Modest fashion gets trendy

Designers and retailers alike are rolling out fashionable clothing that is modest

With sheer, skin-baring gowns perpetually and eye-poppingly seen on celebrities walking the red carpet, modest dressing has acquired a less fashion-forward image.

Another perception is that modest fashion is meant only for women of religions that require them to be attired in ways that do not show their figure, cleavage and limbs.

But all that is changing.

Home-grown clothing brands such as Adrianna Yariqa, Lully Selb and Meem Clothings are known for their contemporary and trendy designs of modest clothing.

And with the launch two weeks ago of The Modist in Dubai, a luxury fashion e-commerce platform that carries high-end designer brands such as Alberta Ferretti and Mary Katrantzou, being modestly dressed has never been more chic.

Ms Ghizlan Guenez, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of The Modist, says modest fashion appeals to women of all faiths, cultures and personal style preferences.


Ms Nur Rulhuda

"Muslimwear is indeed a segment of modest fashion, but it is not exclusive to Muslim dressers," she says in an e-mail interview.

The Modist plans to hold trunk shows worldwide, including in Singapore.

Mr Sufiyan Yahya, CEO of local modest fashion label Adrianna Yariqa, which was started about 31/2 years ago, agrees.

He says: "The most common misconceptions are that modest fashion caters only to Muslim women and is less trendy."

However, the bold and contemporary designs of modest fashion have proven popular with women in general - they have been clamouring for stylish looks and shying away from the plain, pastelcoloured merchandise of the past - with sales doubling or even tripling for some retailers in recent years.

Profits at Adrianna Yariqa increased twofold year on year in 2015 and last year, while sales at two-year-old contemporary brand Lully Selb rose by 70 per cent last year.

Uniqlo says demand for its collection by British-Japanese Muslim fashion designer Hana Tajima has increased every season since the debut of its Fall/Winter 2015 collection.

The collections typically highlight lightweight coats, tunics and pants in solid colours or classic patterns such as stripes, which are easy to mix and match.

Last year, Malaysia-based multi- label store FashionValet opened a store at 313@Somerset. It sells clothing for adults and children from a mix of modest fashion labels as well as regular brands, such as local labels Adrianna Yariqa and Love, Bonito.

An Isetan spokesman says the department store introduced modest clothing at its Tampines branch three years ago when it noticed a demand for it.

The store now carries one modest fashion brand, Bzeebliss. The home-grown brand designs cotton batik pants and elegantly patterned scarves to pair with its simple, solid-coloured blouses.

Isetan has noticed that its Muslim customers are mainly working professionals aged 30 and older who are looking for clothes suitable for the office and for daily wear.

We are more liberal in how we market our designs because we want to be more approachable.

MS NUR RULHUDA, co-founder of local contemporary modestwear brand Lully Selb, who styles her clothing designs to appeal to non-Muslim women as well

While the majority of the garments from modest brands are created by Muslim designers, the labels intentionally style the clothing to appeal to non-Muslim women as well.

Multi-label fashion e-commerce platform Zalora, which launched its modest fashion label Zalia in 2014, styles its models with and without the hijab.

Likewise for Lully Selb, founded in 2015, which showcases models in turbans with their necks exposed.

Ms Nur Rulhuda, Lully Selb's 28- year-old co-founder, says that 10 per cent of her customers are non- Muslim women.

They typically buy her cardishawls - designed like a cardigan, but with a headscarf attached to the neckline - and let the scarf drape around their shoulders instead of pulling it over their heads.

She recalls a Caucasian customer who requested a skirt design be altered to add a slit.

  •  5 tips to master the look

  • 1 STAY COMFORTABLE
    Comfort and practicality come first for Ms Nur Rulhuda, 28, co-founder of contemporary modest fashion brand Lully Selb. "For our humid weather, choose light and breathable fabrics and avoid thick ones such as neoprene," she says.

    2 WHEN IN DOUBT, STICK TO CLASSIC SILHOUETTES
    "Don't overthink or stress over being trendy - go for classic silhouettes such as straight pants with loose tops," adds Ms Rulhuda.

    3 PLAY WITH LAYERS
    Be inventive and experimental in layering your clothes. Layer a long shirt over a maxi skirt or wear a thin long-sleeved top under a sleeveless jumpsuit. A shirt can also double as a lightweight jacket.

    4 WEAR STATEMENT JACKETS
    Cardigans and shawls are common options for additional coverage, but why stick to a basic cardigan? Go for statement jackets or blazers with interesting prints and details.

    5 EXPERIMENT WITH PRINTS
    Ms Hali Jufri, 31, who owns a hair salon with her fiance and loves wearing prints, says: "Don't be afraid to mix prints with prints. Pick two different prints that have one colour in common, then choose one print to be the dominant one and the other can serve as an accent."

