Modern Muslim women's fashion - Exhibition

2018-09-24

22 September 2018 - 6 January 2019

The head covering is among the most identifiable elements of Muslim women's dress. A new exhibition in San Francisco shows that the covering used by some Muslim women can be a bright yellow head wrap or a loose drape of rose; a black silk and lace scarf by Dolce & Gabbana; or a hood attached to a knee-length dress.

"Contemporary Muslim Fashions" exhibition opened on 22 September at the de Young Museum with about 80 ensembles by nearly 60 designers from around the world, including the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The clothes are vibrant, elegant and playful, ranging from high-end couture to sassy streetwear. It is the first major museum exhibition to explore the complex, diverse nature of Muslim dress codes worldwide.

The aim is to spark a deeper understanding of the women who are part of the second-largest religion in the world. "At a time when Muslim women are being increasingly targeted for using their fashion choices to assert their independence and identity, we hope that this exhibition will allow a positive review and examination of a community that's often talked about, but rarely given the chance to speak and present itself," noted Gisue Hariri, one of two Iranian-born sisters whose architecture firm designed the galleries.

As Jill D'Alessandro, curator in charge of costume and textile arts for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, said the idea for this exhibition came in 2016 when France was in an uproar over a ban on "burkini" swimsuits worn by some Muslim beachgoers. At the same time, D'Alessandro was seeing examples of chic "modest fashion" embraced by young Muslim women who wanted to express their religious piety.

Modest fashion has become a $44 billion industry, with more Western fashion houses catering to Muslim consumers.

Last year, Nike introduced a headscarf made of high-tech fabrics. A Max Mara fashion show in 2017 featured a model in a hijab, her body wrapped in one of the company's long tailored coats - a common look among wealthier Muslim shoppers.

Among the pieces is a 2012 "Hoody Dress" by British designer Sarah Elenany. She created long-sleeve, knee-length dresses for the Scout Association in the United Kingdom so Muslim girls could rappel and climb comfortably. The dresses were worn over trousers or leggings. The exhibition includes also a traditional Pakistani wedding ensemble of red silk and chiffon, with metallic embroidery and glass beads. It is on loan from Saba Ali, a San Francisco-area stylist who served as adviser to the exhibition and styled the head coverings.

Saba Ali is thrilled to be part of the show: "I feel it's so important in this day and age and the climate we live in. A lot of people don't know Muslims". "Art is a means to a conversation for people to get to know a culture or people better", Ali added. 

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