UAE designers on how culture and modesty are reflected in their Ramadan collections
There’s been an overwhelming consensus within the fashion industry, that modesty is currently on-trend. The movement heralds layered looks, maxi lengths and overall coverage when it comes to skin. This, fortunately, coincides with the holy month of Ramadan, and even though it may take place in the middle of the summer in the Emirates, it’s a time to cover up while looking stylish and glamorous.
Global e-tailers, recognising the spending power of the Middle East, are cleverly targeting Ramadan-fashion-hunting consumers. London-based luxury e-commerce site Net-a-Porter has sent tailored newsletters promoting glamorous modest-wear to its Middle East-based customers, and high-street portal Asos.com even has “The Ramadan edit” at the top of its drop-down menu at present. While international brands may be readily available, Ramadan is a great season to support local fashion labels, which tend to thrive at pop-ups and exhibitions leading up to, and during, Ramadan.
Traditionally, the international fashion calendar revolves around two seasons: spring/summer and autumn/winter, with some brands offering cruise and resort collections in between the two main seasons. But in the Middle East, the month of Ramadan calls for an entirely new season – one which regional fashion designers are quick to capitalise on, creating capsule collections dedicated to the holy month.
It makes sense; dressing up during Ramadan is part of the culture ingrained in the Emirates. “You always want to look your best in Ramadan,” explains Emirati designer Yasmin Al Mulla. “It’s the month where you meet the people who you haven’t seen since last Ramadan.”
The designer, who has created a range of delicately embellished kaftans for her label, YNM, says elegance is key during Ramadan. “Some people have got this wrong image, that the holy month is about wearing clothes that are very loose or ugly, but being modest is on trend right now,” she explains. While Al Mulla creates skirts, tops and separates for her spring and autumn collections, she concentrates solely on kaftans for Ramadan, making sure that the designs are still cohesive with her feminine, easy-to-wear aesthetic.
While Ramadan collections can offer garments across casual, party, formal and abaya categories, the kaftan, indeed, is one of the most popular silhouettes this month. Al Mulla explains it should be lightweight, but still classy.
This Ramadan, hers are crafted from a palette of pinks, neutrals and reds, and feature minimalist, but still intricate, beadwork. Dubai-based Syrian designer Zeina Zain also relied on kaftan cuts for her 2017 Ramadan range.
“I wanted to reinvent the kaftan and make something less traditional while still maintaining the modesty in the spirit of Ramadan,” she says.
Zain’s designs feature an earthy, but still bold colour palette of dark browns and blacks, with block-printed geometric shapes.
“Feminine details enrich the silhouettes; the bell sleeves, distinct contrasting panels and coloured geometric patterns are prominent in each look to create a contemporary take on Ramadan dressing,” she says.
In addition to producing abayas and kaftans for her eponymous brand’s Ramadan collection, Zain also created some tops and dresses. One dress in particular is a sleeveless, draped number, with a ruffled neckline – a style that some may not immediately equate with the holy month.
While most designers cite modesty and elegance as two key elements to keep in mind when creating clothing for Ramadan, definitions of modesty can widely differ across the board.
Ayah Tabari, designer and founder of All Things Mochi, a Dubai-based brand with an international cult following, explains that we have to keep in mind that, since we live in a Muslim country, we need to stay respectful of our surroundings – and that includes how we dress.
But even so, while modesty is key, there aren’t hard-and-fast rules as to how long your hemline should be, at least from a designer’s perspective.
Al Mulla believes that it’s fine if your ankles aren’t covered, for instance. “You don’t have to wear the shayla [scarf], you don’t have to cover your hair, yet you have to cover body parts like shoulders and knees – that’s very important,” she says.
In the past, the designer experimented with offering short-sleeved kaftans in her Ramadan range. But, she explains, in Khaleeji social circles, the norm is for females to wear shaylas in mixed gatherings, so clients found long sleeves preferable.
“Everybody has a different take on Ramadan: you can’t force people and say this is what’s right or wrong to wear,” says Tabari, who, this past season, collaborated with Topshop for a capsule collection – a first for a Middle East designer.
“What’s nice is the freedom – people can decide what they want to wear.”
For her Ramadan collection, which doubles as a resort collection for her international client base, Tabari elaborated on elements from her previous Hungary-inspired collection, designing her own printed textile based on the traditional Hungarian embroidery.
Some silhouettes feature long lengths, combined with off-the-shoulder necklines or dramatic bell-sleeves with a hemline a few inches above the knee.
There’s even a tiered skirt-and-crop-top-pairing. “It’s the way you style things,” explains Tabari.
“If you’re buying something that’s a bit shorter, try to respect the culture [during Ramadan] and wear it with jeans, but then you can take that, remove the jeans and wear it short later in the summer.”
Whether you’re buying a kimono-style abaya to throw over your jeans-and-T-shirt ensemble, a ruffled maxi dress or a shorter kaftan-inspired tunic, there are multiple ways in which you can style an outfit to make it Ramadan-appropriate.
And, as Tabari points out, versatility is a characteristic that can go a long way, especially if you’re looking to make a mark on the global fashion scene.
“When you do modesty, it’s the way you style things and put things together, and that keeps it fashion-forward and keeps it interesting not only for the clientele in the Middle East, but also abroad.”