Istanbul Fashion Week

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:37 PM EDT, 21 April 2010

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Often when people think of Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, the idea of fashion does not readily come to mind.  However, the 2010 Spring Season Fashion show in Istanbul, Turkey should have dispelled this misconception.  Turkey has become the new centre of the East meets West fashion world. It has been prognosticated that within five years Turkey's fashion week could rival that of Paris, Milan, London, São Paulo, and New York; a trend which Vogue is capitalizing on with the issuance of a premier Vogue Turkey edition.

Turkish designer Hatice Gökce, who is a founder of the Association of Turkish Fashion Designers, says: “Traditionally, Turkey excelled in manufacturing but did so without an understanding of the design process. That changed with the recession, which has had the opposite effect in Turkey compared to its impact in other countries: it has not only encouraged many more young designers to set up business, but it has woken manufacturers up to designs importance.”

What was most fascinating but not as well-known were the Islamic fashions that were featured during this week. Muslim women, especially those who embrace the Hijab which is both the head covering that traditional Muslim women wear and adopting modesty in dress, are often patrons and attendees of the Paris and Milan fashion shows.  However, with the Turkey show, some designers decided to tap into this lucrative market by designing a line of clothes that were fashion forward but met the needs of conservative women who value modesty.

What is often not known by Westerners is the fact that there are many extremely affluent Muslim women, particularly of Saudi descent, who shop, purchase and wear clothes from some of the worlds most exclusive designers. Clothes which are usually worn beneath the Burqa when in public but in private are clearly displayed with pride.

The idea of modesty is not unique to Islam.  In fact every Orthodox sect of the major religions (Judaism and Christianity) practice some level of covering for women.  In Orthodox Judaism, Tzunit governs the conduct between women and men, the tenets of modesty, and dress codes for women. Part of Tzunit is the practice of covering one's head, particularly if married, since a woman's hair is her crowing glory and should be reserved for the enjoyment of her husband.

Chaldean Catholic women among others cover their heads, and for conservative, traditional women of all three faiths, the issue of modesty, particularly when traveling to coed beaches and swimming pools remained a challenge until now.

One of the fashions featured at the show was the "Burqini", a full body bathing suit that allows a woman to maintain her sense of modesty without restricting her movement in such a way that it would be difficult for her to swim.

Bathing suits that provide the wearer with a level of modesty to which they have become accustomed are sold by a number of vendors such as Ahiida, and the swimsuit line by Stingray Bay was most appealing because they focused on all three faiths - Islam, Judaism and Christianity, as well as providing alternatives for individuals who need to cover for environmental and health reasons.  In any case, the Turkey fashion show has challenged existing preconceptions of fashion, and informed the public about the diversity that exists among Muslim women.