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27/04/2017

A look at the rising popularity

 

A look at the rising popularity and why labels are turning to the Middle East for inspiration

Modest dress is enjoying a renaissance. Fashion brands are increasingly embracing the long-held view shared by those in region that style does not have to equate to revealing a lot of flesh.

Building on the foundations of sensuality over sexuality, and demure over décolletage, the West is finally catching up with the Middle East in terms of tasteful dressing.

Women in the Middle East have long expressed their fashion taste through layering and soft silhouettes, with abayas that brush across the hips and catch at the wrist.

Dressing in clothes that are cut to conceal rather than reveal, the focus is shifted so a glimpse of ankle becomes more potent than a bare torso paraded for all the world to see.

Who has not gazed in awe as a woman sashays past, swathed from head to toe, as graceful as a swan? The difference now is that the runways in New York, Milan, Paris and London have caught on to the elegance such flowing lines convey.

Fashion has always acted as a barometer of attitudes in society, reflecting mood and thoughts, expressed through the length of hemlines and tightness of cut.

The severe tailoring of wartime Europe, for example, was swept away by Christian Dior and his New Look of 1948. Using yards and yards of fabric in the skirt, it was a heartfelt rebellion against European post-war rationing and austerity.

Now, as hemlines have dropped and outlines softened to the point of billowing, fashion is more gentle and more forgiving. By choosing loose-fitting and comfortable outfits, women with the busiest of lives can now get on with their day, freed from the tyranny of tight-fitting "body-con" styles.

Perhaps the timing of this is no coincidence. In an age of political division with leaders seeking to drive wedges between countries and races, the fashion industry is embracing a code of dress associated with the Islamic Middle East, and helping blur the boundaries that separate us.

"The misconception about women who cover being oppressed is being challenged," says Gaelle Dalati, the communications manager of fashion house Symphony Style Group.

"This is a chance to explain that modest dressing is about focusing on the inside, not showing off the outside. It is about dressing beautifully and elegantly and respecting who you are.

"Instead of modest dressing being seen in a negative light, now it is very fashionable – it is so elegant. It has changed the way people think about how we dress."

With more than half the population in the region under the age of 25, and with growing spending power, the GCC market is too large to ignore.

"International brands have picked up on this trend and have created collections catering to the modest woman – brands such as DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar de la Renta, Monique Lhuillier, Zara, Mango, Uniglo," says Bong Guerrero, the chief executive of the Dubai style platform Fashion Forward.

"Modest fashion is one of the industry’s fastest-growing sectors and the demand is increasing for this style of clothing.

"According to the 2015-2016 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report, Muslims spend approximately US$230 billion (Dh844bn) annually on clothing, which is projected to grow to $327 billion by 2019."

With such large sums at stake, it is no surprise that Italian giant Dolce & Gabbana unveiled an abaya collection last year or that sports company Nike last month announced plans to release a sports hijab.

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