Yves Saint Laurent’s business partner, Pierre Bergé made headlines when he stated: “creators should have nothing to do with Islamic fashion.” He criticized other designers for being involved in what he refers to as the “enslavement of women.” He felt that a designer’s job has always been to make a woman look more beautiful rather than collaborate with a dictatorship which insists women wear a hijab forcing them to live a “hidden life.”
Bergé’s comments have criticized the fashion industry’s attempts to reach the Muslim consumer. The brand, Uniqlo, partnered with a U.K.-based Muslim fashion designer and blogger, Hana Tajima to promote their collection of modest women’s clothing which included hijabs and kebayas as well as pants and long skirts. Dolce & Gabbana have also released a stunning range of luxurious hijabs and abayas. Muslim women wear many different pieces to cover up their clothing, and the Western designers have created mostly just the modest abayas in elegant styles and beautiful hijabs, as opposed to veils such as the niqab and burqa.
Bergé’s comments could perhaps have also been sparked by the growing suspicions and misconceptions which people in Western countries have towards Muslims. Westerners often consider modest fashion to be somewhat oppressive.
Asma P., is the writer of a modest fashion blog “Haute Muslimah,” and is said to have been disappointed, but not surprised by any of Bergé’s comments. Particularly since France’s Women’s Rights Minister referred to women who cover up their bodies in a “derogative and rude” manner and also criticized brands which promoted Muslim women considering it to be irresponsible.
Bergé’s comments did, however, raise a few questions. Is it a good idea for non-Muslims to design for Muslim clients? Furthermore, is it just a money making scheme? Dolce & Gabbana haven’t always had the best record when it comes to cultural sensitivity and is now catering to the Muslim market. Some seem to think that it is not out of “genuine concern,” but more for the financial gain associated with catering to Muslim clients. Muslim women are big spenders and love high fashion, so when they see a brand’s new collection, it draws their attention to top quality items which they feel comfortable purchasing.
If a mainstream brand intends to target Muslim clients, they should preferably have a consultant who dons a hijab herself and can relate to the clients. For example, Uniqlo collaborated with Hana Tajima to reach their Muslim customers.
Brands are aware of the incentives involved with catering to Muslim clients who make up a large percentage of the world’s population. It is predicted that their spending on clothing and footwear will increase to four hundred and eighty-four billion dollars by the year 2019. The first step they should take before considering any further plans is to partner with a Muslim fashion designer and to respect all necessary rules of Islam governing clothing.