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Far away from Gucci-land, high fashion unveiled

The narrow lane to the Shamsi mansion in old Moradabad snakes through old, run-down havelis, now converted into down-market tailor shops and hole-in-the-wall grocers. There are cycle-rickshaws, scooters and four-wheelers jostling for passage, and garbage litters both sides.

india Updated: Aug 02, 2009 00:17 IST
Vanshika Sahni

The narrow lane to the Shamsi mansion in old Moradabad snakes through old, run-down havelis, now converted into down-market tailor shops and hole-in-the-wall grocers. There are cycle-rickshaws, scooters and four-wheelers jostling for passage, and garbage litters both sides.

Here in the outwardly dilapidated house, surrounded by parquet floors and plush sofas, Hadia Shamsi, 20, wears some very expensive burqas — studded with Swarovski crystals and embroidered with gold-thread floral patterns round the sleeves and neck.

“Designer burqas first appeared at the Haj around ten years ago,” her mother-in-law, Ghazala, 45, tells me, sitting behind a pink gauze parda in the living room that conceals her from the men. “Since then, they have become popular in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries. It’s come to India only now.”

“I prefer my burqas simple and smart,” Hadia chips in, bringing out her collection of fancy burqas, among them a very pretty one in yellow and blue with elegant needlework at the edges. The burqa, she feels, protects a woman from public gaze and should not be too gaudy or provocative.

Clearly, with some women in India, the burqa is not the instrument of ‘repression’ French President Nicolas Sarkozy thinks it is. Burqas these days are not just the usual frumpy black; they are high-end, designer, even luxurious. You now get them in a range of colours, or studded with sequins and crystals or intricately embroidered. They are also available in denim and crepe.

While it’s the malls in Dubai which are stuffed with these fancy burqas and hijabs — including burqas from designer houses like Gucci and Armani, which are very popular — in India cheaper versions are available in small stores in Delhi and Mumbai. While the Dubai ones will cost anywhere from Rs 5,000 to one lakh, Indian designer ‘knockoffs’ are a steal at Rs 6,000. In contrast, an ordinary burqa costs just Rs 400.

By all accounts, the new fashionable burqas have caught the fancy of women in India. In Mumbai, you’ll even find young girls driving bikes in them.

Beenish Adnan, 26, is one such. “My Swarovski-studded burqa gets me a lot of compliments,” she says. She picks them in Dubai, four-five at a time, and seems well informed on burqa fashion. “The latest fashion in the Middle East,” she tells me, “is shimmering black satin burqas studded with Swarovski crystals”.

But not all women are similarly gung-ho about burqa fashion. Sumra Umar, 32, of Mumbai is disapproving of flashy or tight-fitting burqas which attract attention. “I don’t buy such burqas,” she says. “Aaj kal burkhon ko bhi burkhon ki zaroorat hai (These days even burqas need to be covered with burqas).”

Ghazala Shamsi strikes a more balanced note. “Burkhe ke andar aurat band nahi hai (A woman is not imprisoned inside the burqa),” says the matriarch, an aalim (Quranic scholar) who runs the Jamia Ahsanul Banat Kanya Inter College in Moradabad. “Common people just assume that under the burqa, a woman is poor or uneducated. There is no inferiority in wearing a burqa.”