Faith and fashion don't usually go together, but a group of Muslim designers is creating modest yet trendy Islamic clothing that is attracting the attention of women accustomed to revealing a bit more skin.
Some of the 50 designers from Muslim countries who showcased their creations at an Islamic Fashion Festival in the Malaysian capital this week said demure grace and allure was the keynote they wanted to strike, and its appeal was spreading.
They said more and more women, uncomfortable with revealing clothes, plump for the flowing drapes and luxurious fabrics of garments once chiefly intended to conceal the feminine figure.
"In Dubai, it used to be a very religious garment, but now many visiting foreigners are keen to have abayas fitted to their bodies," said Ameera Aamer, who specialises in variations on the abaya, the black all-enveloping gown Middle Eastern women wear.<b1>
Aamer's show featured abayas with unexpected slits and slashes that exposed pink or grey spandex-clad limbs, combined with floral patterns of glittering multi-coloured beads, crystals and sequins to jazz up the gowns' dominant conventional black.
"Over the last four months, I've designed abayas for about 15 Western women - it's more for those who want the luxury," said Ameera, who runs her boutique in parallel with her day job as a banker and makes no more than 10 pieces of any single design.
"I keep in step with international fashion culture with the help of advance copies of accessories catalogues from major houses like Dior or Yves St Laurent, and I use the season's colours in my designs."
Her new designs use purple and silver, the key shades of this season, she said, and her show in Kuala Lumpur featured gold-trim as seen in the kaftan-like creation with rows of gold discs.
Modest, but not monotonous
Roxana Mariam, a British-Bangladeshi Muslim designer based in Dhaka, said she had tried to create a line of ready-to-wear with an international flavour, without targeting any cultural group.
"Most of my clients are actually from the West and most are non-Muslims," Mariam said. "Seventy-five percent of my clients are actually very modest -- they don't like to reveal their shoulders, arms or midriffs. But they find that they don't have an option, so they compromise."
Mariam's show featured trouser suits with long tunics in shades of brown, black and grey, using contrasting thread for large embroidered motifs that were echoed on the headscarf.
Other designs struck a contemporary note with jackets of three-quarter length sleeves but ensured the arms of the blouses underneath extended to the wrist to satisfy Islamic norms, while headscarves in contrasting colours broke up the colour blocks.
Mariam said she had been designing for 13 years, and her line of Islamic garments created last year was already being stocked by two shops in Malaysia.
"It's also to do with finding a modest option without being dowdy," she added.
The growing demand for Islamic clothing is slowly pulling in even established designers such as Malaysian Melinda Looi, who was named Designer of the Year at last year's fashion show.
"It's a huge market, so we are slowly doing that," said Looi, who presented a collection, "The Flight of the Party Swan", in the contemporary section of the fashion show.
"In our collection every season, in our ready-to-wear, we try to put in some kind of design that is inspired by the Muslim culture."