Modest dressing doesn’t have to mean frumpy frocks and a full-body cover-up.
In fact, bold styles from today’s designers put the “mod” in modest couture for “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, the first major museum exhibition to explore the complex and diverse nature of Muslim designs and current modest styles.
On view now through Jan. 6, the show highlights more than 80 pieces from global designers — from well-known names like Christian Dior and Nike to emerging designers in the Middle East, Indonesia, the U.S and more. There are examples of high-end fashion, streetwear and sportswear in surprising patterns, colors, textures and silhouettes. The outfits are accompanied by runway footage, news clips and photos, showing Muslim fashion in all walks of life.
Curators say the show unveils what may seem mysterious to some in the Western world, cutting through stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslim dress codes. It’s not just about choosing to wear a head scarf or not. Muslim women have become arbiters of style within and beyond their communities, curators say.
“There are those who believe that there is no fashion at all among Muslim women, but the opposite is true with modern, vibrant and extraordinary fashion scenes, particularly in many Muslim-majority countries,” said Max Hollein, former director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “(The exhibition) is an overdue, much-needed exploration of a multifaceted topic as yet largely unexplored by museums … shedding light onto larger political, social and cultural understandings and misunderstandings.”
In the exhibit, one entire gallery explores styles of the hijab (headscarf), whether worn for personal piety, community conventions, or a variety of political positions. Even The traditional abaya — a simple, loose black garment designed to cover the body from neck to feet — has received contemporary updates.
Designers across the globe are noting increased awareness of Muslim consumers as a big segment of the fashion industry with more than 1.8 billion practicing Muslims worldwide — nearly 250,000 in the Bay Area alone. The modest fashion industry brings in about $44 billion per year, curators say.
So far, response to the exhibition has been robust with thousands of visitors since it opened in September.
“The response has been overwhelming from media and audiences worldwide,” said Helena Nordstrom, communications manager for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Visitors to the show are finding it to be a very intriguing exhibition and are recommending their friends and family to come see it.”
After closing at the de Young, the exhibition will travel to Frankfurt’s Museum Angewandte Kunst.