Through fashion, a greater understanding is fostered among people of different faiths.
Summer in Kazakhstan can be pretty hot.
But it is a season that most Kazakhs look forward to after long harsh winters that can dip to -40°C.
The hills and parks are lavishly green, the sky amazingly blue, flowers bloom in a profusion of colours and the city’s modern skyscrapers seem to gleam even more with the sun’s rays reflected on the already sparkling glass.
It is a time when kids on their schoolbreak jump into streams with abandon and grown-ups wear cool clothes in hot colours, drive with their windows wound down or stroll in the parks and boulevards for that breath of fresh air.
It was in this cheery mood that the Islamic Fashion Festival (IFF) made its debut in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, on June 8, marking its first appearance in Central Asia. The festival got off to an illuminating start in the predominantly Muslim nation, adding to the summer riot of colours with its ensemble of stylish yet modest fashion wear.
Featuring designs inspired by the beauty of nature, rich traditions and cultural past of Central Asia and the Middle East, ancient colours of the Silk Road and the majestic splendour of the Maharaja era, IFF’s Discover the Beauty of Modesty showcase turned out to be quite a visual feast for guests who included members of royalty, diplomats, socialites, celebrities and fashionistas.
Held at the grand Rixos President Astana, the three-hour event was graced by the Malaysian Prime Minister’s wife and IFF patron Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, who wore a kaftan with matching veil.
The show kicked off with Itang Yunasz’s “Illumination”, which saw Kazakh models gliding down the runway in kaftan-like chiffon and satin silk robes, topped by glitter embossed hoods. One was immediately drawn to the vivid shades – shocking pink, emerald green, deep purple and azure blue.
The famed Indonesian designer was not present and was represented by his charming young assistant, Evita Dewi, who helped design some of the gowns for a young, contemporary appeal. According to Evita, 25, the collection had drawn inspiration from Mother Earth and reflected the beauty of the colours of nature, like green trees, blue sea, purple flowers and pink fruits.
If the colours had come across as too strong for some in the audience, Itang’s collection of “Mukena” or prayer attire that followed lent a softer effect. You can’t miss the hint of romanticism as the models, with their exotic features and porcelain complexions, seemed to float on stage, looking ethereal in long gowns made from exquisite white lace or pearl prints. Kazakhstan was represented by three leading designers – Kuralai Nurkadilova, Balnur and Kapiya Kadyrovna Narikbayevna.
Being a secular state, Islamic fashion has yet to catch up in the country and the people are still more inclined towards Western fashion. While it is common to see women in sundresses, tank tops, shorts, miniskirts and jeans during summer, you can occasionally spot someone wearing the hijab, albeit a colourful one.
Accounting student, Nurila Tursynbaeva, 17, from Kozguy University, for one, has been wearing the hijab for seven months although her three sisters prefer Western attire.
“I feel comfortable in these clothes,” she shared, adding that Islam requires Muslim women to cover their aurat.
According to leading Kazakh designer Kuralai, there have been requests from local women to make Muslim clothes.
“Wearing the hijab not only enhances femininity but also religious propriety. It is now regarded as respected apparel everywhere,” she explained.
IFF founder and chairman Datuk Raja Rezza concurred, saying it was IFF’s objective to create a better understanding of the beauty of Islam in a gentle way, through fashion.
Rosmah noted that amidst the flurry of eye-catching Western designs and glossy high-street trends, Muslim women have become increasingly eager to wear trendy, colourful yet modest clothing.
In her speech, Rosmah, who admitted to a love for shopping, said Muslim women can nowadays choose from a broad selection of designs to create a look that matched their values, traditions and tastes, without compromising any of them. And with mainstream trends becoming increasingly bold and provocative, Islamic fashion has come across like a breath of fresh air.
Hence, it was not surprising to see famous brands like Dior, Fendi, Gucci, Hermes, Calvin Klein, Nina Ricci, Roberto Cavalli and John Galliano as well as high-end stores such as Harrods and Saks now competing to design and produce Islamic and Islamic-inspired collections, she observed.
With Islamic fashion fast becoming a lucrative industry, Rosmah said the IFF would continue to provide the much-needed platform to help launch Muslim-inspired fashion designers.
She noted with pride that since its first show in 2006, the IFF had helped to bring nations and cultures together to exhibit to the world that through fashion, greater understanding and respect can be fostered among people of different faiths and beliefs.
Association of Business Women Kazakhstan’s president Raushan Sarsembayeva felt the festival was not just a significant event for the fashion world, but also a showcase of ideas and experiences as well as a “way to assert ourselves, to be heard and understood”.
“In this case, Astana, as a centre of Eurasia, can be a magnificent bridge between two world cultures, East and West.”
This was obvious in Balnur’s East Bazaar collection – marrying modern geometric prints with traditional handsewn embroidery, beads and semi-precious stones. Again, the colours were bright and cheery – turqouise, pink, yellow, indigo and green.
For Kapiya, fashion is like “Nurhayat” or the “light of the life”, and the IFF turned out to be the perfect showcase for her spring summer 2011 collection. Easily the most extensive among the designs paraded, Kapiya’s clothes ranged from modern office wardrobe comprising white chemisette, jacket and skirt, casual long linen dresses, smart blouson tunic coupled with pants and skirts to gala dinner evening dresses.
With summer being a favourite time for Kazakh weddings, Kapiya also took the opportunity to feature several exquisite Islamic wedding dresses.
Glamour was the word for our very own Malaysian designs by Datuk Tom Abang Saufi and Melinda Looi. Sarawakian Tom presented “Zahir” – a stunning collection of mainly silk outfits in shades of purple, magenta, black and red – the ancient colours of the silk road.
“Zahir means blossoming and flourishing. It is for us, in essence, our faith, in the growth and blossoming of our religion in these modern times. Using the ‘Beauty In Modesty’ theme in the way we dress is the beginning of this blossoming,” Tom explained.
It was a dramatic finale as Looi presented the “Colours Of The Bejewelled Maharaja”.
If the earlier presentations were all about colours, Looi showed that white can be just as entrancing. Her couture collection featured European silks with intricate embroderies and lots of sparkle from Swarovski crystals, long gowns that can be worn for red carpets events or gala dinners.
There was no Maharaja doing his majestic walk on the runway; imperial splendour came in the form of emcee Henry Golding, who looked dashing in an elaborate bejewelled red coat and green pantaloon, and Dinara Sadjan, his Kazakh co-emcee, in her resplendent red Maharani robe.
And it’s not all just about fashion. Guests were enthralled by the operatic prowess of Malaysian diva Syafinaz Selamat, who appeared twice during the show. The soprano queen not only sounded great, but looked divine in Tom’s and Looi’s designs.
Although the event stretched to three hours, the afternoon seemed to pass all too quickly, given the fast pace of the show.
The Astana showcase was held in conjunction with the World Islamic Economic Forum that took place from June 7 to 9.