Hijab fashion at NYFW not a first on mainstream catwalk

There has been quite the buzz lately about hijab fashion, after an Indonesian designer showcased her fashion line, with models wearing hijab going down the catwalk at New York Fashion Week.

At a time when Muslims continue to be in the headlines, this event brought forward a more positive viewpoint showing Muslims doing normal things like (*gasp*) designing clothing.

The photos below showcase some of the looks on this year’s NYFW by Anniesa Hasibuan.

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As someone who’s been covering hijab fashion for nearly a decade, I do have to say, it was interesting to see how quickly people forgot the pioneers that first started showcasing modest fashion on mainstream runways around the world.

This is by no means meant to take away from what some are calling a “historic moment” at NYFW, but to give more context to the growing modest fashion movement, and give credit to those who helped pave the way.

To start, we have to go back to 2007.

At the time Hijabtrendz was just launching, a young designer out of the U.A.E was pushing forward with bold, colorful and trendy outfits that were modest and fashionable.

Rabia Zargarpur was finally seeing the fruits of her labor, when her work gained international attention.

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She had a show in 2007 that brought big names to the audience when her collection debuted on the runway at Dubai International Fashion Week.

“This was my first history making show and I showed alongside New York Designers like J. Mendel, Rubin Singer and Kithe Brewster. Elle and Interview Magazine flew in from NYFW to attend my show and I got a standing ovation. They had never seen hijab on a runway. Kithe Brewster who was also the Creative Director for that season’s shows (and a great mentor to date) was backstage with me and when we finished the show, he could not stop crying.  He said “you made history tonight”. He knew it was the first time this was done on a mainstream fashion week catwalk where no one else showed modest fashion or hijab ever before.”

In 2008, she showed her collection at Abu Dhabi Fashion week alongside Missoni and Pucci.

“I was the only designer to show modest fashion and fully covered hijabi models on the runway. After my show, the President of Camera Moda, Mr. Boselli came backstage to tell me that he had tears in his eyes seeing his models all covered up and that he was so moved because it was so beautiful.  That same evening, Elle Italy, Maison Rabih Kayrouz, and Mr. Missoni himself amongst others praised and encouraged my work and were impressed with how creatively I made modest ready to wear that was modern and inclusive in style.”

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Rabia Z. then made history with hijab fashion on a mainstream U.S. runway in 2010 at Miami Fashion Week, followed by her debut in 2011 at New York Fashion Week.

“I showed in the Fall of 2011 as a seated presentation for press, media and buyers. It was hosted and directed by celebrity stylist Kithe Brewster. Among other press, media and buyers from NYC, we had Huffington Post and Getty Images attend too.  It was amazing and very positive to see mainstream buyers interested in our collection and receive positive reviews from the media.”

Rabia Z. has also shown her collections in London, South Africa, and Karachi.

In addition to Rabia Z. there has been another designer who’s made a name for herself with modest fashion.

Nzinga Knight is the first hijabi to get cast on Project Runway, and was selected as a featured designer at New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center in 2012.

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What most people may not realize about showcasing a collection on the runway at big fashion week events, is that it costs lots of money, and Rabia Z. says often times you’ll need major sponsors to be able to afford it.

 “When I showed in NYFW, it was a seated presentation and not the expensive catwalk show as I didn’t have the funds or a big sponsor to be able to show on the official catwalk. It is very expensive to do a NYFW runway show. But MashaAllah Anniesa Hasibuan was able to afford showing on the runway. And being the only show that had hijab on the runway, she made the headlines this time. I am proud of her accomplishment and how far she has come MashaAllah.  I had seen her show at Istanbul Modest Fashion Week where I am an Advisory Board member and mentor, and I found her work more ethnic. Professionally speaking, I think she needs time to figure out her brand DNA and identity. But I am happy that more designers are getting into mainstream fashion weeks. That is great news for our industry as a whole.  As a mentor, I am always encouraging emerging designers to get out of their comfort zone. And that is what we saw in NYFW this season.”

Moving over to the Washington D.C. area, the fashion week there began putting on a modest fashion show as part of its mainstream offerings in 2013.
Hakeemah Cummings, a modest fashion stylist and brand representative from Northern Virginia, has been involved with that showcase since 2014 until the show wrapped up last year.

