July 06, 2010
Report Sylviana Hamdani

The designers at this fashion show wanted to break with the idea of Muslim 
fashion being an oxymoron and make it more of a celebration of femininity. (JG 
Photos/Safir Makki)

Color the New Black For Islamic Fashion

Allah is beautiful and indeed loves beauty." This quote comes from a famous 
hadith, or narrative originating from the words and deeds of the Prophet 

The idea that Islam approves of and commends beauty in every being, however, 
can still be a strange concept in the modern world, especially where women's 
fashion is concerned. 

"Many people still think that Islamic attire is a punishment for women," said 
Dato Raja Rezza Shah, the founder and chairman of the Islamic Fashion Festival. 
"They would never believe that a woman could look beautiful in it." 

Malaysian fashion designer Dato Tom Abang Saufi agreed with Rezza. "Some people 
would say that there's no such thing as Islamic fashion," she said. "But those 
people just don't understand what it's all about." 

Last month, Tom and Indonesian fashion designer Itang Yunasz, together with 
other designers from Indonesia and Malaysia, showcased their Islamic fashion 
collections at the swanky St. Regis Hotel in New York City. 

Organized by Rezza, the fashion show was attended by Hollywood celebrities like 
Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Robert de Niro, as well as socialite Paris 

According to Rezza and the other designers, the show proved to be quite an 
eye-opener, as well as a worthy cross-cultural experience for those who were in 

"They were all surprised," Rezza said. "It was quite different from what they 
had in mind. They expected Islamic clothing to be all black hijabs, like what 
they wear in the Middle East. For the first time, they saw something 

"Eighty percent of the guests were not Muslims," Tom added. "But they all 
enjoyed the show and it was very, very well received." 

At the recently concluded annual Islamic Fashion Festival, the designers 
reprised their New York success in Jakarta. 

Malaysian and Indonesian designers showcased their latest collections from June 
29-30 at the Dharmawangsa Hotel. 

With the theme "Cita Nusantara" ("Fabrics of the Archipelago"), the fourth IFF 
displayed contemporary Islamic wear using a rich variety of traditional 
handmade materials from the two countries. 

Sixteen Indonesian and five Malaysian fashion designers were part of the show. 
The dominant trend seemed to revolve around going back to their roots and 
exploring traditional elements. 

For two days, the hotel was ablaze with the colors and styles of Islamic 
fashion, with batik still a favorite. 

Indonesian designer Merry Pramono said ethnic elements gave her room to explore 
and nurture her creativity. She made particular use of the traditional parang 
(knife) batik motif for her collection. "The parang is one of the most 
beautiful batik designs in our culture," she said. 

On the first day of the show, a model wearing one of Merry's designs looked 
majestic with her flowing white tunic covered with a long parang batik overcoat 
of sogan (natural brownish) hue. 

"In the old days, only royalty was allowed to wear the motif. By incorporating 
the ancient motif in my designs, I believe it will add femininity and elegance 
to my Muslim wear," she said. 

Indonesian designer Hannie Hananto, on the other hand, decided to tweak the 
traditional motif. In her collection, "Utak Atik Parang" ("Playing Around with 
Knives"), Hannie modified the thin, elongated motif to resemble cubes. 

"Batik has very rigid traditional patterns," she said. "But the market demands 
a more fun and contemporary feel [of batik]. So, I've decided to play around 
with it." 

Hannie's double-belted yellow-gray kaftan, showcased during the first day of 
the fashion festival, came off as both chic and playful. 

One detail, an embellishment of little gray-yellow-white balls around the neck 
area and on the turban, gave the outfit a quirky feel. 

"They're Ping-Pong balls," Hannie said, laughing. "I just wrapped them in 

Malaysian designer Ab Kareem Said Khadaied also used batik. Working under the 
theme "The Sea and the Malay Archipelago," he presented a classic layered 
turquoise tunic as part of his collection. "The sea, its color and its 
movement, inspired this collection," he said. 

The designer, who aside from being a Malaysian batik expert is also a member of 
the World Batik Council, explained the difference between Indonesian and 
Malaysian batik. 

"We use the direct application of colors instead of the wax-resistant dyes of 
the Indonesian batik," he said. "It's a technique that we've adapted from the 

There is also a slight difference in the design motifs. "Indonesian batik 
[motifs] are very cultural and sociopolitical," he said. "Malaysian motifs are 
more free and expressionistic." 

Malaysian designer Melinda Looi incorporated intricate white floral motifs of 
Malaysian batik into her black abayas. "I really fell in love with abayas," 
Melinda said. 

"I think that even though they're all closed up, they still look very elegant. 
Usually, they are made from plain materials, but this time I'm trying to do it 

Melinda's abaya designs conveyed a sense of dignified gracefulness with 
slender, modern silhouettes. 

There were other options aside from batik. Indonesian designer Nuniek Mawardi 
used tenun gedog Tuban - handwoven material from Tuban, East Java - for her 

"It's a challenge for me to use a material that belongs to our cultural 
heritage in high fashion," she said. 

The raw, grainy material was combined with cotton and resulted in a 
de-structured, close-fitting garment with cascading frills and drapery in 

"It required a lot of handiwork and complicated stitching," Nuniek said. 

Indonesian designer Ian Adrian chose to showcase ulap doyo , a traditional 
textile of bold colors handwoven by the Dayak people in Tanjung Isuy, East 
Kalimantan, for his collection. 

He combined the coarse material with chiffon, satin and organdy to present an 
eye-catching two-piece Muslim outfit, embellished with soft frills throughout 
the bodice. 

Indonesian designer Jeny Tjahyawati used the handwoven material sengkang, from 
Makassar, South Sulawesi, for her collection. 

"It's 100 percent pure silk handwoven by the women in a small village in 
Makassar," she said. "It's almost of the same quality with Thai silk. It's so 

The stiff, shiny material had intricate floral motifs that resembled 
crossstitches. Jeny used the textile to create a long vest to cover up the body 
silhouette of the model who wore low-crotch harem pants and a long-sleeved 
white T-shirt adorned with crystals. 

"As designers, of course, we follow the trends," she said. "However, we also 
have to adjust to Islamic stipulations. For example, pants for women should be 
drop-crotch so as not to be too revealing. The comfortable, tight-fitting 
material of Spandex can also be used as long as you cover it with a vest or an 

Tom said: "Everybody wants to look beautiful. That's why we dress up. But we 
should also be able to obey our religious stipulations without looking outdated 
and out of place." 

According to Tom, Muslim attire should be easy to wear and adjusted to suit 
modern lifestyles. She avoids putting zippers and buttons in her clothes to 
make them more wearable. She also uses light, crease-free materials such as 
chiffon, cotton and satin for her designs. 

"These days, Muslim women travel a lot," she said. "I want to make their life 
easier by making them clothes that are easy to wear, lightweight and 

Tom's latest collection also incorporates a traditional geometrical pattern of 
the Sarawak region, where she is from. "I've seen this beautiful swerving 
pattern in Orang Ulu's traditional clothes and tattoos," she said. 

"I think it's very pretty and matches the current global trend. A designer 
should always be well-versed and able to communicate his designs with today's 
lifestyles," she added. Orang Ulu is a tribal group from Sarawak, Malaysia. 

Hannie said: "Being beautiful in Islam is being clean, neat and graceful. You 
don't have to wear luxurious, expensive clothes to look nice and attractive."

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