International Modest fashion week opened on Thursday in Istanbul as Turkey sought to make a name for itself as a creative hotspot for conservative wear around the world. Seventy designers are taking part in the two-day event hosted by Modanisa, an online retailer of Muslim fashion, at a railway station flooded with spotlights for the occasion.
“[We want] to create mainstream fashion out of modest fashion and to energise Islamic communities to produce [clothing] for Muslim women,” Modanisa CEO Kerim Ture said. “They want to have their rules but they also want to look chic.”
Modest fashion represents a growing market in the world, and Turkey, with its Muslim traditions and booming textile industry, is uniquely placed to cash in both creatively and commercially. Worldwide spending on Muslim clothing is projected to grow to $327bn by 2020, according to the latest Global Islamic Economy report. In Turkey, an estimated two-thirds of women wear a headscarf, according to industry experts.
Designers talk of a budding industry in which Turkey serves as a natural bridge between European and Asian markets. “In fashion, we have the mainstream fashion line and the modest fashion line,” says Malaysian designer Hazizul Abd Aziz of Aidijuma who favors cool satins and cottons. “The modest fashion line is actually very new.”
On the opening day of the event, the models sported styles ranging from earthy tunics and floral dresses to grandiose gowns in shimmering pear palettes and dark abayas, all connected by shape-concealing cuts. The looks were set off by dashing turbans, decorative headscarves, and prim chignons for the unveiled.
The fashion shows come amid a revived debate over the role of secularism in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation where the constitution enshrines secular principles. The speaker of parliament, Ismail Kahraman, sparked controversy last month by suggesting that the country should have a constitution based on religion instead. That triggered fears among the secular segments of society and small protests in Istanbul.
The outgoing prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the new constitution, which is being drafted by the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, would feature a freedom-oriented principle of secularism rather than an “authoritarian understanding of secularism”.
Since the Islamist-leaning party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2002, restrictions on the displays of religious symbols in public have been relaxed, allowing conservative women to get a university education and enter the workforce. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the ruling party succeeded in lifting a decades-old ban on the wearing of headscarves by public servants and legislators.