“Modesty is not the goal. Liberation is the goal,” says Syrian American artist Mona Haydar of why she wears the hijab. “It’s liberation from the beauty-industrial complex, liberation from the male gaze, liberation from our egos.” Haydar is a Muslim rapper, poet, and activist whose music video “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab)” is part of Contemporary Muslim Fashions, an exhibition opening at the de Young Museum on September 22. The show follows on the very high heels of the museum’s blockbuster fashion exhibitions celebrating designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent, and Jean Paul Gaultier. But it departs from those showcases by spotlighting traditions that don’t always adhere to Western standards of beauty and that come wrapped in cultural and religious complexities.
It is a distinctly political show, in other words, albeit one in which aesthetic issues take precedence—or at least provide some stunning cover for weightier conversations. “Fashion is a very soft way to make your political point,” says Jill D’Allessandro, the de Young’s curator of costume and textile arts, who developed the show with assistant curator Laura Camerlengo. “The idea of making something beautiful and accessible to all faiths, ages, creeds, and religions is really an important stance right now.”
It’s also a profitable stance. Practitioners of Islam make up 24 percent of the world’s population, and they spend $254 billion per year on clothing (a figure expected to rise to $373 billion by 2022). If you’ve never heard of the “Muslim modest” fashion market, maybe don’t mention that if you’re applying for a job at a global apparel brand. Over the past few years, American Eagle, Carolina Herrera, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana, H&M, Mango, Tommy Hilfiger, and Uniqlo all offered collections that observed modest Muslim dress codes. In its Fall/Winter 2018 presentations, Max Mara sent Somali American Muslim model Halima Aden down the runway in a hijab and a floor-skimming maxi skirt. And Nike released its Pro Hijab in December 2017, with a headline-grabbing campaign that featured Muslim athletes such as Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari, and German boxer Zeina Nassar.