Contemporary Muslim Fashions

September 22, 2018January 6, 2019

Contemporary Muslim Fashions is the first major museum exhibition to explore the complex and diverse nature of Muslim dress codes worldwide. The exhibition examines how Muslim women—those who cover their heads and those who do not—have become arbiters of style within and beyond their communities, and in so doing, have drawn mass media attention to contemporary Muslim life.

Spotlighting places, garments, and styles from around the world, this exhibition considers how Muslims define themselves—and are defined—by their dress, and how these sartorial choices can be interpreted as reflections of the multifaceted nature of their identities. The exhibition will traverse different religious interpretations and cultures, ranging from commissioned couture and high-end fashions, such as those by United Arab Emirates-based Faiza Bouguessa and Malaysian-based Blancheur; to street wear, from the Brooklyn-based Slow Factory to the London-based Sarah Elenany; to sportswear, such as the burkini. Including social media as primary material, Muslim voices, visions, and personal narratives are framed by runway footage, news clips, as well as documentary and fashion photography.



In Depth

Faiza Bouguessa, Geometric Abaya, 2014

The exhibition’s introductory gallery orients visitors to this multifaceted topic by the display of contemporary Muslim modest fashions, social media content, and press and news clippings. As Islam is a multicultural faith, the dress of its practitioners is shaped not only by religious principles, but also by local customs and traditions and global fashion trends. This dynamic display showcases the diversity of voices in the Muslim community, from style arbiters and bloggers, emerging designers, politicians and athletes, as well as introduces visitors to the types of content and artworks that they will see throughout the exhibition.

Working from a premise that the holy texts of Islam have been interpreted in multiple ways around the world and across time, the exhibition’s second section explores approaches to head-covering around the world. Through contemporary art, documentary, and fashion photography, this display features examples of different types of Muslim coverings, including hijab, burka, turban, and headwrap, as well as more recent commercial propositions, such as the sports hijab. These are featured with photographs, news clippings, and videos that explore the cultural contexts in which these garments are worn.

In recent years, there has been increased awareness of Muslim dress as an important segment of the global fashion industry. This has perhaps been most evident by the emergence of modest fashion weeks to promote the work of both established and emerging designers who adhere to Muslim design aesthetics, as well as by the shift among both Western and non-Western designers to create styles specifically for Muslim clients. For many Muslims, dressing visibly Islamic and highly fashionable is also a way to promote a positive awareness of their culture amid ongoing anti-Muslim prejudice.

The exhibition’s main galleries explore these developments throughout the world by regional survey, with the first section focusing on Muslim majority countries in the Middle East, such as Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. Designers from this region include Faiza Bouguessa, Chador, and Fyunka. One feature of this display is the abaya – a loose robe-like over-garment worn especially in the Gulf – to explore how contemporary abaya designers meld regional aesthetics with the global trends of the fashion industry.

While in the 1990s, Turkey led in the commercial design and manufacture of Muslim modest fashion, today the global reach of Islam is evident in south and southeast Asia as well, where Indonesia has emerged another leader in the modest and Muslim fashion industries. The rich textile and costume traditions of this region, especially Indonesia, greatly inform the designs produced for these sectors, as evidenced by the use of luxurious fabrics, vibrant colors, and complex patterns. Designers in this section include Itang Yunasz, Dian Pelangi, and Blancheur.

Experiences of migration and re-location by Muslims have also helped to shape their religious practices and dress codes. As some of many examples, these developments are evident in garments made by Muslim immigrants now living in Europe, such as in the United Kingdom, where designers, like Saiqa Majeed of Saiqa London, merge the textile heritages of their countries of origin with Western fashion and modest dress aesthetics. In the United States, designers from the Nation of Islam, such as Carmin Muhammad of Al-Nisa Designs, are both creating clothing that adheres to the tailored shape and silhouette of their traditional dress as well as contemporary interpretations of modest aesthetics.

To explore the rise of Muslim consumer culture, a section of the exhibition will showcase affordable luxury and fast fashion that cater to a Muslim clientele, such as designs by Sarah Elenany and Barjis Chohan. These fashions demonstrate how younger generations of Muslim women are creating wardrobes that allow them to mediate contemporary society while being true to their faith. A subsection of this gallery explores the rise of hybrid sportswear garments that have helped foster Muslim female autonomy, such as the burkini. Throughout these galleries, fashion photographs as well as fashion and lifestyle magazines, such as Âlâ, the first Turkish Muslim lifestyle magazine; Alef, a short-lived but significant Muslim luxury lifestyle magazine founded in Kuwait; and the recently launched Vogue Arabia, offer additional context to the garments on display.

Although not necessarily public knowledge, in the second half of the twentieth century, elite Muslim clients, especially from the Gulf, were important patrons for the couture houses of Paris, who often adapted couture designs for regional and religious sensibilities. True to the spirit of couture, this industry has long shown a willingness to modify their creations to suit the needs of Muslim clients. With these notions in mind, the exhibition’s grand finale explores couture designs that have been adapted to accommodate Muslim concerns of modesty, as seen in the garments worn by prominent Muslim royals, who have often selected couture garments for important state events.

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