Ms Rulhuda, who is single, adds: "We are more liberal in how we market our designs because we want to be more approachable.

"We style our models in turbans even though we are aware it is not the proper hijab attire because we want to reach out to women other than Muslims."

The modest fashion industry is not entirely new. Ms Alia Khan, the Dubai-based founder and chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council, says more people are aware of it because of the Internet.

"Modest fashion was always there," she says. "Now, the awareness has allowed people to recognise and appreciate that there is a business opportunity."

According to the 2015/2016 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report, Muslim consumers are projected to spend US$327 billion (S$458 billion) on clothing by 2019.

Big-name international brands have already taken notice.

Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana designed a hijab and abaya collection in January last year.

And sportswear giant Nike announced a few weeks ago that it would launch its first Nike Pro Hijab next year.

This came just a week after Vogue, published by American mass media company Conde Nast, launched its Arabia edition, the fashion magazine's 22nd international edition.

There is also the Singapore Modest Fashion Collective that helps modest fashion brands and designers with social media and creative services, as well as the Singapore Modest Fashion Weekend, to take place next month at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre at Marina Bay Sands.

The free event, organised by modest fashion e-commerce platform RoseValley and Mediacorp, will have shopping booths showcasing up to 70 modest fashion brands from around the region. Fashion shows will be held throughout the three-day event from April 14 to 16.

Elsewhere, Tokyo held its first Modest Fashion Show in November and London had its first Modest Fashion Week last month.

Ms Vivy Yusof, 29, co-founder of FashionValet, says: "Five years ago, when one heard about modest wear, one would think about what his mum wore, which is not very fashionable.

"The mentality has completely changed. So I'd say that being modest now is super cool."

Jazz it up with prints and frames

MS HALI JUFRI, 31, HAIRDRESSER, ENGAGED

What modest fashion means to her: "Everyone has a different definition of what is modest. Some think it's about covering oneself from head to toe, but I think it's more than that. How you talk and portray yourself is important too.

I don't show a lot of skin because I don't like it; I prefer to cover myself up a bit more. To me, showing cleavage is not modest, but I think a sleeveless top with a long pair of pants or skirt is modest."

On her style: "I gravitate towards prints and colours. Many friends say my style is loud, but I think it's not loud enough.

I usually shop at thrift and vintage stores when I travel to places such as Japan, Europe and South Korea.

I seldom shop here because I hate to wear the same thing as someone else. Also, I can find unique pieces in vintage stores.

I wear glasses and have about 20 pairs. I like vintage cat-eye frames and especially those with patterns and colours. I feel that frames that are too minimalist look studious on me."


Fun with layers

MS FATIMA CHAUDHRY, 24, STUDENT AT LASALLE COLLEGE OF THE ARTS, SINGLE

What modest fashion means to her: "Modest fashion isn't driven by religion or race. It's about dressing modestly with longer hemlines and clothing that isn't sheer.

It's a quieter way of dressing. It is not limited to just Muslim women, although the majority of us occupy the modest fashion scene.

When you dress modestly, you seek comfort in your own body. However, there is definitely more to modesty than just covering up. It's about the way you behave." On her style: "It is inventive - I love layering, mixing colours and prints. I made the decision to wear the hijab when I was 19 years old.

I used to wear miniskirts - I still do, but now, I just layer with pants underneath. I shop mostly from FashionValet or from Swedish fashion label Cos."


5 fashionable pieces for the modest wardrobe
 

1 Mixed-print polyester maxi dress from Mimya, US$160 (S$223.72), The Modist, www.themodist.com

You will certainly not be a wallflower in this patterned dress. Accessorise with simple hoop earrings and slides.


2 Women's crepe wide-leg pants in olive, $39.90, Hana Tajima for Uniqlo

The lightweight crepe material makes these pants comfortable to wear all day. Style with a tucked-in shirt and pointed-toe shoes.


3 Audrey cardigan, $75.90, Adrianna Yariqa, www.adriannayariqa.com. The label is also available at FashionValet.

This free-sized cardigan (pictured, with matching pants, $55.90) has dramatic flair, but can easily be dressed down with jeans.


4 Denim lace-up top, $34.90, Zalia from Zalora.sg

This denim top has three fashion trends in one: a lace-up neckline, ruffled sleeves and pleated detail at the waist.


5 Talita peplum jacquard cotton-twill skirt, RM849 (S$267.78), available online from FashionValet.com. FashionValet is also located at 03-09, 313@Somerset, 313 Orchard Road, open from 10.30am to 10pm daily, tel: 6634-4919

Brighten up your look with a punchy tropical-print skirt. The midi cut is a flattering length for most women and the peplum detail helps to hide problem areas around the tummy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2017, with the headline 'Modest and trendy'. Print Edition | Subscribe