By Ahlya Fateh
13 September 2013
Before I start, I think it is pretty clear from the hyper-glamourised photo that accompanies this column that I do not wear the Hijab. If you spent as much on your hair as I do you probably wouldn’t want to cover it up either. Nor am I about to enter into a religious debate about the rules and regulations that do or do not govern the covering of the head – I do not profess to be a scholar of Islam, just a follower.
I know women who wear the Hijab and those who do not and have always maintained that it is a personal choice and that as we are all at different points in our own spiritual journeys, so we choose our own routes to enlightenment.
However, until recently I had yet to equate the Hijab with fashion. I have always seen the Hijab as a bit of an anti-fashion statement as it has always seemed a way of opting out of the style stakes. Nowadays that is not the case as Muslim Fashionistas are expressing their glamorous side through the Hijabs they are wearing.
On The Increase
Printed scarf sales are on the increase and there are websites galore showing the myriad of ways not just how to tie a Hijab but how to accessorise them with jewelled pins, fringes and tassels. Not to mention YouTube tutorials to help you get the look just right. London based designer Mary Katranzou maintains that “Scarves are an introduction to print for someone who is not ready to commit to a fully printed look” which could explain why they are gaining popularity as Hijabs.
Just as one might exert their fashion savvy with a directional hairstyle, now devotional divas can express themselves by choosing a directional scarf, whether it is a Louis Vuitton designer piece or a fun leopard print version from H&M piled high to mimic the hair that it covers.
Retailers are getting behind the trend too - Liberty of London opened a Scarf Hall in their Regent Street store which saw their sales from scarves increase by 16%, not to mention every high street fashion outlet seems to have embraced them as the accessory.
And it’s not just accessories that are serving young, fashionable Muslims. Previously the only Abayas on the market were either plain polyester or their bedazzled disco versions – neither of which would win their wearer any sort of fashion kudos. That is until Barjis Chohan, a protégé of Vivienne Westwood launched her own line, Barjis, which provides solutions for Muslim women who are “struggling to buy clothes from the Western High Street shops.”
If the figures are to be believed sales of Muslim fashion are worth an estimated £59 million globally, which is not insignificant, so it is good to see retailers ensuring that all their customers are included in the buying mix. Designers have for years been tailoring their styles for different markets; when I was working in the magazine business, we did a massive photographic shoot in Kuwait, styled by the late, great Isabella Blow.
We photographed Kuwaiti socialites and royalty wearing the most beautiful kaftans and Abayas; all designed by renowned western designers especially for the Middle Eastern market. It is refreshing to see that after years of catering to Muslim sensibilities in the East, that Western designers and retailers are going to take British Muslim women’s spending power and style demands into account and provide them with options that allow them to embrace and participate in the fashion landscape today.
As I leave you to mull over the eternal conundrum “To Hijab or not to Hijab” may I return for a moment to my former colleague Isabella Blow, who once attended Paris Fashion Week dressed in a shocking pink Burqua. At the time it caused both a sensation and an outcry as it coincided with the Iraq war and was seen as a political statement.
When she was questioned about her sartorial choice, Issy replied that she simply chose to wear it because she had not had time to get her hair and make- up done! At a time when the Hijab and its more severe incarnation, the Niqab, are hitting the headlines, it is perhaps hopeful to realise that sometimes even the most conservative aspects of our faith, can be elevated to a form of expression and freedom, especially for those it may have once sought to suppress.
With extensive publishing experience and significant knowledge of the fashion, retail and luxury industries, Ahlya Fateh is currently a highly regarded senior executive who combines a strong creative vision with an astute strategic understanding and exceptional management skills. In 2010 Ahlya was brought in by Tata Naka as Managing Director to re-launch the fashion brand at London Fashion Week. Previously Ahlya was Managing Editor of Tatler magazine from 2001 to 2010.