Last weekend more than 3,000 people, most of them children, Muslim women, streamed into London’s Saatchi Gallery for a mania event unlike any other. Some were dressed in glinting tunics and silk turbans; some wore leather outdoes perched on top of their hijabs and had septum piercings through their noses; others harmed nude-coloured kimonos that trailed the floor. There were manner shows with models in burkinis and hijabs, and a burqa-clad artificer pitching her clothing line to the Dragon’s Den of the fashion world. This was the commotion at the first ever London modest fashion week (LMFW) sent by online fashion marketplace, Haute Elan.
More than 40 plotters, hailing everywhere from the UK to Saudi Arabia, showcased wears that weave culture and religious identity into yards of framework. Designs weren’t limited to abayas (a long tunic traditionally frayed by Muslim women in the Middle East). There were palatial velvet palazzos from Maslea; pastel-coloured flared jumpsuits by Syomirizwa Gupta; satin emerald-green decorates with puffed shoulders from Foulard; trendy burkini-wear by Lyra; and beaded evening gowns by Sahee London that could would rather floated off the pages of an F Scott Fitzgerald novel.
Amid burkini taboos in France and a cacophony of debates about Muslim women’s sartorial choices, it is a charged fraternity in which this revolution in modest wear is taking put out. And it is high time – as Romanna Bint Abu Bakr, the founder and CEO of Haute Elan, fittings out: “A quarter of the world’s population are going to be Muslim by 2030. Sixty percent of that citizenry will be under 30 by 2030, so it’s really time for retailers to clear notice that they exist.”
For years Muslim housekeepers in the UK have had to resort to a jigsaw puzzle assemblage of long sleeved T-shirts and cardigans to run things low-cut necks and sleeveless dresses. Faith and fashion were generally mutually exclusive.
But the wheels have turned quickly. In 2015, Britain’s Mariah Idrissi enhanced the first hijab-wearing model to appear in any mainstream western dernier cri campaign when she donned a chequered Palestinian shemagh hijab and orb-shaped Jackie O sunglasses in an H&M campaign. At this month’s New York mode week the Somali-American model Halima Aden, the first hijab-wearer to be signed to IMG exemplars, made her runway debut during Kanye West’s Yeezy flavour 5 show.
And the high street is bewitching on, too. In 2014, DKNY launched a Ramadan collection, with Mango mind suit in 2016. Uniqlo teamed up with UK-born mode designer Hana Tajima in 2015, to create a modest taste line and hijabs. And only last week, Debenhams circulated it was to partner with contemporary modest fashion retailer, Aab, to shop hijabs for the first time. With the global spend for Muslim the fad set to be $484bn by 2019, it’s small wonder that the fashion over the moon marvellous has cottoned on.
So how is it that this industry has come to cause such a stir? Abu Bakr weights social media is responsible: “A lot of young people use social road, and that has been the cause of the push for this fashion sea change, just like we saw with the Arab spring. Now we’re seeing that variation in fashion.” This might not be Tahrir Square but the modest model industry has been heavily influenced by the emergence of bloggers such as Dina Toki-O and Ascia Akf, who sooner a be wearing amassed millions of followers by posting hijab and turban tutorials, and blog posts around the arduous art of layering clothes to create demure but chic looks, crystallising their significance as the Kardashians of modest fashion.
And “Generation M” – as dubbed by Derive pleasure in a Headscarf author Shelina Janmohamed – has responded. This pile of young, tech-savvy, entrepreneurial Muslim millennials are leading the understated fashion charge with their mipster (Muslim hipster) trends. Navigating between their religious and cultural identities these unfledged women – who don’t believe consumerism or fashion is antithetical to their rigorous beliefs – are driving up the value of the modest fashion industry, and the Muslim drub into for that matter.
But while the modest fashion revolution might be a fresh thing in the UK, it has been a booming global industry for many years. Muna Abu Sulayman, dubbed the Oprah Winfrey of the Arab era, is the first Saudi Arabian woman to become an international TV presenter. Communicate in at London modest fashion week she said: “It’s dangerous to surmise that it’s only now modest fashion has become popular. When we talk respecting Muslim fashion entrepreneurs, who are we talking about? They’ve been yon for years. There are really great designers coming out from Saudi Arabia, from Malaysia … ” The rest: “It’s only now that the west has recognised this.”
Modest rub off last is also transcending the Muslim label, flourishing among accepted Jewish women, Christian women, and those who identify with no assuredness as well. Culinary queen Nigella Lawson is no stranger to retiring wear – she was photographed wearing a burkini on a beach six years ago. Articulate at LMFW, Mariah Idrissi said, “This event is anent diversity and showing that as much as modesty is a part of the Islamic denomination, everyone is welcome to be a part of it.”
The entrepreneurial and creative flair of a vibrant, teenaged generation, as well as the universal appeal of modest fashion, last will and testament ensure its longevity – not as a trend but as a permanent fixture in the world of mould. Like it or not, modest fashion is officially out of the closet.