During this February’s London Fashion Week (LFW), there were a few stand-out moments for me: hanging out AAA access at Roland Mouret’s 20th anniversary show; one of my mentees Teatum Jones opening LFW whilst pushing the boundaries of body image; and the beautiful soul of my late friend Richard Nicoll being remembered with the creation of Nicoll Blue Pantone (blue was a colour he was synonymous with). Then there were moments that made me feel not too far away from home, like seeing homegrown brands such as Darmaki and L’Afshar being showcased. But above all, it was impossible to ignore how much of the conversation focused on how the Middle East region is influencing the rest of the world when it comes to fashion.
Some designers I have worked with in the past, like Roland Mouret and Victoria Beckham, have always taken their Middle Eastern clientele into account by offering to lengthen a sleeve or by providing a longer length hem in particular styles, but as the modest fashion movement is gaining traction – now with a dedicated Modest Fashion Week taking place in London at the same time as LFW this year – it looks as if conservative style is having its moment and that brands are taking note.
Initially I felt I couldn’t really relate to this reference of modest, until I started looking into the movement. Is it ways to wear the hijab, or does it relate to people like myself who have never been ones to show much flesh (aside from the time, for fun, I allowed my husband to pick my outfit one New Year’s Eve – think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman before the Beverly Hills makeover). Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say I haven’t been seen in electric blue PVC pants or a black rubber pencil skirt. But when I think back they were all styled modestly – the consequence of being brought up in an open-minded and forward-thinking family, but one that was also somewhat conservative.
This is why I could relate to new online retailer The Modist. Already knowing some of the team, I knew something was brewing, but it was all top secret for months. Using my usual nose for news and thinking about what the gaps were in the market, I had already guessed what was being launched. And by the time I was at LFW the news was already out there. The Modist team told me that with the modest fashion market set to reach around $484 billion by 2019, their focus will be on the luxury market, rather than mass, which has been where the predominate focus has been in various ventures and brands. They’re smart enough to realise that the key target market is not just the MENA region but also the USA, UK, Germany, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. At launch they already carry around 75 international, contemporary and designer brands across ready-to-wear and accessories, which they see set to increase to 100 by the end of 2017. It is very unusual to get such confidence and support from brands at launch, especially at a luxury level. The Modist seems to have the recipe for success, but to compete with Net-a-Porter and Matchesfashion, which are also embedding themselves in the region, it now needs to make sure its customers have a seamless shopping experience.
Sitting within LFW, was London Modest Fashion week, which I only heard about once back in Dubai, possibly indicative of the need to establish itself further. Personally, I’ve never really understood why something sitting inside an established fashion week would also use the words ‘fashion week’. This two day event launched by Haute Elan, a UK-based e-commerce company, is in its words, an event to support brands showcasing modest, modern and fashion-forward Muslim clothing. The organisers share that modest fashion is one of the fastest growing consumer markets.
The other big news was Halima Aden, a hijabi model signed by IMG models and who modelled for a number of the big luxury brands across this season’s fashion weeks. Is it just another fad or is the power and influence of what I will coin the ‘modest pound’ this strong? We will have to wait and see. However, I do like how the brands are supporting a more diverse landscape. Ian Griffiths, creative director at Max Mara shared the following with me. “Max Mara empowers women; from all geographical areas, all creeds, all philosophies. Halima is ambitious, confident and beautiful. She deserves her place in the Max Mara world.” A sentiment to be applauded.
Learn more about Nez Gebreel here.