Middle Eastern-inspired Fashion Pushes Buttons
Even as the great veil debate raged on this month in France - President Nicolas Sarkozy supports a ban on Muslim women wearing them in public- Paris couturiers paraded all manner of burqas, abayas and niqabs. Now that the shows have ended, we're left with more questions than answers.
Were designers stating they were for or against the ban? Do they endorse freedom of religious expression or were they speaking out against the oppression of women? Besotted with so many images of the controversial garment in the news recently, perhaps they were simply inspired to put a piece or two on the catwalks. Or, were they out to get press?
"When I ask designers questions like these, they always look confused," says David Wolfe, creative director of The Doneger Group, whose job is to predict trends for fashion professionals. "They operate so much from their gut. Whatever the media focuses on, the sensitive designers pick up the vibe, whether consciously or subconsciously. Fashion is an endless drug and designers look for the new high-anything that hasn't been seen or worked to death."
Givenchy, in particular, took the Middle Eastern route sending out models elbow-deep in gold cuffs and weighed down in heavy veils of ornate gold jewelry. The collection also featured billowing harem pants paired with sharp-shouldered blazers. Evening gowns were embroidered and topped with crowns of metal thorns, hard to miss the religious commentary there.
Gallery: Middle Eastern-inspired Fashion
With or without the veil debate, the fashion world has already been pointing to the East and the Middle East. Celebrities and fashionable women from London to Los Angeles have been stepping out in harem pants for the better part of this year. The trend is so pervasive, even mainstream retailers like Urban Outfitters carried versions.
When American designers were working on their spring collections last year, presidential debates were heating up in the U.S. and there was much talk about the war in Iraq. To the fashion community seeing these same media images, Ralph Lauren's spring 2009 collection of djellabas, turbans and black veils felt perfectly timed.
Still, the irony that Western women could soon be slapping down the Amex for Givenchy-designed gold veils at a time when the Islam world and secular governments wrangle over the burqa's meaning is striking.
Some Muslim women will rebel against the French government by refusing to remove their veils.
Other women will continue to suffer because of religion-imposed dress codes. Just this week the AP reports: In the Sudan that enforces strict Islamic law, police arrested 13 women and flogged 10 of them in public for wearing trousers.
Is being forced to wear something just as bad as not being allowed to wear something and how does Western fashion play a role? Please tell us what you think.