Making inroads

Sizzling Monaco, where the rich and fashionable flock, is the ideal gateway to Europe for Islamic fashion.

THE beauty of the Islamic Fashion Festival (IFF) doesn’t just lie in the clothes shown or its oft-quoted tagline, “Discover the Beauty in Modesty”.

It’s also in the element of surprise because, really, who would have thought that IFF would make its way to Monte Carlo, Monaco? The world of F1, the jet set and yes, casinos? (See A class apart, SM6)

But why not? The thing with fashion is that at the end of the day, it is just that – fashion. And it all boils down to the fact that fashion is big business, and Islamic fashion has the potential to reach out to a huge market. So who wouldn’t want to tap into that?

The IFF Monaco Charity Gala, held at the Monaco Sporting Club, was in aid of The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, which aims to provide solutions for environmental problems. Prince Albert graced the event, and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was among the guests.

IFF patron Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor said in her speech that “the global Muslim population comprises one of the fastest growing consumer markets in the world, hence representing a major growth opportunity for businesses around the globe, including in the fashion sector.”

She added that according to the prestigious Dubai French Fashion University Esmod, over half of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims spend a substantial part of their annual income on fashion and accessories.

“It is reported that the current market for Islamic-inspired fashion is estimated to be worth more than US$96bil a year. This is, by any measure, an enormous market that has yet to be fully tapped.”

Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the IFF to expand its wings and showcase what Islamic fashion is all about.

Another important thing to note is that it was also aimed at showing a side of Islam that’s different from the general, narrow view that people have of it.

In his foreword in the night’s programme, Prince Albert said: “Tonight’s event is a small but important step on the road to promoting greater friendship and understanding between our two peoples, ensuring we do everything within our power to protect the environment and removing unwarranted fears and prejudices towards Islamic fashion.”

The IFF’s main mission apart from bringing together designers from different cultures and religions on one platform, was also to show the various designs of Islamic fashion.

IFF founder and chairman Datuk Raja Rezza Shah said the idea was to explore the different interpretations of Muslim clothing around the world. Hence, we saw designs that some people might say are not really Muslim-inspired, but were perfectly acceptable to someone else.

In Islam, it is stated that a Muslim woman should be covered, from head to toe, in loose clothing. Whether that is applied, or not, is something else.

The designers who are familiar with what the IFF is trying to achieve have started adapting their previously less Muslim-compliant designs and come out with more modest creations, Raja Rezza added.

At Monaco, there were familiar names like Datuk Tom Abang Saufi and Indonesian designer Ghea Panggabean. There was also a showcase, on the theme “Interpretations”, featuring one piece each from Malaysia’s Melinda Looi, Michael Ong, Khoon Hooi, Variante and Albert King.

Other designers who presented collections were Hindi Mahdi from Paris, Itang Yunasz from Indonesia and Parfait Behen from Cameroon.

Tom, a familiar face at the IFF shows, went with the theme “Romance of Borneo”.

“For this particular collection, I had Sarawak influences (her home state) and used chiffon and more beading. It’s all billowy and not form-fitting,” said the designer, who also showed some resort wear at an earlier showcase organised by the Sarawak Tourism Board (one of the main sponsors of the IFF) for the public.

Credited with pioneering the kaftan craze in Malaysia, Tom is a great believer in making an outfit flatter the person wearing it. So, even if you don’t have a perfect body, her designs will still make you look good.

Well, she didn’t disappoint with her bright flowy kaftans in swirling patterns, which used the motifs from the Orang Ulu of Sarawak.

Indonesian designer Itang Yunasz’s collection, “La Vie En Rose”, caused some confusion, as models in slinky black evening wear with glittering jewels and muscle-bound men in tight T-shirts appeared while a singer sang that famed song. Apparently, this was a jewellery display from Samer Halimah, and Itang’s collection was presented after that.

Itang, well known for his Muslim fashion wear in Indonesia, had a beautiful collection. His designs, which had neutral colours with splashes of deeper accents, were very fluid, falling in drapes and soft folds.

They were enhanced with lovely tasseled necklaces, scarves twisted as turbans or as head scarves. Touches of glitter and dazzle were seen on bodices and as embellishments.

Hindi Mahdi, a Palestinian designer from Paris, who went with the theme “Glamour A Paris”, was inspired by the free and independent daily life of a Parisian.

I was rendered speechless as his concession to Muslim-inspired wear was to have strapless gowns paired with trailing black lace veils a la widows of the Italian Mafia, albeit of the younger and more sophisticated kind. As I said earlier, it’s all about “interpretation”.

Parfait Behen, with the theme “African Inspiration,” used striking yellows and deep blues.

His designs were very interesting, with tribal influences in his ethnic accessories. The long flowy dresses also featured prints and some had Arabic writing as part of the design on the bodice.

Ghea Panggabean, known for reinventing Indonesian heritage and textiles to produce a modern look in hercreations, had the theme, “Spirit of Indonesia.”

The designer, who has 30 years of fashion business behind her, sent out a gorgeous collection of kaftans, abayas, jackets and harem pants in beautiful textures, colours and prints.

“I made a lot of embellishments with pucuk rebung as accents,” says Ghea, who has been with the IFF from the start, in 2006. “It’s inspired by the Riviera, so it has brighter colours than my normal collections.”

She said it’s becoming easier for her to design Muslim-inspired wear. “Through the IFF, I have been challenged to create Islamic fashion. I’ve been doing this for five years.

“It was quite difficult in the beginning – how to show creative arts following Muslim rules? Now, of course, it’s easier, and I’m enjoying designing Muslim-inspired clothing.”

And since the gala wasn’t purely a fashion show, it was emceed by well-known British impressionist Rory Bremner and Miss World France 2007, Rachel Legrain.

In-between the fashion shows, there were performances by Malaysian singers Syafinaz Selamat and the Paris-based Datuk Shake, Indonesian violinist Idris Sardi, and Ty Stephens and The Monte Carlo Sporting Club. There was also a welcome dance, Zapin Sarawak, by the Sarawak Cultural Group.

Syafinaz is an amazing singer and she wowed the crowd with her vocal acrobatics in Queen of the Night Aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Datuk Shake, a pleasant surprise, sang one of his popular songs, You Know I Love You. And what can I say about the sublime Idris Sardi? His music makes your soul weep.

The charity auction during the gala had three items for bidding, a photograph of Prince Albert II, a watch designed by Gerald Genta which featured the logo of the Foundation Albert II, and a bronze sculpture of a violin by the acclaimed French-born American sculptor, Arman.

The auction raised 170,000 euros (RM705,690). The IFF also donated 100,00 Euros (RM415,271) to the foundation.

And where will the IFF be going next?

After Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Dubai, New York (a showcase) and now Monaco, Datuk Rezza was optimistic that it would expand even further.

“After Monte Carlo, I have to really sit down and see, because we’ve done several places now and come to Europe. After this I want to put everything together to see where we can go from there.

“My next step may be to do a fashion week, but I will only do so in Malaysia if the designers are ready. Fashion week is a business, but next year, we’re looking at showing at Milan Fashion Week.”

The IFF is scheduled to show in Kazakhstan before the end of the year and, yes, Milan is also on the cards.

From an idea aimed at introducing a fresh look to Islamic fashion and promoting a greater understanding of its concepts by extending its reach to the European market, it looks like the IFF is on the right track.

And whether or not you think there is such a thing as Islamic fashion, modesty and beauty go hand-in-hand in Islam. Ultimately, isn’t that a far better thing to promote than fear and bigotry?