Like many other neighbourhoods in Bangalore, Frazer Town’s original flavour has been almost drowned in the bustle of concrete and glass. Buildings with glazed glass facades, coffee shops and supermarkets punctuate the few old tea stalls, bakeries and bungalows that hang on in this predominantly Muslim and Christian locality. So, as you drive past Mosque Road, get on to Coles Road and spot the Islamic Boutique, it makes you stop and wonder.
In vogue: (top) Mannequins display headscarves at the Islamic Boutique; the duplex boutique has burkas and hijabs inspired by trendy designs in Dubai, Iran and other countries. Hemant Mishra / Mint
This unusual six-month-old landmark that seems to straddle both worlds is the city’s only boutique that designs clothes for Muslim women—from abayas (the long trench coat-like attire also known as the burka) and hijabs (headscarves) to purdahs (headscarves that cover the forehead or the face) and accessories.
The Islamic Boutique has all the trappings of a snazzy store in a mall—neon-lit mannequins, stylish display of clothes. But it’s distinct, and that’s evident the moment I step in. An overwhelming aroma of incense greets me. Mannequins wearing hijabs and modelling abayas of different shapes are placed strategically around the duplex store.
Asma, a 22-year-old commerce graduate who works as a salesperson, walks up to me. A store full of Muslim women’s attire and accessories is a whole new world for me, so I start with a basic question: What’s the most popular piece of clothing here? She points to what she is wearing: an all-black abaya tailored to fit the shape of her body, with a buttoned-up front, and a black hijab.
A tad too plain, I realize, so Asma picks out a similar piece with lines of white crystals making the pattern of an inverted fountain across the front and the sleeves. This, Asma tells me, is the current trend.
Ladies come to the boutique asking for burkas embellished with Swarovski crystals, available in the Rs4,000-22,000 price range. For everyday wear, the working woman prefers them with simple thread embroidery.
The more well-defined the cut of an abaya, the better. The one Asma is wearing, with the buttons down the middle in front like a regular shirt, can also be worn with the buttons on the front left, which, she says, is “the Islamic style”. Then there is the Raaz Purdah, loosely designed on the kaftan, and the Butterfly Purdah, made with loose, pleated satin sleeves. While the boutique does stock coloured abayas, black ones are the most popular among the city’s women.
A visit to the boutique is an education in fashion trends in the Islamic world. The Iranian abaya, which falls like a trench coat, is becoming all the rage in Bangalore. It can be worn over pants, and teamed with a matching scarf (satin or wool; rectangular or square) to be worn as a hijab. The boutique also stocks hijab pins and hair pieces that can be worn as a bouffant under the scarf. “This is in vogue in Dubai now,” Asma says. The two-piece Malaysian burka, a straight skirt and loose top, is worn with a matching scarf, mostly in colourful floral prints.
“We import bales of material from Dubai, Japan and Korea and then our designers cut and stitch,” says Junaiz K., the store proprietor. Satin is the preferred material because cotton crumples easily and doesn’t look as elegant.
“All the women in my family used to love shopping in Dubai and pick up stylish purdahs from there. That’s when I thought that maybe I could import finished products and sell it here, but that worked out to be very expensive and the customer ended up paying twice the price of what they’d pay in Dubai,” says Junaiz.
Barely half a kilometre from the boutique is the workshop, where about a dozen workers are cutting and stitching clothes.
Salman Shabir Pasha, a 25-year-old designer, tells me that an abaya with detailed thread or crystal work involves a whole day’s work, so there are days when the team of 12 can only turn out seven-eight pieces. Pasha, who used to be a salwaar-kameez designer, says designing abayas makes him “happy”. Part of Pasha’s job is to keep track of the latest trends in Dubai.
Like him, his 30-year-old sister Ishrat Salma, who also works for the boutique, hand-embroidering various pieces, learnt her skills from their mother. She has always worn a burka, and used to improvise on the plain ones that she would buy from the narrow lanes near Commercial Street.
Sales at the boutique, Junaiz says, have grown at around 30% a month since it opened—an indication that Bangalore’s Muslim women are willing to experiment. A 15-year-old once told Pasha she wanted to wear abayas because they looked stylish, although her family didn’t expect her to wear one.
The boutique already has another outlet in the city (on Nehru Main Road, Kammanahalli), one in Belgaum, and will soon open in Mangalore. It also has two stores in Erode, Tamil Nadu. Orders can also be placed online at www.islamicboutique.in—the boutique delivers within India.
The next time you pass by the Islamic Boutique, drop in to look at the new design imports. The burkini (a type of swimsuit) might just be in stock too. “I am getting in touch with manufacturers of the burkini in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) so we can import it if anybody needs it. If someone places an online order, we should be able to source it and deliver it to them in India,” Junaiz says.