer a chandelier-like iridescence; a predilection for pastels and lace can result in resemblance to a well-frosted wedding cake and the use of slinky, glow-in-the-dark fabric is just an absolute fashion faux pas on so many levels!
There’s much more to the abaya than the threefold terror of bling, polyester and garish embroidery
Giving her take on fashion-savvy modest-wear, Andleeb Rana Farhan, the chief of operations at My Fashion Fix, an e-store that has recently begun stocking some very interesting modest-wear, observes, “In a country where more than 50 percent women cover up, it makes business sense to retail modest-wear. For My Fashion Fix, we zoned in on Amal Asad who is a Somalian doctor living in Pakistan with a passion for clothes and a strong signature style. The collection that she has created is very vibrant, modest, and wearable with a strong tribal feel. In a very short time, online orders for Amal’s designs have filtered in from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE as well as Pakistan.”
Amidst the flotsam and jetsam, the glare of bling and saccharine frills there are plenty of options that allow women to cover up in style. Here’s how the abaya can become savvy and comfortable:
The decision to cover may be a religious choice but it need not be an uncomfortable one. With temperatures rising, it is unfathomable that the abaya should be created from synthetic, claustrophobic polyesters. In general, abaya fabric needs to be supple which is why georgette is predominantly popular. Opaque linens, however, are an option that abaya designers are exploring.
Abaya designer Amal Asad, for one, often opts for linens as well as breathable cottons. “I don’t believe in using a lot of layers in my designs and cottons and linens are not see-through, unlike chiffon,” she explains.
Waqaas Ahmed, creative director of British abaya brand AYWA which is currently retailing online via Studio By TCS, says, “There isn’t a particular fabric made for modest-wear. However, we love to use ethically sourced, natural and organic fabrics to promote sustainability, fair trade and environmentally friendly processes. We also often use handmade fabrics in an effort to preserve the tradition of hand craftsmanship.”
This fabric is, of course, far more comfortable — and less inclined towards triggering body odours!
While the sartorial senses cringe at the sight of crystal-laden glow-in-the-dark abayas, use of funky prints is savvier. The customised abayas by AYWA drift through chevrons, chequered patterns and scenery. The brand’s striped abayas are reportedly all-time bestsellers.
Amal Asad’s particular forte lies in merging Somalian and Pakistani influences bringing together bold prints, bright colours and embroideries. Popular amongst her designs is the Dashiki African tribal print which has an Aztec feel to it, especially imported in from Somalia.
Modest fashion is an irrefutable force and women who want to ‘cover up’ increasingly want to do it in a fashion-forward way. There’s much more to the abaya than the threefold terror of bling, polyester and garish embroidery.
Interesting prints are great fun — and allow the abaya-wearer to make an individualistic statement.
Style it up
At AYWA, the kimono and bisht are variations of the generic cloak. Other options include a loose open jacket worn over a fully covered pant and shirt, the use of decorative belts, kaftan shapes, abayas with varying hemlines and absolutely de rigueur geometrically angular sleeves.
“We love the quality of AYWA’s cuts and fabrics,” says Sahar Ahmed, director of Studio By TCS. “Their abayas are trendy and unique. An AYWA abaya can easily be worn over jeans and sneakers for a chic, casual look or even as resort-wear.”
A bit of improvisation, it turns out, can go a long way.
Wind that head-scarf
Last year high-street brand Khaadi launched a very interesting campaign where different ways of wearing the label’s range of stoles was demonstrated. The model in the short video wound her head-scarf in various versions of the hijab as well as turban-like on the head. It was one of the few rare times that the local high-street addressed the particular demands of the considerable contingent of women in Pakistan who cover their heads.
It was also an eye-opener of sorts. Modest fashion is an irrefutable force and women who want to ‘cover up’ increasingly want to do it in a fashion-forward way. There’s much more to the abaya than the threefold terror of bling, polyester and garish embroidery. There are many more ways of wearing it while remaining faithfully ‘modest’ — one hopes that the local abaya-wearer realises this soon!
Published in Dawn