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The de Young's new fashion exhibit showcases Muslim women as global trendsetters

"Contemporary Muslim Fashions"
Photograph: Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

In the past three years, Nike began selling its first hijab for female Muslim athletes; Ayana Ife, a Muslim designer and lover of loud lipstick, made it to the season-16 finale of Project Runway; and high-end design houses like Oscar de la Renta started creating special collections for Ramadan. Modest fashion is finally having its moment, and Muslim women have quickly emerged as global trendsetters. This fall, a new show at the De Young Museum, renowned for its spectacular fashion exhibits, explores the complex, layered and diverse nature of Muslim dress codes.

“There are those who believe that there is no fashion at all among Muslim women, but the opposite is true,” says Max Hollein, director and CEO at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “There are modern, vibrant and extraordinary fashion scenes in many Muslim-majority countries.”

Photograph: Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


Visitors can see for themselves as they roam the galleries that make up the exhibit “Contemporary Muslim Fashions.” Traversing a myriad of countries and cultures, as well as luxury fashion houses (Yves Saint Laurent, Faiza Bouguessa) and street style, the displayed garments tell a nuanced story: how Muslim women define themselves, how clothes define them, and the push and pull they feel between covering up but still being fashionable.

Parts of the exhibit are dedicated to apparel and accessories made by Muslims living in the United States and the United Kingdom and exploring the rise of Muslim consumer culture through affordable and fast fashion for a modest clientele, including non-Muslims. This section also examines the impact of social media, especially the community’s dynamic blogosphere, on modern Muslim fashion design. The social-media section includes personal narratives that are complemented with runway footage, news clips, and documentary and fashion photography.


Photograph: Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


“Muslim women have been early adopters of each new social-media application as it has arrived,” explains Laura L. Camerlengo, associate curator of costume and textile arts. “For many modest dressers, fashion serves not only as a medium to share their personal style but also a catayst for discussions about contemporary religious concerns and social injustices and as a tool for positive social change.”

Contemporary Muslim Fashions is at the De Young Museum Sept 22–Jan 6, 2019.