Tasnim: Ever since the news broke about the Dolce and Gabbana abayas, I’ve heard this debut line described as everything from a “smart move” to an exploitative one, from a “cultural breakthrough” to “cultural appropriation.” What are your feelings about it?
Afia: Being a modest fashion industry analyst, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, the entrance of a global fashion label like D&G (and previously, DKNY, Mango, Uniqlo and Tommy Hilfiger) into this space creates awareness. It underlines that there is real money to be made in serving the needs of covered women. As a result, more players will enter the space, creating more options for women who choose to cover.
On the other hand, I’m worried that as more global players are entering the space and more creative options are available for hijab-wearing women, the modest fashion industry is falling into the commoditization of hijab.
Tasnim. Yes, I understand that some Muslim women are resentful that a “Western” brand is reducing hijab to this fashion trend, but the hijab has already been commodified, and there is a growing, lucrative (and some would say still underserved) market for “Islamic dress.”
Shereen: D&G aren’t trendsetting. There are beautiful fashionable abayas all around the Middle East. Tailors will make you whatever designs you want and there are many collections designed by Muslimahs, for Muslim women. It is the dress of choice in Dubai, therefore it comes as no surprise, and very little commercial risk that D&G would choose to launch in the Emirates.
Afia: I see that, but I have a problem with what it means to commodify the hijab. What’s supposed to be a piece of clothing that reminds its wearer of her connection to God becomes just another creatively designed fabric if a designer does not make the effort to understand the values that drive women to choose to cover. For me, those values are: independence, humility, respect. That’s why I don’t understand the logic of an extravagant abaya. I also care about who made my clothes and whether my clothes is fairly priced.
Shereen: I doubt the D&G abaya collection will have much of an impact on Muslim shoppers, due to it being one capsule collection and very expensive. However, if being such a top end designer allows the type of exposure to get the image of the abaya more mainstream & other fashion lines follow, it may just help towards combatting islamophobia.
Tasnim: It is “mainstreaming” Muslims in a way but I’m not sure that it will combat Islamophobia, in fact it might just as well be resented as a form of “creeping sharia,” along the lines of the resentful question: Why should a “Western” label be designing anything for Muslim women? Although I’ve also heard non-Muslim women saying they might be interested in wearing some of the pieces.
Afia: As a Muslim woman who has made the conscious choice to wear the hijab for almost twenty years, I do appreciate more designers and labels creating more options for me. But at the same time, I’m also cautious about who I’m supporting with my hard-earned money. So, even though I think the lace-trimmed pieces in the D&G abaya collection are really pretty, I haven’t decided whether they align with my values – in other words, whether I ‘like’ them.
Shereen: I would love to see abayas available on the high street in the UK, then I might feel brave enough to wear one! At the moment, I wear one in the UAE but I feel like I would be alienated too much in the UK so I switch to ‘normal’ clothes even though I feel less comfortable. What I would like to see is some more engagement with the Muslimah community though. D&G launched in Ramadan and excluded the majority of their audience which makes me question how much input they have from the community they are aiming to sell too.
Tasnim: I did have to roll my eyes at the overwrought language of the press release, including the line “an enchanting visual story about the grace and beauty of the marvelous women of Arabia.” A bit over the top! And that kind of marketing might be why some Muslim women feel this is not “for them.” That said, I found some of the opposition to the abayas coming from some Muslim women to be reaching a bit. For example, the argument that the model seems to be “white”, as though Muslims are supposed to come in a particular shade of beige or brown. I don’t wear abayas myself, but I know many who would welcome this development (if they could afford the exorbitant price!).