You don’t have to look far to find Lady Gaga wearing a raw meat bikini for Vogue, Kim Kardashian posing naked for Harpers Bazaar and seducing shots of Rihanna for GQ. But how often do you see a fashion magazine covering Muslim style?
Islam is the second largest religion in Britain, with an estimated three million followers. Yet its designs and clothes are largely ignored by mainstream fashionistas.
Western societies view Islamic veiling as a symbol of oppression and the hijab has become a politically charged symbol.
Around 70 per cent of the British population believe that Islam encourages the repression of women, according to statistics provided by YouGov in 2010. However, the Muslim culture sees it as a way of protecting women from being objectified and sexually exploited as it removes a woman’s attractive physical appearance.
Roger Tredre, who was a fashion and design correspondent at the Independent and editor in chief at Worth Global Style Network, argues that writing about Muslim fashion could be difficult for a magazine editor.
Tredre says: “Many Muslims emphasise the commandment to maintain modesty. They believe that Muslim women should wear clothing that communicates modesty and reserve. I am not sure that it is easy to equate with the chatty, gossipy tone required for a fashion magazine! The tone of the fashion editor would have to be rather more reserved – Modest with a capital M. Likewise, the fashion shoots”.
When 31-year-old Ibrahim Burak Birer and his friend Mehmet Volkan Atay created a fashion magazine in Turkey called Ala, for Muslim women showing models wearing headscarves it became so popular that after just six issues it now has a circulation of 30,000. However, the publication faced objections from theologians complaining that women should be hiding themselves rather than being put forward.
Last year a British Muslim model, Shanna Bukhari received abuse from Muslim organisations when she decided to become the first Muslim to represent Britain in Miss Universe.
The Qur’an states that the woman is the family’s main preserver of honour, piety, and modesty and the hijab can help a woman successfully carry out this function.
When you compare the hijab style to what is seen on Western runways it is considered to be back dated and modest. But to change this perception an American born Muslim designer, Nailah Lymus launched a new agency for Muslim models to prove that they can be stylish and yet still maintain their religious beliefs. In an interview with Fashionista she explains that she wants to build a bridge between modesty and fashion.
The hijab does not escape the changing trends in fashion, Muslim women are trying to combine religious morality with modern sense of style to express their individuality, maxi dresses and long skirts are a classic example of this as they are popular among the Islamic and Western culture.
Tredre said: “The hijab can look really cool – to non-Muslims too! I know that in cities like Teheran, women are really stylish and have turned their hijabs into fashion (and, sometimes, political) statements”.
This raises the question that is the hijab look can be ‘cool’ and ‘stylish’ then why do mainstream fashion magazines not cover it? He says: “I think the problem is that Muslim dress sits outside the cultural norms of the western fashion system – most fashion writers wouldn’t know where to begin.”
But recently there has been an increase in faith-based fashion that has led to a much higher demand for Muslim models, Lancome has just signed its first ever Muslim model, Hanaa Ben Abdesselm.
A Muslim woman raised in the UK but strongly follows the Islamic faith, Aalimah Kahn, 24, student, explains that even though the mainstream press does not cover Muslim fashion, in the recent years she has noticed an increase in the number of blogs about the hijabi style.
She says: “There are so many bloggers out there that write about Muslim fashion, before two years it was difficult to find anything that gave fashion tips to a Muslim woman about what to wear but now there are quite a few decent fashion blogs out there for women like myself”.
It can be difficult for young Muslim women who cover themselves to follow the latest fashion styles while keeping their Islamic teachings but this does not stop them from browsing for the latest designer clothes even though they will never once wear them in public. It is estimated that each year Muslims spend more than £30 million on clothing in the UK.
Kahn says: “I have started shopping in high street shops such as Zara and Topshop more than ever before, I just find that it is easier to mix clothes now and designers are also thinking about the Islamic cultures and not just Western”.
Even during London fashion week the label Issa showed some covered styles that were walking down the runway, models were wearing trousers and dresses fully covered with headscarves.
Tredre says: “If there are over two million Muslims in Britain, then self-evidently there is a gap in the market for a title covering Hijabi style. But striking the right balance in the magazine would not be easy”.