Asserting a Muslim fashion identity from Dubai to Jakarta

Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, 41, the Riyadh-based Saudi princess, former retailer and newly crowned editor-in-chief of Vogue Arabia, in London during a photo shoot for the publication.
Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, 41, the Riyadh-based Saudi princess, former retailer and newly crowned editor-in-chief of Vogue Arabia, in London during a photo shoot for the publication. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTimes) - Last week, quietly and without much fanfare, the 22nd global Vogue went live.

Framed in striking black and gold, the glossy digital pages look, in many ways, much like any other international issue of the world's most powerful fashion magazine. There is a video interview with star model Gigi Hadid, a colourful carousel of spring 2017 runway trends, a lavish editorial featuring the latest Chanel, and bright, chatty pieces about hot local brands and social media stars.

But then there is this: "How To Style Your Hair Under A Hijab". And this: Malikah, a fiery Beirut-raised hip-hop star, describing how she began her career spitting lyrics into a face mask to hide her identity from disapproving conservatives.


A screen grab from the Vogue Arabia website. Vogue Arabia is a digital-first, bilingual foray into the hearts, minds and wallets of women in the 22 countries of the Arab League. PHOTO: VOGUE ARABIA

And, just after a cinematic short film featuring Lebanese designer Elie Saab and model Elisa Sednaoui amid ornate dining rooms and lush walled gardens, there is this: the definitive edit of this season's most stylish abayas (robelike dresses).

Welcome to Vogue Arabia, a digital-first, bilingual foray into the hearts, minds and wallets of women in the 22 countries of the Arab League. As such, it is the latest, and potentially the strongest, new voice to join a growing chorus demanding global recognition and respect for Muslim culture and its commercial clout.

From Arab Fashion Week, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which debuted last month on the heels of Paris Fashion Week, to Jakarta Fashion Week, held last week in the Indonesian capital, formal fashion showcases are being institutionalised across the Islamic world.

At the same time, private individuals are also claiming their due. A 15-year-old Saudi teenager called for the development of a hijab-clad emoji this autumn, while a fully clothed Muslim journalist was featured wearing a hijab in the October edition of Playboy. If fashion helps define a social and cultural narrative, then this movement is focused on reshaping the perception of 21st-century Muslim female identity in ways that go far beyond the veil.

"This Vogue is very overdue," said Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, 41, the Riyadh-based Saudi princess, former retailer and newly crowned editor-in-chief of Vogue Arabia, while she was in Paris during fashion week last month. "The Arabs deserve their Vogue, and they've deserved it for a long, long time."

Though Vogue Arabia is not the first foreign women's lifestyle magazine to publish an offshoot in the Gulf (Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire and Elle all publish Arabian editions, for example), its audience ambitions extend far beyond its immediate geographical borders.

"The Vogue Arabia woman is one who celebrates her tradition but also considers herself a highly educated global citizen," Aljuhani Abdulaziz said. "Don't forget that we understand luxury almost better than anyone else on earth. Middle Eastern women have been serious couture clients since the late 1960s. We've been around long before the Russians and the Chinese ever came into the picture."

A key part of her Vogue editorial mission, she said, is to eradicate misconceptions around the Arab and Muslim diaspora. The new magazine's headquarters will be in Dubai, and alongside the online platform starting next March, the 25-member editorial team will produce 11 print issues a year, two of which will be solely in Arabic.

"Vogue Arabia is not just about appealing to our own region, but about providing a cross-cultural bridge, a beautiful source of inspiration you would want to pick up even if you were from another area," she said.

"Many people don't really know exactly what Arabia is, and there are major misunderstandings around modest dressing, too," Aljuhani Abdulaziz added. "I have a responsibility to tackle those issues, through a fashion lens, of course. I am not interested in being a political magazine. There are plenty of others who do that. But what I can lay out to readers, both near and far, is that what brings us together is far greater than what sets us apart."

Anniesa Hasibuan, 30, would agree. The Indonesian designer of modest fashion collections with 124,000 followers on Instagram made history in September during New York Fashion Week with a catwalk show in which every model wore hijabs in ivory, peach and gray silk.

A hijab is not just a symbol or a statement, "but a part of a Muslim woman's identity, an identity they are asserting more confidently", Hasibuan said. (Her show received a standing ovation.) "I believe fashion is one of the outlets in which we can start that cultural shift in today's society to normalise the hijab in America and other parts of the West, so as to break down stereotypes and demystify misconceptions."

Indeed, modest fashion is fast becoming a commercial phenomenon; the global Muslim clothing market is forecast to be worth US$327 billion by 2020, according to the latest Global Islamic Economy report - larger than the current clothing markets of Britain (US$107 billion), Germany (US$99 billion) and India (US$96 billion) combined. And a rising Muslim middle class, having greater affluence and sophisticated tastes as well as pride in its religion, is likely to triple from an estimated 300 million in 2015 to 900 million by 2030, according to Ogilvy Noor, the Islamic branding consultancy.

So it is of no surprise that in the last 18 months, a host of Western brands have made their own efforts to get into this booming market, like DKNY, which created a Ramadan capsule collection in 2014; to Tommy Hilfiger; and Dolce & Gabbana, which included a range of luxury hijabs and abayas, made from the same fabrics as the rest of its collection. Not to mention Marks & Spencer's controversial burkini, and Uniqlo's LifeWear collection, created in collaboration with a Muslim fashion designer, Hana Tajima, which includes "breezy dresses" and "iconic hijabs". Shelina Janmohamed, vice president of Ogilvy Noor, said: "The rise in modest fashion over the last decade has come hand in hand with the emergence of 'Generation M': Muslims who believe that faith and modernity go hand in hand. They want to wear their religion with pride but also feel part of the societies around them."