Dressed to progress


Designers poised to reinvent modest-chic in a city known for barbecue and cowboy boots are hitting the runway and hitting it hard. And it’s starting in Dallas.

“There’s a huge need for day-to-day fashion, as well as for very formal fashion,” says Hind Jarrah, executive director of the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation (TMWF). This past June TMWF and the producers of Fashion for Compassion (FFC) set out to “provide women with…an opportunity to witness exotic eye candy and a shop-til-you-drop experience” in Dallas.

Seven international runway designers shared the spotlight, including Mullani from London and Bella Luna Abayas out of Mexico. Jarrah worked with Fashion for Compassion’s scrupulous Ndaa Hassan to ensure that no detail went unnoticed. Prints took center stage in the form of classic black and white stripes, long polka-dotted skirts, and a healthy dose of leopard. More conservative pieces like blazers and military-styled jackets demonstrated an effortless transition from day to night.

“The collections catered to different people,” Jarrah said. “Some were very adventurous and daring and interesting!” Jarrah admitted to being smitten with pieces that conjured up “ethnic personality, a bit of culture” through embroidery, fine materials and rich colors (yellow and hot pink were favorites). “As far as I am concerned they are really beautiful,” she went on. “They mean a lot when you see them; they’re very elegant.”

Elegant and sometimes a bit unconventional—but decidedly fun. Local label Covered Girl came armed with a throwback 1960’s feel, and Yasmina Johnston, the mastermind behind Inner Orbit Systems (IOS for short) showed items of a more conceptual nature.

About two years ago Johnston steered her fine arts background towards fabrics and began creating very stark, editorial pieces. Soon afterwards requests started rolling in. “There’s a system of things; there’s how you are inside, and then the exterior. And that’s what you wear and how people perceive you,” says Johnston of the inspiration behind her designs.

The hard-working stylist/designer sounds happy and self-assured when she talks shop. To her, each garment is a blank canvas. Fashion is how she expresses what she’s feeling, whether aggressive or introspective or serene. Her point of view may seem dark or “space-y” at first glance, but Johnston gets discouraged if that’s all people see. She hopes audiences will consider different interpretations for each piece. That is, she points out, what art is all about.

Benefit events like Fashion for Compassion work on many levels. They offer some hot-off-the-dress form creations. They also empower emerging trend-setters like Johnston and help to dismantle commonly held stereotypes about Islamic attire. It’s hard to say who benefits most: the charitable organizations, the up-and-coming designers, or those lucky enough to shop at the show. Muslims and non-Muslims are taken by the event because it’s a different experience and something new for many of them. For example, it’s not often that women are exposed to a sophisticated, modest takes on swimwear. MADAMME BK Paris stunned with attractive turquoise suits from its exclusive Canadian/U.S. line.

Dallas was a success. But then again the show’s partners at the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation, FFC’s major funder, hold everything to high standards. The group was started in 2005 by a diverse circle of women asking questions like “What does Islam stand for as a way of life?” and “What can women do within the Muslim community and society as a whole to stand for peace?”

The group’s primary focus is on social services that provide domestic violence training and intervention, including a Peaceful Oasis emergency shelter for victims and children. A portion of the proceeds from this year’s fashion show, which has now become an annual event, went to help build the new facility.

A good number of U.S. groups share this vision. On March 6, the annual Fashion Fighting Famine in Irvine, California drew nearly 1,000 attendees and featured collections from Australia, Dubai, London, Pakistan, Paris and the United States. Moreover, illumemagazine.com called it “the most anticipated Islamic fashion show in America” as it incorporates artists, designers and musicians from the community and garners a great deal of support. This year organizers donated $11,000 to the New Star Family Center, a refuge for victims of domestic violence in Anaheim, California.

When do you know a fashion show is truly great? When it promotes new designers and entrepreneurship. When it empowers charitable projects and, of course, when it features clothes that inspire. Johnston senses a growing niche for modest clothing that can also be evocative, formal, and fun; and she’s ready to dive in.

“There’s a huge growing Muslim population here in Dallas,” she explains, “and I see the current and I want to be there. I was really proud of everybody communicating and enjoying themselves in the atmosphere. Really it’s about fashion and innovation, and that’s something I think that all people will take notice of. Even my mom, who’s not Muslim, liked the burkinis.

Fashion gives inspiration to everybody, and I really like that.”