So­cial me­dia stars have pop­u­larised stylish but mod­est cloth­ing, send­ing re­tail­ers scram­bling to meet the needs of a whole new fash­ion in­dus­try, says Lind­say Judge

Friday - - Contents -

From Mi­lan to the high street, mod­est fash­ion is be­com­ing main­stream.

You only needed to take one look at the crowd at Dubai’s re­cent Arab Fash­ion Week to re­alise that mod­est fash­ion is hav­ing a mo­ment. Many women, re­gard­less of na­tion­al­ity, re­li­gion or cul­ture, merged fash­ion and clas­sic style with mod­esty: Loos­e­fit­ting cu­lottes, but­toned-up longsleeved shirts and maxi dresses re­plac­ing short skirts, off-the-shoul­der tops and body­con dresses. And it’s not just lo­cally. Red car­pets and cat­walks across the globe are be­ing flooded with con­ser­va­tively dressed mod­els and celebri­ties. Along­side, on­line fash­ion sites and mod­est-blog­ger so­cial me­dia ac­counts are al­ter­ing the way we shop and the way con­ser­va­tive styles are pro­moted.

Ear­lier this year, UAE-based mod­est-spe­cific fash­ion web­site The Modist launched; glob­ally, many in­ter­na­tional brands have show­cased out­fits that are more con­ser­va­tive, as well as cre­at­ing ‘mod­est spe­cific ranges’. De­sign­ers in­clud­ing Dolce & Gab­bana, Caro­line Her­rera and DKNY have all re­leased mod­est-cen­tric or con­ser­va­tive col­lec­tions in the past few months, some of which con­sist of tra­di­tional abayas with a fash­ion­able twist. You know a fash­ion con­cept is mak­ing the leap to be­ing a trend when it comes off the de­signer cat­walk and onto the high street. Just last week, af­ford­able mod­est cloth­ing brand Aab launched its col­lec­tion in Deben­hams stores in the UAE. There was a Mod­est Fash­ion Week in Lon­don ear­lier this year, while in Septem­ber 2016, In­done­sian fash­ion de­signer An­niesa Ha­si­buan be­came the first de­signer to show a col­lec­tion at New York Fash­ion Week with ev­ery model wear­ing a hi­jab. There’s def­i­nitely a change hap­pen­ing world­wide in the way these kinds of clothes are be­ing pre­sented.

But is it re­ally a huge fash­ion trend – or an ex­ist­ing style with a new la­bel put on it?

‘It has al­ways been there, but only now is it be­ing recog­nised,’ says Lat­ifa Al Shamshi, an Emi­rati fash­ion blog­ger that Fri­day caught up with at Arab Fash­ion Week. Her In­sta­gram fea­tures shots of her lat­est hand­bags and jew­ellery, but does not show her face. ‘The no­tion of mod­est used to be plain, bor­ing out­fits but am glad that we are mov­ing away from that. The as­so­ci­a­tion of fash­ion and mod­est wasn’t there un­til re­cently. The fash­ion world has just re­alised that mod­est fash­ion is a huge seg­ment that needed a lot more fo­cus.’

‘No one should have to sac­ri­fice their be­liefs in or­der to be stylish and feel con­fi­dent and beau­ti­ful and if we can dress stylishly and mod­estly at the same time then that’s a huge win,’ says Me­lanie El­turk, CEO of Haute Hi­jab, a US-based on­line fash­ion store cater­ing to those look­ing for stylish hi­jabs (they also ship to the UAE). ‘I have never al­lowed the hi­jab to hold me back in how I dress and I’ve al­ways been very con­scious to be fash­ion­able. With ev­ery­thing we have in the world to­day the me­dia, the so­cial me­dia, etc, it is re­ally im­por­tant for ev­ery girl, in­clud­ing Mus­lim girls, to be able to look amaz­ing while not hav­ing to sac­ri­fice their be­liefs.’

The Mid­dle East has al­ways been known for its glam­orous yet mod­est fash­ion, worn by women for cul­tural and re­li­gious rea­sons, and by ex­pats who cover up out of re­spect for the coun­try they are liv­ing in. As a re­sult many of us liv­ing in the re­gion, what­ever our her­itage, find our­selves dress­ing quite mod­estly – with what we find in stores al­ready.

