Thursday, 10 December 2015

WHY DIVERSITY IN FASHION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER

Never in recent years has society lived in such fear. As the profile of terrorist organisation ISIS grows in the UK (mainly thanks to fuel added to the fire by mainstream media), so does the trend for racist outbursts and attacks, many of which have gone viral; see this Muslim woman getting called an “ISIS bitch”, or this woman in a hijab being pushed in front of a London Underground train by an onlooker. With Trump calling for a ban on Muslims trying to enter America and Cameron approving airstrikes on the already-wartorn streets of Syria, modern Muslims are suffering the consequences of terrorism in the form of a rise in xeneophobia. Over 12% of the population of London are Muslim, so why are they still being dehumanised?

A disclaimer before we enter the body of this article; I am not claiming that fashion can eradicate xenophobia. However, it‘s common knowledge that everybody creates a first impression based on the first 30 seconds of interaction and, therefore, it is logical to argue that image and appearance play a large part. We subconsciously scan people to make up our mind them; we compare them to what is ‘normal’, and our ideas of normality are, whether we like it or not, influenced by what we see in the media. Fashion‘s role in the mainstream media, and its role in creating the advertisements and billboards fed to us daily, means that fashion now has more of a responsibility than ever to endorse beauty of all sizes, ethnicities and religions. So far, H&M are the only high-street chain to use a hijab-wearing Muslim, enlisting model Mariah Idrissi as one of the faces of their “Close The Loop” campaign. Despite the fact that she was one of many stars in a video which featured amputee models, Sikh males and plus-size models, it was Idrissi whose appearance garnered the most column inches – an indication in itself that a hijabi model is still an anomaly in an industry that claims to celebrate diversity.

Idrissi in H&M’s ‘Close the Loop’ campaign

In an interview with Fusion, Idrissi spoke openly of her experiences on set (she credits the cameraman and cast as being “very respectful”) and indicates that she was skeptical when initially asked to take the job, even going as far as to clarify that the bookers knew she wore a hijab; “it always feels like women who wear hijab are ignored when it comes to fashion… Our style, in a way, hasn’t really mattered, so it’s amazing that a brand that is big has recognized the way we wear hijab.” In reality, Muslim women are an enormous demographic for luxury retailers, so it seems bizarre that they remain absent from campaigns.

It’s fair to argue that fashion’s fascination with sex is one of the main reasons for the lack of Muslim models. Despite becoming one of the most iconic supermodels of the 1990s, Yasmeen Ghauri has spoken openly about the ways in which her profession are at odds with her strict Muslim upbringing. Speaking candidly in a fashion documentary she talks about how Muslims aren’t supposed to dance or show skin, and also that her job puts her Pakistani father, an Islamic priest, in jeopardy. American Apparel’s infamous “Made in Bangladesh” campaign also courted controversy last year by featuring Bangladeshi Muslim Maks (who chose to hide her last name) topless, accompanied by a blurb which again pursued the narrative that she had to distance herself from her religion before choosing to model.

Yasmeen Ghauri for Christian Lacroix FW1994

Regardless of the strict guidelines around the religion of Islam, it is quickly becoming imperative that fashion finds a way to broaden its stance on diversity and shine the spotlight on Muslim women. A lack of integration is usually the result of a lack of visibility; as the hijab remains unacknowledged by the mainstream media, it becomes increasingly pushed away from the aesthetic being normalised on billboards. Fashion is often cited as a visual reflection of society – one look at Vivienne Westwood’s political designs during the punk era is enough to prove that fashion and politics can engage successfully. It only makes sense that the glossy images fed to us by mainstream retailers reflect the multicultural society that 21st-century Britain has become. Hijabi women need a voice - a voice which silences Nationalists claiming Islam as a violent religion and which diversifies the common narrative that all women of Islam are repressed. No, fashion will never succeed in eradicating the wave of reactionary racism in the wake of terrorist attacks,. However, it can remind us all that the Muslim men and women we see on the street (many of whom are second or third-generation and therefore of British nationality) absolutely must not be stereotyped or villified due to the actions of a minority extremists.

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