Modesty is fashionably back in style
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Glossy fashion magazines and a Muslim prayer mat find their place in the consultation room of local designer Mohammad Rawoot who is on a mission to bring modesty back into style.
Rawoot showed his latest ready-to-wear range aimed at women who want don’t want to show skin while looking trendy. It’s a shift from his clothing range stocked at Young Designer’s Emporium for the last three years.
Rawoot says he has been encouraged mostly by a growth in Muslim women who seek fashion that fits with their Islamic beliefs. This means clothes that do not show off their bodies or hair.
Rawoot’s ‘Aura’ collection featured bold geometric prints, headscarves and stilettos. The target market is younger Muslim women who “don’t want to look like their mothers”.
“They want to wear headscarves but they don’t want to look old. They don’t want to wear salaah tops (garments worn to pray in). That has stopped some young Muslim women from wearing headscarves because it’s not fashionable. This collection shows that you can wear a headscarf and still look fashionable,” said Rawoot.
“Young Muslim women seem to have more awareness about their religion. Our parent’s generation became aware years later. I have clients whose daughters wear their headscarf but they don’t.”
The young designer from Rondebosch East started his label M Couture in 2000 and says that since then he has had a mix of clients. His Muslim clients have come to him with photos from fashion magazines and asked him to dress them “like that but with sleeves”.
“I have to adapt that look to make it more modest. I add a sleeve or raise the neckline. They want the look and colour but the dress needs to be adapted. It used to be very challenging because you can’t just put a sleeve onto a dress. You have to really think about it. It’s like redesigning a house,” says Rawoot.
Modest fashion is nothing new though. Muslim women worldwide, who want to follow Islamic principles, cover their bodies with fashionable clothes.
“There’s an Arab and North African inspired look all over. You see more headscarves and turbans on the streets. I’m seeing much younger girls wearing headscarves. Before, you only saw the older crowd wearing headscarves. I’m seeing non-Muslims as well wearing turbans. It’s about mixing up cultures,” says Rawoot.
“You’re not yet seeing it much in the media but you do see it on the streets.”
Cape Town-based fashion designer Jacques Lagrange says that his clients from Arab lands as far away as Dubai and Amman want couture designs while maintaining their modesty.
“They want to go modern but they do cover up because of religion. They want to wear an abayah (free-flowing dress that covers the body) but they want to wear one that is couture. The sleeves are always long and the dresses are always long. They also want to wear matching headscarves and play with modern fabrics,” says Lagrange.
“The majority of my clients, whether Muslim or not, will still look decent because that’s elegant. It looks more common if a woman is showing off her body. My clothes are elegant. I don’t do tits on the table.”
Lagrange says that globally fashion designers who create couture also tend to present collections that are “chic and sophisticated”.
“Everybody wants to wear (international designer) Eli Saab and when they do they’re always covered up. It’s about an elegant lifestyle,” he says.
“I’ve found a lot of Muslim women who can appreciate and afford couture. They don’t follow American fashion because that’s common. There will always be a market for modest fashion that because there are always women who want to dress modestly.”
Globally, the oil-rich Arab world is also creating a buzz in the fashion industry. This not only introduces western fashions to the Arab world but opens new markets for clientele that desire fashion with a different sensibility.
Earlier this year, the Qatar royal family reportedly snatched up major fashion house Valentino for US$858-million.
Rawoot says the local market needs to catch up. He says his fashion show was intended to show also that dressing modestly and wearing a headscarf.
“When people hear modest or ‘hijab collection’ (in reference to the word hijab meaning headscarf) they think old. There is a stigma attached to it because of the way people have interpreted it. It’s now up to people like us to change the way people think,” he says.
“With this show, there’ll be more awareness about modest fashion.”