None­the­less, ‘A few years ago there wasn’t a lot of choice,’ says Nazmi Ali, founder of mod­est fash­ion brand Aab. ‘Things are chang­ing now, there is a lot of mo­men­tum around mod­est fash­ion, es­pe­cially through so­cial me­dia.’ Nazmi ex­plains that many of her cus­tomers aren’t buy­ing her mod­est clothes be­cause of re­li­gion but be­cause of what they like. ‘We have very di­verse cus­tomers, our brand is not only for Mus­lim women but we cre­ate mod­est fash­ion for women look­ing for mod­est sil­hou­ettes. We try to de­sign the type of gar­ments any woman can wear.’

So­cial me­dia has been key in bring­ing at­ten­tion to the con­cept of fash­ion­able mod­esty, and cap­tur­ing the at­ten­tion of in­di­vid­ual women, brands and ad­ver­tis­ers alike. ‘Take away so­cial me­dia and noth­ing would have hap­pened in the main­stream,’ says Me­lanie; her site, founded in 2010, also pro­vides a sup­port group for those who dress mod­estly and en­cour­ages shop­pers to upload pic­tures of them­selves wear­ing their mod­est looks on the streets.

‘So­cial me­dia has shown the mass mar­ket that there is this small group of blog­gers and in­flu­encers that is able to in­flu­ence mil­lions. When peo­ple see that hap­pen­ing they see dol­lar signs and want to work out how they can use it,’ she adds.

‘It is re­ally IM­POR­TANT for ev­ery girl, in­clud­ing Mus­lim girls, to be able to look AMAZ­ING while not hav­ing to SAC­RI­FICE their be­liefs’

Sum­mer Al­bar­cha is one of the world’s lead­ing mod­est fash­ion blog­gers, with a fol­low­ing of over 300,000 on In­sta­gram and a pres­ence at New York Fash­ion Week – she’s fre­quently snapped by street-style pho­tog­ra­phers and has col­lab­o­rated with fash­ion brands, and ap­peared in a fash­ion show for the Ex­press brand with model Kar­lie Kloss in March. She says the trend has wide ap­peal.

‘I think that the mod­est fash­ion in­dus­try is grow­ing so much be­cause busi­nesses are re­al­is­ing how mas­sive and wide­spread it is, con­sid­er­ing that the ma­jor­ity of women can take part in mod­est fash­ion, whether they are Mus­lim or not,’ says Sum­mer. ‘I do think a lot of the con­tri­bu­tions can be made to the avail­abil­ity of mod­est blog­gers nowa­days but also to so­cial me­dia in general that has played a huge role in pro­mot­ing and ex­pand­ing the Mus­lim pres­ence on­line.’

While mod­est fash­ion has al­ways been a way of life in the GCC, of­ten with in­di­vid­u­als or per­sonal shop­pers cu­rat­ing ex­ist­ing fash­ion ranges to find suit­able pieces – or hav­ing cloth­ing made to or­der – only now brands have re­alised its mar­ket­ing power, it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore that brand­ing took on a lux­ury an­gle.

En­ter on­line fash­ion store The Modist. Stock­ing brands in­clud­ing Al­berta Fer­retti, Os­man and Mary Ka­trant­zou, The Modist’s founders se­lect pieces that will cover most of the body, and style them in a con­ser­va­tive way with lots of lay­er­ing and over­sized items. Founder Ghi­zlan Guenez says it was shop­ping ‘frus­tra­tion’ that led her to cre­ate the site.

‘I was brought up in a fam­ily of women who dress mod­estly and have ex­pe­ri­enced the frus­tra­tion that one goes through when try­ing to find fash­ion­able and trendy pieces that take into con­sid­er­a­tion that way of dress­ing,’ she tells Fri­day. She took the step of leav­ing a ca­reer in fi­nance to start the site – some­thing that tells us there’s a big fu­ture in mod­est fash­ion. But are the pieces just the same clothes that are sold in stores, with a mod­est la­bel on them?

Ghi­zlan says it’s the con­ve­nience of the site – elim­i­nat­ing sift­ing through count­less prod­ucts, find­ing items that work with the needs of a mod­est dresser – that makes them more than just a re­tailer of high-end long skirts. ‘We al­le­vi­ate all of that frus­tra­tion by speak­ing to the mod­est dresser’s needs in ev­ery­thing that we do, be it the cu­ra­tion of fash­ion prod­ucts that we of­fer, the in­spir­ing styling, as well as el­e­vated and rel­e­vant con­tent and editorials that aim to in­spire and cel­e­brate her in our on­line mag­a­zine, the mod.’

‘What we do not of­fer this woman is as im­por­tant as what we of­fer her.’

