The fashion world has gone crazy about Dolce and Gabbana’s announcement this week of a range of abayas and sheilas for the high end female Muslim consumer. Clearly, D& G is making a canny business move. Muslim fashion is worth an estimated $266 billion (Dh977bn).
The global luxury brand is certainly not the first label to reach out to Muslim women. In recent years, DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger have launched collections, as have global high-street brands such as H& M, Uniqlo, Zara and Mango.
Muslim women are passionate – and polarised – about the D&G launch.
I welcome the move. Because Muslim women want luxury too, and they have as much right to fashion as anyone else. Because the dollars that Muslim women spend are as valuable as any other consumer spends. Because creating the Muslim fashion look is hard work and it’s a relief and delight to see it created for you by fashion gurus. Because there’s a sense of validation at seeing a reflection of yourself.
Muslim women are far too often held up as hostages in other people’s battles – as symbols of Islam’s supposed oppression, of the reason countries are invaded so that they can be saved, as faceless infantilised creatures who must be rescued from themselves because they are brainwashed into being Muslim and choosing to dress modestly.
So, it’s understandable that much of the excitement at being properly served by brands is tempered with cynicism. Some women wonder whether fashion brands are simply exploiting their faith for commercial ends. They point to the fact that when ordinary women wear an abaya, it’s seen as a sign of
backwardness or oppression, but with a designer label it’s liberating and exciting.
Many Muslim women believe that announcements of Muslim fashion lines are only deemed newsworthy because of the deep-rooted perception that women are oppressed by their clothing. It is presented as if Muslim women are finally allowed to have fashion.
And worse, while a western- designed abaya collection is a new thing, the media has been covering this as a generic Muslim collection. This has left some people up in arms because Muslim women are not one homogenous fashion bloc nor one that only wears traditional Gulf clothing. They want to know: where is the diversity in this new designer look?
The many established Muslim designers feel trampled on by the mainstream fashion behemoths who, they believe, are waltzing into a market they have created over the past decade. And, as many have commented, they are only offering what is already available rather than adding value through their fashion expertise.
I admire the fact that Muslim women are taking a lead in holding the fashion industry to account to ensure the authenticity of its brand, and demanding ethical relationships with all stakeholders: the producers and those offering creative inspiration as well as consumers.
Fashion has always been inspired by the edgiest and most dynamic street style, whether that’s luxury or grunge. Seeing Muslim fashion on the global stage should finally put to rest any ideas that Muslim women are drab, brainwashed or style-deficient. I predict these Muslim fashionistas will be setting the fashion pace for years to come.