Is Dolce & Gabbana’s recent Hijab and Abaya collection truly for Muslim women?
Alexia Kwarteng-Amaning is a young, quirky creative currently studying Fashion BA (Hons) at Ravensbourne University graduating in 2018.
Dolce & Gabbana, a luxury Italian fashion house, have recently launched their first ever collection of Hijabs and Abayas targeted specifically at Muslim women in the Middle East. Over the recent years, an increasing amount of luxury fashion brands have been creating collections which cater to the specific needs of religious women, in particular Muslim women who wear the traditional Hijab and Abaya which are Islamic concepts for modesty where women cover up around unrelated associates of the opposite gender. Hijabs are worn to cover hair and Abayas are a type of full-length clothing to conceal shape of bodies. The wearing of these is believed to preserve beauty for their husbands and in order to demand self-respect from the public within the Islamic religion. However, many Muslim women have been beginning to question whether Dolce & Gabbana’s collection is truly for Muslim women or whether it is another fashion industry scandal?
The Hijab and Abaya are both cultural and religious symbols for modesty within Islam. The Qur’an, the sacred book of Islam, states ‘And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands…’ (Qur’an 24:31) and ‘O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested’ (Qur’an 33:59). Due to this, many Muslim women follow these commandments from God (Allah) where they abide by this rule and cover up wearing the Hijab, Abaya or both.
Many Muslim women were extremely excited that a luxury fashion brand such as Dolce & Gabbana have decided to cater to wealthy Muslim women, allowing the brand to demonstrate the inclusion of Muslim women within a high end fashion label and finally identifying Islamic culture within western society. The collection consists of a fusion of delicate lace and silks combined with bold floral prints with inspiration drawn from Sicily on black and neutral toned fabrics, in contrast to the usual, most commonly worn, plain black Hijab and Abayas. Some Muslim women were in support of the new collection where they posted comments online such as ‘It’s so amazing to see you create this, there are a lot of lovely ladies that will look and feel absolutely incredible because of you’ (Brennan, online article, 2016) and ‘perhaps a new generation of Muslim fashionistas can now see themselves better reflected in an industry they admire’ (O’Neil, online article, 2016), which suggest that Muslim women often feel unrepresented and left out within mainstream fashion and that Dolce & Gabbana have been able to bridge the gap between religion and fashion by catering to traditional Islamic requirements.
On the other hand, not all Muslim women were in favour of the collection by Dolce & Gabbana: ‘I don’t feel Dolce & Gabbana’s new collection is truly for Muslim women. Instead it reinforces the idea that western designers control global fashion’ (Haris, online article, 2016) which gives the impression that Muslim fashion is only praised when being presented by a large western fashion label who control what is relevant and ‘fashionable’, otherwise Muslim fashion goes unheard of and unrecognised within the fashion industry. In addition to this, the collection did not seem to represent Muslim women in a true manner, as the model was not of Islamic culture: ‘As a Muslim woman and the intended target consumer, I thought that the pale white model wearing the clothing served as yet another stark reminder that eastern culture may only be celebrated when it is glamorised by western society’ (Haris, online article, 2016). This also refers to a large issue within the fashion industry, Cultural appropriation, which can be defined as ‘a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group’ (Johnson, website, 2015). It also allows many people to admire the culture yet the people remain discriminated against, it can encourage racial stereotypes and often ‘prioritizes the feelings of privileged people over justice for marginalized people.’ (Johnson, website, 2015) Perhaps if the model had been a true representation of Muslim or Middle Eastern women, the collection would have been able to truly reflect the target market and the true intentions of the collection, allowing many more Muslim women to be in favour and in support of it.
Furthermore, the collection was also thought to be more of a money making scheme than a collection truly created to cater to Muslim women due to the statistics showing how Muslim women in the Middle East spend the most money on fashion. An online article states that ‘sales of luxury goods in the Middle East hit $8.7bn last year, and Muslims worldwide spent $266bn on luxury goods in 2013, it becomes clear what truly motivates these brands in their production of “modest” clothing’ (Haris, online article, 2016), highlighting that the Dolce and Gabbana fashion label care about the money the collection will bring in from wealthy Muslim shoppers in the Middle East rather than truly caring about the religious and cultural needs of Muslim women which could lead to the idea of Muslim culture being exploited within a luxury fashion brand in order to profit from them. Forbes highlighted, ‘the Middle East now represents a US $8.7 billion market (Bain & Company), and not only is Dolce & Gabbana’s decision to launch an abaya and hijab line a smart move (or the “smartest move in a while” …) (Minthe, website, 2016), which suggests the luxury fashion brand has launched the collection aimed at wealthy Muslim women in the Middle East simply to make more money.
Many people also took to social media platforms to express their views about Dolce & Gabbana making money off Islamic culture: ‘Dolce and Gabbana realises that ppl in the Middle East have money and now are suddenly hijab-collection-ing’ (O’Neil, online article, 2016) and ‘The whole D&G #hijab collection reeks of western double standards. You don’t want women to wear it, and yet, you wanna make money off it!’ (O’Neil, online article, 2016). These were just some of the comments posted on Twitter regarding the money making side of fashion in response to the collection. These responses to Dolce & Gabbana’s Hijab and Abaya collection give the impression that Islamic culture is only acceptable when being presented by a large western fashion label and suggest that the most desirable Muslim is wealthy.
Overall, it is difficult to draw an entire conclusion as to whether the Dolce & Gabbana’s Hijab and Abaya collection is truly for Muslim women as some suggest the collection is a money making scheme and other Muslim women were in full favour of the collection as they felt they had been finally included within a world-wide luxury fashion brand. However, it is safe to say that Dolce & Gabbana have paved a new way for religion and culture to be represented within the fashion industry, whether it be a money making scheme or a way to include more religion and culture within fashion, it could create a new way for more minority groups to be appreciated and included within the highly influential fashion industry by a dominant luxury fashion brand such as Dolce & Gabbana.
Brennan, Siofra (2016) ‘The hijab goes high end: Dolce & Gabanna launches is first collection of headscarves and abayas as it joins the luxury brands targeting Muslim fashionistas’, Daily Mail, Wednesday 6 January [Online] Available: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3386904/Dolce-Gabanna-launches-hijab-abaya-collection-Muslim-customers.html (Accessed 18/01/16)
Haris, Ruqaiya (2016) ‘D&G’s hijab range is aimed at people like me – so why do I feel excluded?’, The Guardian, Monday 11 January [Online] Available: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/11/dolce-gabbana-hijab-collection-muslim-women-western-fashion (Accessed 20/01/16)
Johnson, Maisha Z (2015) What’s wrong with cultural appropriation? [Online] US: Everyday Feminism. Available: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/ (Accessed 22/01/16)
Minthe, Caterina (2016) The Dolce & Gabbana Abaya and Hijab Story That Went Around the World [Online] London: Arabia Style. Available: http://arabia.style.com/fashion/news/dolce-gabbana-abaya-hijab-collection-gets-picked-up-by-the-world-media/ (Accessed 20/01/16)
O’Neil, Lauren (2016) ‘Dolce & Gabbana’s new hijab collection hailed as a smart move – financially’, CBC News, Friday 8 January [Online] Available: http://www.cbc.ca/news/trending/dolce-gabbana-s-new-hijab-collection-hailed-as-a-smart-move-financially-1.3396498 (Accessed 20/01/16)