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Fashion is often critiqued for being an exclusive industry, accused of discriminating on size, race and gender to name but a few issues the business has dealt with in the past. However, there was recent cause for celebration as Dolce & Gabbana revealed it’s first hijab and abaya collection, designed with Muslim women in mind. Announced on style.com/Arabia on January 3rd, it didn’t take long before fashion sources around the world were reporting the news of one of Italy’s most chic and prestigious fashion houses.
The D&G designed collection features abayas, the full length dresses often worn by Muslim women, and hijabs, a traditional scarf worn by Muslim women to cover the hair and neck and sometimes the face. In neutral tones of black and sandy beige with touches of lace, embroidery and delicate patterns, there are ties to the brand’s Spring / Summer 2016 collection with printed roses, daisies and lemons. In the lookbook of images released to the press, the garments are styled with oversized sunglasses, extravagant stilettos, cocktail jewellery and luxe handbags in a variety of patterns.
While this is a monumental step from the designer duo, who have been known previously to be quite controversial, they are by no means the first fashionistas to design for the Arab world. Brands such as DKNY, Oscar de la Renta, Tommy Hilfiger, Mango and Monique Lhuillier have all released one-off collections. Such events are often sold around Ramadan, despite the call for luxury goods prevalent year round. As for Muslim exposure in the fashion industry, last September, H&M featured Muslim woman Mariah Idrissi in one of the brand’s adverts. Twenty-three year-old Idrissi was the first Muslim woman wearing a hijab to be included in an advert for the fashion retailer.
This may be the only place Dolce & Gabbana missed a step, as it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the model wearing the abayas and hijabs in the shoot is not Arab. That’s not to say that to be Muslim you must be Arab, the images could be interpreted as a statement that anyone can be Muslim and every Muslim, regardless of skin tone, can wear an abaya and a hijab and look beautiful. It was however an opportunity to challenge beauty standards that was not taken advantage of.
Posting one of the lookbook images on his Instagram account, Stefano Gabbana replied to an Italian follower who questioned if Europeans should start wearing abayas and hijabs too. Gabbana replied, in Italian, “we don’t have that culture, but we should accept the Middle East’s.” Hopefully other fashion brands will agree, and designers will start considering more modest options for Muslim men and women amongst the sheer blouses and ruffled mini skirts paraded down the catwalk.