Beyond the net sari
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Fashionhack.in, a website on Indian fashion, lists ‘5 Fashionable Hijabs for Ramadan’. Lightweight in viscose fabric, these are weather-friendly choices, but are clichéd and limited expressions of Ramadan fashion, which shouldn’t begin or end with the veil. Ramadan fashion, one of the most profitable fashion and couture market segments in the world, draws a blank in India. The holiest month in the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan, which started around 18 June and will go on till 17 July, is a time of prayer, contemplation, fasting as well as festivity in the evenings. There is some shopping buzz in local bazaars in Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods in Indian cities, but if you are looking for special Ramadan collections, our couturiers or clothing stores like Fabindia, Anokhi, Cottons, Goodearth have nothing specific. A number of Goodearth’s silhouettes with palazzos and long kurtas lend themselves to similarities with Islamic costumes but then you would find them anytime from January to December.
I tried typing Ramadan Fashion as search words on Jabong.com but found no results. On Flipkart.com, I got a plethora of printed net saris. Amazon.in does offer search words like Ramadan gifts or Ramadan offers, but crosses out the word ‘Ramadan’ when you type it along with fashion.
Inexplicably, no Ramadan fashion collection is made or publicized by an Indian pret or couture designer as far as my information goes. You will find what’s loosely termed “Pakistani fashion” at shows like Bridal Asia where designers from across the border come and set up shop. A number of Indian designers make and sell fashion in the Middle Eastern markets through the year and some of them make more money by selling in Dubai than they do here, but little or nothing comes up for the fashionable Indian Muslim specifically for this month.
“Everyone is busy planning for couture and bridal weeks, there is no tradition of a Ramadan season for us to manufacture or design for it as a separate category,” says a veteran designer, a big name in Indian bridal wear. He does not want his name to be quoted because it is a “tricky subject” and he hasn’t given it much thought so far.
“Interesting question,” says another. “Why do you want to get us into trouble? Who does specialised Muslim fashion in India for Ramadan?”
Exactly my point. Why not, when all retail markets and online stores go crazy with Diwali, even Raksha Bandhan and Christmas bonanzas. If you carefully scan some web portals, you will see even occasions like baby showers, mehndi or Mother’s Day being sold as shopping times with in-house curators of these websites suggesting a whole package of things you could buy without racking your own head for original ideas.
Elsewhere in the world, more countries are waking up to what fashion writer Fareeha Molvi called “an untapped market” on CBC radio. In a programme that was beamed on the Internet on 30 June that debated “why more brands are tailoring trends for Muslim consumers,” Molvi shared her mixed feelings about labels Mango and DKNY “discovering” the holy time and spoke about the advantages and disadvantages of cultural visibility.
While Italian designer Giorgio Armani is offering date and honey filled pralines in his sweets emporiums and Dolci websites, American brand Tommy Hilfiger has put out a special 11-piece collection for Ramadan for its Middle East market. It announced it in March itself this year. Last month, Net-a-Porter too opened an online announcement called the “Ramadan Edit” with two Western models in flowing garments.
Last year, New York fashion label DKNY launched a special Ramadan collection for its Middle East customers. Modelled and styled by Yalda Golsharifi, a fashion editor from Kuwait and Tamarra Al Gabbani, the 12-piece capsule collection pointed towards the growing investment brands including luxury labels were making to cultivate markets like Asia and the Middle East. The clothes from these brands are floor-length maxi dresses, full sleeved gowns and a variety of long and loose Western silhouettes including some trousers and tops. Thankfully, not everyone wants to throw in hijabs for political correctness.
Last year, when Zee TV’s Zindagi channel began airing Pakistani shows, some fashion writers, including myself, wrote articles on the ongoing popularity for “Pakistani fashion”. There is a demand and a curiosity for it. It may be prudent to channelize it for special collections aimed at Muslim consumers celebrating Ramadan. And evolve the idea of the lace-edged kurta, straight pants and dupatta to something more interesting.
Understatement is a fortnightly blog on popular culture seen through actions or words. Shefalee Vasudev is the author of Powder Room: The Untold Story of Indian Fashion.