It is not fortuitous that in a country with a mild Islamist party at the helm, Islamic fashion flourishes. Turkey’s first lady Hairunnisa Gul is wearing a scarf and is known for her stylish albeit conservative outfits, some of which are designed by Atil Kutoglu, Vienna based Turkish designer of international acclaim.
No longer an expression of religious fervour a head scarf, or “tesettur” in Turkish, is worn by 30% of Turkish women. Available in a variety of styles and colours, it has become synonymous with assertive personality and dashing style.
Islamic fashion is a new industry but it is growing. Sensing the niche in the global market Istanbul is taking the lead. The city launched Islamic Clothes, Apparel, and Accessories & Fashion Show. The third edition of the Show planned for March 2011 is expected to exhibit 150 brands.
Islamic fashion is not all black and grey and boring. "Ten years ago, most of the colours were black or grey," says Halim Ozahi of the Turkish manufacturer Buketex. "Now you can see everywhere pink, yellow, blue."
Take Hasema, a Turkish company that manufactures Islamic swimsuits. These full-body suits are designed to let conservative women swim and exercise at the beach or pool without being too revealing. Turan Kisa, an export marketer for Hasema, said the suits are exported to 35 countries.
Nur Yamankaradeniz, a devout Moslem herself, designs high-priced gowns studded with Swarovski crystals for conservative Muslim women as well as their secular counterparts. "A covered person should not be scary, she should look nice," Yamankaradeniz says. "We are trying very hard to get them to accept this."
Rabia Yalcin, a star Turkish fashion designer, dresses in Islamic tradition in public and designs gowns that are worn with a headscarf and appear to be demure and modest but with a slip of a button can transform and become provocative (meant to be worn only in front of the husband, of course). The designer deals with Turkey's anti-scarf stance in this way. Her daughter designs funky hats that cover the hair so that no one at her university can tell she is actually wearing them for religious purposes. People think she is making a fashion statement.