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New Exhibit Shines Light on Muslim Fashion

TAY GLASS, HOST: A new exhibit opens today at The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” showcases what Muslim Fashion looks like today - across streetwear, sportswear and couture. As Brett Forrest reports the show is meant to break stereotypes about what “Modest Fashion” looks like.

BRETT FORREST, BYLINE: Muslim fashion has two jobs. It needs to be stylish, but it also has to be modest. Susan Brown is curator of the Contemporary Muslim Fashions exhibit. She says that “modest fashion” doesn’t have a set definition.

SUSAN BROWN: We sort of use Muslim and modest interchangeably throughout the exhibition. Some people will say that the Hadith, or the sayings of the prophet, say that only a woman’s face and hands should be shown. Depending on different regions of the world, different personal relationships to Islam. People have a lot of different interpretations of modesty in terms of the parameters of what parts of the body have to be covered or not covered.

FORREST: The exhibit shows how these different definitions of modesty are portrayed by designers around the world. Like swimwear from Shereen Sabet of Egypt: a shirt, pants and hood ensemble in bright blue, with a white pattern running down the legs. Or a more high end look from Indonesian designer, Itang Yunasz: a dark blue abaya with an ornate white pattern. Silk, Cotton, Bright colors. Elaborate Designs. Gone is the stereotype of the black hijab.

BROWN: To see, just happy laughing, stylish women looking like they’re having fun while wearing hijab is unfortunately very unfamiliar to a lot of people.

FORREST: Brown says too many news images show Muslims as victims of war and terror. She wants the exhibit’s designs, photographs, and videos to shine a different light on Muslim women. While many looks are unique to different regions Brown says they may be different but there is one common factor.

BROWN: There’s a big population surge with Millennial Muslims and their spending power and their social media expertise. Really changing the narrative around fashion and building a really big online community around Muslim modest style.

FORREST: Brown says platforms like Instagram have been game changers. The exhibit shows how social media is helping to push boundaries.

BROWN: Over half of the designers in the show are Muslim women under 40. And they communicate a great deal on social media and part of it is sharing their style, but part of it is also using fashion as a platform to discuss other social concerns. Fashion can be a way for people to talk about a lot of different subjects and that’s a really interesting intersection.

FORREST: Alia Khan is the chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council. She sees the exhibit as an important opportunity.. To open the door for a new public perception of Muslim style.

ALIA KHAN: For me, the most important thing is that it really allows people to come in, get a glance of beauty that’s possible with modesty. It will confirm that this is a very stylish audience and this group is a match for anyone.

FORREST : Brett Forrest, Columbia Radio News.


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