A timeline of D&G Abayas

This article follows an overview of the relationship between fashion and theology, which concerned Ramadan capsule collections and what drove the designers to create the pieces that adhere to the strict rules of Islam, even though fashion is usually described as secular. In the second part of our series presenting the fashion of Ramadan, I am going to outline the abaya collections of Dolce & Gabbana, which were generally welcomed, but which also received some negative criticism.

It is not possible to describe Muslim women by a typical piece of clothing, just as the place of birth cannot tell about a person much either. It is always true for anybody that identity is formed by a lot of factors, many of which can be easily changed. One of these is the way we dress: for Muslim women there are pieces of clothing that obviously show their religion, but there is no such garment for secular Christians, for example. In Islam, this clothing is called hijab, which has a wide range of meaning, but often refers to a large scarf used for covering the hair. It can be made of a variety of fabrics; the color is usually a personal choice, and it can be tied in many ways. Thus a hijab is a versatile piece of the outfit, like any other item. Tourists might need to wear a hijab as well, to cover women’s hair, if they visit Middle Eastern countries; similarly, many Christian churches or cathedrals expect visitors to cover shoulders and knees. The papal audience also has very strict rules for women’s clothing, even concerning the colours of the clothes. Returning to the regulation of Islam, it is important to note that that if a Muslim woman refuses to wear a hijab, it does not mean that she denies or loses her faith.

Global fashion houses have been discovering the Muslim customers in the last years like a new trend. The purchase power of wealthy Muslims urge the designers to alter the designs just to also reach this rare layer of society. All brands join the wave eagerly, focusing mainly on the income, which also has a positive impact on islamophobia, even if indirectly. Fashion is in this case a melting pot of cultures and religions: a fashion house can offer hijabs and miniskirts at the same time, just as Dolce & Gabbana does.

Source: Vogue Arabia

The Italian brand presented the first abaya-lookbook in January 2016. The abaya is a coat-like garment of light materials; its simplicity makes it possible to style it in many ways. Not only the wearers can dress creatively with it, but the designers may also decorate it in various ways.

The abayas are definitely a new direction of the fashion house, which is not devoid of inconsiderate ideas. The new direction was new only for this brand; the collection was not pioneered either. I believe the 2014 DKNY pieces deserve this credit for Ramadan, which  put the holy month almost as a new season on the fashion calendar: it became mainstream and popular. Nevertheless, it has to be acknowledged that Dolce&Gabbana kept the rules: the long sleeves were long, the length of the dress reached the ankle. It makes this collection wearable for the women who follow stricter regulations. Some abayas feature see-through lace or shorter sleeves, but Muslim women are also different. This gives them a choice.

Besides the neutral, almost boring colours, the defining patterns of the brand have also found their way from the spring-summer 2016 runway to the abaya-lookbook. It is worth mentioning that abayas were available not only in the Middle East, but also in European boutiques, which is noteworthy, even if abayas are iconic mostly in the Gulf-countries. In addition, an abundance of accessories can be seen on the campaign photos: bags in many size and ornate oversized sunglasses are shown, as well as jewellery and watches. None of the styling is unintentional, for sure.

Dolce&Gabbana Abaya and SS17 RTW

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana talked about the background of the idea in an interview with The National, a Dubai based daily paper. They said that the aim was to reach even more women in the world, to make it possible for more women to wear their designs. Of course they imagined it through conforming to Muslim religious rules and not through making their price range more diverse (after all, they closed the more available line, D&G intentionally in 2012). The designer duo talked about their thorough preparation, in the course of which they looked at different cuts and patterns for abayas and chose materials attentively – of course we expect nothing less on this level. In a previous interview they said that there would be lace and patterns on the clothes, “not too much”, but as we can see, they might have abandoned that idea while creating.

Source: The National

While the first campaign was not deliberately timed, the second arrived just in time for Ramadan and thus joined the already existing wave. The spirit of the collections is indistinguishable;  lacy or patterned items occur in both. All items are designed to be more chic than basic daywear.

For those who still doubt that Dolce & Gabbana has a fondness for their Italian-inspired prints and they like to use them on as many pieces as possible, here is the next example.

Dolce&Gabbana FW17 RTW and Abaya

Thus the trend is unbroken in the representation of the fashion house. I chose these two pictures from the 2017 fall-winter runway and the new abaya-collection from 2017.

It is worth taking a look at how incidental the releases of the abaya-collections are. In January 2016 we saw the lookbook picture of the daisy-adorned abaya and sunglasses outfit, but different sources named it differently, not definite about the season it belongs to. Some called it spring-summer, others did not try to match it to a season at all – which is possible with capsule collections. After this lookbook in January, the next release was a collection in May, especially for Ramadan and Eid. Following this, in February 2017 a new campaign appeared and it is said to be available in boutiques in the summer. Then one more arrived, a pre-fall one. It is entirely plausible to have a pre-fall lookbook, based on the time of its release, but it also coincides with the beginning of Ramadan. The pre-fall then should be followed by a fall-winter release, which would mean abandoning capsule collections and creating clothes specifically for Muslims all year – but that is not likely to happen at Dolce & Gabbana.