The gap in the mar­ket at all price points is clear, says Yu­lia Shakurova, a for­mer model who con­verted to Is­lam when she moved to Dubai and met her now hus­band, has a unique take on the sub­ject. When she started dress­ing con­ser­va­tively she found it hard to find clothes as ‘these places just weren’t pro­moted any­where.’

She adds that ‘it is bet­ter now but it is still some­thing the women find re­ally hard and it’s some­thing that’s very close to my heart.’

But it’s also im­por­tant that brands do their home­work about what is ap­pro­pri­ate, and pro­vide some­thing for all price points. ‘It’s all very well hav­ing “stylish” mod­est wear but many Mus­lim women are not work­ing or sim­ply can’t af­ford lux­ury

brands, so there is still room for af­ford­able stylish lines.’

Some ‘mod­est’ clothes still aren’t suit­able for her, she says.

‘Some­times these fash­ion brands don’t re­ally un­der­stand ex­actly what we need, so I think there is still a space in the mar­ket for that.’ None­the­less, ‘it is very im­por­tant for me to dress mod­estly and look beau­ti­ful at the same time’.

Haya Eyad Al Yousfi, a stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Aj­man, mixes hi­jabs and abayas with high-street clothes to cre­ate her own unique style, shop­ping in stores in­clud­ing Mango, Pro­mod and Riva, where she man­ages to find con­ser­va­tive yet stylish clothes. She’s pleased about the in­creased vis­i­bil­ity of mod­est fash­ion, en­abling her ‘keep up with new trends while stay­ing mod­est. For me, it makes shop­ping eas­ier and pro­vide us with more op­tions’.

Haute Hi­jabs’ Me­lanie says we haven’t seen any­thing yet – ex­pect to see new, big brands cater­ing to the mod­est fash­ion seg­ment. ‘There’s so much room for it to con­tinue to grow. We are def­i­nitely go­ing to see more brands be­ing in­tro­duced that have some real lever­age be­hind them in that they have in­vestors back­ing them or a part of other main­stream groups. We are go­ing to see it be­come a lot more pro­fes­sional and a lot big­ger than it is to­day. The whole in­dus­try is in its in­fancy so we are go­ing to see it re­ally boom and see these brands break through global bar­ri­ers.’

While it may seem that the fash­ion in­dus­try is cashing in on women’s cul­tural and re­li­gious val­ues, there’s an over­all ben­e­fit from the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of mod­est fash­ion: it’s a new op­por­tu­nity for busi­ness, which could be led by the very women who need the clothes them them­selves.

And it’s al­ready re­sult­ing in more di­ver­sity in fash­ion – and pres­ence for women of a un­der­rep­re­sented back­grounds in the style con­ver­sa­tion. Says Lat­ifa: ‘There is no deny­ing that there money is there to be made from these mod­est col­lec­tions and sites, this is ul­ti­mately why de­sign­ers make clothes but it seems there are many women who will ben­e­fit. This is a whole new mar­ket in an in­dus­try that is cur­rently sat­u­rated, so to find some­thing new and fresh that there is such a huge de­mand for is rare.’

Sum­mer adds that the in­crease in vis­i­bil­ity from mod­est fash­ion’s new plat­form ‘ul­ti­mately is ben­e­fit­ing us more by mak­ing mod­est fash­ion so main­stream and wide­spread’, even while she ad­mits it may be ‘solely for prof­its or per­haps to boost their im­age’.

Not only does it give mod­est shop­pers more op­tions at more price points, it has in­creased the pres­ence of Mus­lim women in the fash­ion in­dus­try. ‘I’ve had the op­por­tu­nity to work with US brands on some amaz­ing up­com­ing cam­paigns,’ says Sum­mer, ‘and I re­ally think it’s im­por­tant to fea­ture Mus­lim women in their ads in a time where so many com­pa­nies are push­ing for di­ver­sity.’

‘The whole IN­DUS­TRY is in its IN­FANCY so we are go­ing to see it re­ally BOOM and see these brands BREAK THROUGH global bar­ri­ers’

Me­lanie El­turk heads Haute Hi­jab, and be­lieves mod­esty does not com­pro­mise style

With over 300,000 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram, Sum­mer Al­bar­cha is one of mod­est fash­ion’s most fa­mous faces

Mod­est fash­ion is be­gin­ning to take cen­tre stage at sev­eral fash­ion shows in­clud­ing this Max Mara one ear­lier this year

The sum­mer col­lec­tion from Lon­don-based mod­est range Aab, which launched in the UAE last week

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