Posted on November 26, 2008

Islam Makes Modest Inroad in Fashion

Liz Gooch, The Age (Melbourne), November 26, 2008

The shorter, tighter and more revealing the better may be the rule on most catwalks, but there is not a miniskirt or plunging neckline in sight as Malaysia’s Islamic Fashion Festival gets into full swing.

Models covered from head to toe are strutting down catwalks in Kuala Lumpur wearing designs from around the world during the week-long festival, which emphasises fabric over flesh.

The event is becoming a regular fixture on the fashion calendar in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Dubai as organisers seek to transform the three cities into the London, Paris and New York of the Islamic fashion scene.

This week’s festival, the sixth since the show began in Kuala Lumpur two years ago, features Islamic designs for every occasion, from office wear, prayer wear and bridal wear to swimwear, couture and avant-garde.

The festival’s founder, Rezza Shah, says his aim is to show that Islamic clothing can be fashionable.

“When I say ‘Islamic fashion’, they think it’s a fashion show where you can see two eyeballs. Even Muslims themselves think this,” said Mr Shah, a former model and actor who used to run his own modelling agency. “I do agree that women should be covered but they should be allowed to express their fashion, because we are living in a modern world.”

While there are no official statistics indicating the value of the Islamic fashion industry, some have estimated that it could be worth $US96 billion ($A152 billion) a year at least.

“A lot of ladies are covered but are dying to dress up well,” said Mr Shah, adding that he aimed to show clothing that ranged from minimal to maximum coverings. “It’s not about saying what’s right or wrong. It’s about showing variety.”

He believes Islamic fashion can help Western fashionistas learn how to use more material and still dress well.

“In mainstream fashion, less is more—less material, more skin; but in Islamic fashion, less is more means less skin, more material,” he said.

The designers involved in the festival come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, India and Malaysia, and more than half are non-Muslims.

“Fashion can unite people and, for us Muslims, we can also be proud that the word Islam doesn’t frighten everybody away,” Mr Shah said.

Italian label Etro, which created special Islamic designs for the event, is the first European company to join the festival.

“There’s a very large Muslim market out there,” said the executive director of the Malaysian branch, Monique Abdullah. “If we don’t accept the fact that there’s this big market, it’s a missed opportunity.”

Malaysian designer Tom Abang Saufi said that Muslim women wanted stylish outfits too.

“They want to have elegance and the young ones want to look trendy, even when one covers one’s head,” said Ms Saufi, who sells her designs in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Brunei, and is starting to export to the US.