Beyond these attempts the iconic brand teamed up with many young celebrities and stars for its fall-winter runway show. Among others, Lana El Sahely, a young fashion blogger from Libanon was asked to be a model, whose growing number of social media followers certainly helped her get the invitation. The brand’s campaign photos from Capri feature a French-Tunisian girl, Sonia Ben Ammar, and other official photos were taken in a souk or market in Dubai.

The first model for H&M wearing a hijab, Mariah Idrissi supports the brand’s new direction. In her opinion, the judgement of Islam and its culture is definitely improved by the attention from luxury brands. At the same time she points out that it is not easy for a Muslim woman who wishes to keep her modelling career and religious views at the same time, because behind the scenes models often work with men whom they are not acquainted with , which is against the rules of Islam. According to the regulations, only close family members can see a Muslim woman without her wearing a hijab. Since Mariah’s photos, we have seen Halima Aden glow on runways like Max Mara or Yeezy, and she spoke to Glamour about her positive experiences. This signals an opening for Muslim women not only in the designs.

In addition to universal positive reactions, negative criticism can also be easily found, which not only concerns the behaviour of the fashion industry towards Muslims, but also the new direction of Dolce & Gabbana. This must have been expected, however, as the Italian house is the most significant of all the brands that started to cater for Muslim women, thus gaining more attention. Muslim women expressed their opinions in various interviews, and not only the Cosmopolitan but also The Guardian (links: first and second) published strong pieces of criticism. The problems formulated in the articles are diverse; a few examples are profit-orientation and the lack of creativity.

The most sweeping claim is that only profit was enough to put an end to the exclusion of Muslim women from global fashion. In other words, without interest there is no inclusivity. This works well for the wealthy, who make a choice based on their style rather than on the price. The abayas cost from 10500 AED, which is the higher end of the prices of Ready to Wear pieces; however, the latter also offers great variety for lower prices. This gives the impression that only wealthy Muslims are desired customers, because cheaper abayas are not available, but there is a wider price-range for everyday dresses.

The other important thought present in the articles is that capitals of fashion are Paris, London, Milan and New York, and these cities insist on their leading role. Global fashion is controlled by the “western” cities. The wealthy from any country look out for designers and brands based in these capitals, and their dresses are worn at any important event around the world. Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz thus chose a Zac Posen gown for the event celebrating Vogue Arabia (the event was held in Qatar, which would now be impossible because of the swift change of politics). Deena was the first editor in chief of the publication, and she married into the Saudi royal family, which, however, has not restrained her from choosing an American designer’s work, as many of the guests did the same.

Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz with Naomi Campbell (Source: WWD)

It was claimed that Muslim clothing becomes a part of fashion only when it comes from the West. The European and American designers’ interest has now turned towards Muslims; nevertheless, they often only make the special collections available in the Middle East despite statistics. Dressing according to religious rules is thus only legitimate and positive when the clothes are designed in the West and the profit also arrives there. While Middle Eastern women were wearing the same style and were buying pieces made in the Middle East, they were not appreciated; but now fashion industry opens a door to them because of their purchasing power, and suddenly the judgement of abayas is not as negative as it was before. I would wish to say that Muslim women who expressed their views many times on dressing completely covering the body were listened to and heard by people. Instead, even if great designers accepted these opinions, the majority of the readers has certainly not.

Last, these few capsule collections will not solve the difficulties of Muslim women as customers. Buying daywear pieces are still not easy for those who would rather wish to maintain a wardrobe of long and loose cut clothes than sheer and cutout pieces. This can also be brought up against Dolce & Gabbana: abaya and ready to wear collections cannot be compared by their diversity. In addition, we really cannot claim that Muslim womenswear was revolutionized by the designer duo. In the Middle East, there is a variety of abayas to choose from, which do not differ much from the Dolce & Gabbana abayas that cost more than 10500 AED. The brand shows more innovation concerning the ready-to-wear lines than the abayas, especially concerning Alta Moda. With a little more creativity and less profit-orientation these accusations would not be valid.

In conclusion, I would like to mention the criticism of Pierre Bergé. He meant to protect Muslim women, but they do not accept his claims. The life and business partner of Yves Saint Laurent accused the brand opening to Muslim needs of taking wrong actions. As he asserts, “I have always believed that a fashion designer is there to make women beautiful and grant them freedom, and not to side with this compulsory dictatorship, this abominable way of hiding women”. We should at least draw the lesson that the decision should be left to Muslim women.


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