The Muslim Women Who Are Conquering the Fashion World

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A model walks the runway at the Anniesa Hasibuan during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Dock, Skylight at Moynihan Station on September 12, 2016 in New York City.
A model walks the runway at the Anniesa Hasibuan during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Dock, Skylight at Moynihan Station on September 12, 2016 in New York City. Credit: Roy Rochlin/AFP
Raz Koli
Raz Koli

Last September, Playboy featured a young journalist named Noor Tagouri wearing a leather jacket, making a mock growling expression and covering her head with a hijab, an item that has sparked a lot of stormy public arguments about attempts to ban its usage.

With the election of Donald Trump, it seemed that the status of Muslims in the United States was deteriorating, and young Muslim women were urged not to wear the hijab out of fear of violence against them. However, 2016 was also the year that female Muslim believers like Tagouri conquered the fashion world and popular culture, shattering the submissive image attached to them.

Last year, American cosmetics company Cover Girl chose Nura Afia, a hijab-wearing Muslim, to promote its products. Afia, who made her name on YouTube demonstrating her way with makeup, was chosen to launch a campaign for its new mascara. For its 2015 “Close the Loop” campaign, H&M for the first time picked a model who wears a hijab – Mariah Idrissi, a Pakistani-Moroccan woman living in London.

These are just some of the events that made certain magazines consider the hijab a fashion statement, and led to a writer from Britain’s The Guardian predict that we will see the Kardashian sisters in an abaya (the traditional Muslim loose-fitting over-garment that covers the entire body save for the head, hands and feet) in 2017.

This development is not a passing trend like fur or pleated skirts. An active movement of thousands of young Muslim women stands behind these gigantic media appearances. They have flooded the social networks and accumulated millions of followers. Muslim fashion bloggers show their readers trendy outfits and guides for makeup, style and shopping, but what makes them unique is that they integrate the modern look with the rules of modesty rooted in Islamic values.

Noor TagouriCredit: Playboy/Splash News

At a time when major companies are using Instagram stars as brand ambassadors, the bloggers of modest fashion – the hijabis – have attracted great attention, and the need for fashionable clothes that will suit the modest Muslim fashionista has been quickly translated into demand.

Donna Karan (DKNY) was the first to create a dressing line aimed at the Muslim world for Ramadan 2014. Oscar de la Renta, Tommy Hilfiger and recently Dolce & Gabbana have all followed suit. Japanese fashion company Uniqlo brought on Yunalis Mat Zara’ai (aka Yuna), the Malaysian-born pop star, to launch its first collection of modest wear, working together with Muslim fashion designer Hana Tajima.

The embrace that high fashion is giving the Muslim community and modest fashion tightened when Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan participated for the first time in New York’s fashion week, and made history when she presented an entire collection using models with hijabs. Internet sites like Haute Elan and Hijup market modest-fashion clothes next to scarves for covering the head.

Sometime in 2012, teenager Summer Albarcha opened her photo-sharing hipsterhijabis account on Instragram. The account crystallized an important moment in the marginal culture that was developing. Different versions of the username, like “hipsterhijabista,” generate thousands of search results for pictures on the net.

The nickname hijabi, which refers to young Muslim, fashioned-minded women clad in the hijab, has evolved since the early 2000s. At first the nickname served as a pejorative term for Muslim women participating in wild parties and going in for “evil culture,’ but lately it became a routine usage with a positive connotation that is mentioned in newspapers and on television. Hijabi turned into the name of a genre of its own, modest fashion.

Anniesa HasibuanCredit: ANGELA WEISS/AFP

Female bloggers like Britain’s Dina Torkia (who also goes by Dina Tokio) and Indonesia’s Dian Pelangi, who have millions of followers on Instagram and YouTube, speak about exposing their lifestyle to break the stigma of the oppressed Muslim woman and enable young girls to understand how to integrate their faith with the desire to be fashionable and look good. They present “hijab stories,” posts that deal with fashion and their personal story as hijab-clad women.

Modest fashion is nothing new. It has existed for years in Muslim countries and various religious communities. Fashion weeks take place annually in countries like Turkey and Indonesia, maintaining the local dress look influenced by religious values, but the turnabout in recent years caused a genuine mix between the fashion industry and its little sister, the modest-fashion industry.

Some clothes-lovers associate the broad trends in fashion with the expansion of the modest-fashion movement, like dresses with thin shoulder straps that are worn over a long shirt, which returned to fashion as part of the back-to-the-’90s trend, and also appear in tips that the modest-fashion bloggers give their followers. Baggy pants and tunics currently featured on the runways are items that the modest fashionista would enthusiastically use.

Trendy white youth in 2000 jumped at the chance to wear a kaffiyeh as if their necks had never felt colder. It is not the first time that cultural appropriation of traditional items has enriched our aesthetic world. However, it seems that in the case of modest fashion it is an evolution of marginal culture that is steadily becoming more central with the recognition by key people of its importance.

People wonder if modest fashion is a powerful but passing trend, or if the developing industry will remain, considering the demographic and cultural changes in the world. Beyond the fact that modest-fashion customers are women from an array of cultures and origins, the economic power of the Muslim population and the powerful reaction it generates in its encounter with the West will allow the growth of the modest-fashion industry and broader representation of Muslims in the media.

In this undated photo provided by CoverGirl, beauty blogger Nura Afia poses for a photo.Credit: Lacey Terrell/CoverGirl via AP

Still, it is interesting to see if a young journalist like Tagouri will fulfill her dream of being the first hijab-clad news anchor in America, if she will remain a curiosity – a character whose existence is limited to her own community.

The leading bloggers, among them Dina Tokio and Dian Pelangi, who also developed their own fashion lines, create a modest alternative to the most modern trends and reveal a hedonistic and consumer-oriented lifestyle. Hoda Katebi is an American-Iranian blogger who runs the radical fashion blog JooJoo Azad, which deals with fashion but also Muslim resistance and the black protest movement in the United States, alongside a list of brands to boycott for violating human rights. Others, like the Indonesian Instagram star Intan Khasanah, present an Eastern aesthetic that combines major fashion trends like normcore (a unisex fashion trend characterized by unexceptional lines) and professional photography, and the results are inspirational.