When I moved to the D.C area in April 2013 I learned of the Haute and Modesty Show that was debuting for DCFW in September of that year. I attended and it was so exciting, rich with talent, and had a sold out audience.  The director/founder of DCFW, Ean Williams, announced at that show that Nisa Muhammad was the woman who approached him, advocating for a full night of modest fashion to be incorporated into the DCFW schedule, and worked hard to get designers on the runway, vendors, sponsors, and ticket holders. I knew I had to meet this woman! She is really the reason why DCFW started to show modest fashion and continued to show as a full night show until February 2015.”
hijab fashion stylist Hakeema Cummings

Hakeemah says they were able to bring in top designers of modest fashion, including Dian Pelangi, who is one of the biggest designers out of Indonesia. Pelangi showcased her collection ‘Miss Palembang in NY” at the DCFW Haute and Modesty show.  She then traveled to NY to show the same collection.

“This was one of the biggest moments in modest fashion recently in the U.S. before Anniesa Hasibuan’s NYFW debut. Although, I do believe that since it was DCFW, and D.C. is not considered a top fashion city and certainly not on the level of NYFW, it did not make such a huge impression on everyone as Anniesa Hasibuan’s NYFW debut did.”
Hakeemah says she’s continuing to showcase modest fashion brands independently during DCFW through the International Couture Collections Show, which has an upcoming showcase.

Rabia Z. and Hakeema Cummings both echo the same thing when asked about reaction from the audience. They say people are receptive and excited, and the models often say the modest outfits are some of the best in the show.

Rabia Z. says while hijab fashion seems to be making an appearance in mainstream fashion weeks, nothing comes easy.

“My brand has always been ahead of its time in fashion and concept. I have had my fair share of criticism from conservative Muslims as well as Westerners both of whom did not agree with the concept of my modern modest fashion on runways or even as a fashion label.  I took most of the heat at a time when there were no international modest fashion designers that did Ready-to-wear, nor were hijab fashion bloggers and influencers rampant or as popular.  But I continued to stay at the forefront in order to create awareness of the need for modest fashion designs for women like us.  And to break the stereotypes as an empowered and successful Muslim female designer and entrepreneur.  Look at how far we have now come AlhamdulilLah. I am proud that Modest Fashion is acknowledged as a real industry and one that is notably worth $322 Billion.”

Rabia Z. says it takes courage, perseverance and a lot of hard work and dedication to put out a collection.

“I never did it as a hobby.  It wasn’t a social media gig, fame game, or “insta-fame” which Instagram has given rise to.  It was literal sweat, hard work, lots of trial and error; and hard lessons learnt in ‘what to do/what not to do’; ‘what works/what doesn’t work’.”

It’s hard to compete with mainstream fashion, and Rabia Z. says her colleagues in the fashion industry know that modest fashion is a trickier niche to tackle.

“There is a limit in aesthetic, silhouettes and cuts whilst keeping the designs modern, versatile, comfortable and chic.  They have always told me how they could not do what I did.  It sure wasn’t easy!  Now all we see is copies of Zara and other Western brands being sold under “Modest Fashion” by the Instagram labels.  No originality.  Just copy paste, but it’s poor quality.  That frustrates me very much.  This is why it is the Western brands that will successfully take over our market because they do a much better job in creating good quality ready-to-wear with value for money.  Our industry players really need to step it up!”

One thing is clear, as we continue to see more and more attention brought to hijab fashion, there will be many people trying to get involved in what could be a lucrative industry. But only those who are dedicated and focused on the quality of what they’re putting out…will truly succeed.

This article has 5 comments

  1. Pingback: Meet the women behind the Muslim fashion industry - Omama Altaleb

  2. Mariam

    Fatima thanks for commenting! 🙂
    If more girls stick together and push for what they believe in, the more they will be respected. I understand how hard it can be, and that’s why it’s great to see these designers offering us alternative. Inshallah you’ll see stuff like this near you in the future!

  3. fatima

    Its really amazing to see muslim women with right decision about hijab. Hijab should be lovely and own choice, wearing black dresses makes a boring look specially for young girls. In non islamic countries like in india where i am leaving many girls have left hijab just because they also want to see modern in modest form. I really appreciate and i want to have these things soon in india as well. God bless u all and thank you so much.

  4. Mariam

    Carly, thank you so much for taking the time to read the article! Unfortunately there will always be those who spread misinformation. I’m glad you stuck to your gut and didn’t listen! 🙂

  5. Carly

    Nice article and yes it is great to see this becoming a “thing”. I think the NYFW showing was so astonishing because of the political season we are having, where there are so many actually engaged in either not wanting refugees and those who see that this is the American way, or at least has been from this country’s founding.

    Also I loved seeing this because I have been told by so many that I should only wear black and even niqab, that wearing anytihng at all that “shows off” is haram, anything colourful is haram, etc. (I am a revert so what do I know?) I just will not subscribe to that school of thought, that is that.

    Again thank you so much for this article. I will share it, I hope it is shown widely!

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