Contemporary Muslim Fashions

Haslinda Rahim for Blancheur

Haslinda Rahim (b. Malaysia, 1971) for Blancheur (Malaysian, est. 2014), Ensemble: Jourdain Double Collar Jacket, Inner Shirt, Boned-Pants, and Signature Hijab and Iman Headscarf, Spring/Summer 2017, light wool, silk. Courtesy of Blancheur.

Contemporary Muslim Fashions
de Young | September 22, 2018 - January 6, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO - Contemporary Muslim Fashions is the first major museum exhibition to explore the complex and diverse nature of Muslim fashions and current modest dress codes. Organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, this pioneering exhibition will examine how Muslim women have become arbiters of style within and beyond their communities and, in so doing, have drawn attention to the variations and nuances of their daily lives.

Spotlighting places, garments and styles from around the world, the exhibition will traverse different religious cultures and interpretations - ranging from high-end fashion, to street wear and commissioned couture from emerging and established designers - in order to consider how Muslim women define themselves and are defined by their dress. The objects exhibited will be drawn from an array of national and international lenders. The exhibition galleries, designed by Hariri & Hariri Architecture, explore the interplay between the seen and unseen, the idea of being covered and protected, and contemporary and fashionable at the same time.

“There are those who believe that there is no fashion at all among Muslim women, but the opposite is true, with modern, vibrant, and extraordinary fashion scenes, particularly in many Muslim-majority countries,” says Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Contemporary Muslim Fashions is an overdue, much-needed exploration of a multifaceted topic as yet largely unexplored by museums. This exhibition stands out in our long history of outstanding fashion exhibitions and will shed light onto larger political, social, and cultural understandings and misunderstandings.”

The complexity of this topic will be explored by contrasting high-end fashions, such as those by Yves Saint Laurent and Faiza Bouguessa, with socially-charged artworks. A section of the exhibition will be dedicated to photography and film, and will include works by artists such as Wesaam Al-Badry, Rania Matar, and Shirin Neshat as well as Hengameh Golestan’s historic photographs of the women’s demonstration in Iran in 1979 against the enforcement of the veil.

In recent years, there has been increased awareness of Muslim consumers as an important segment of the global fashion industry. Much - but not all - of this awareness has focused on Muslims who dress with modesty in mind according to their different interpretations of religious teachings and local dress conventions. Around the world, modest fashion weeks promote established and emerging designers from within modest dressing communities, in addition to the increasing numbers of Western and non-Western designers who are creating more covered styles. For many, dressing in styles that are visibly Muslim and highly fashionable helps promote a positive awareness of their culture amid ongoing anti-Muslim prejudice. In this exhibition, different types of outerwear and head coverings, including the abaya, burka, headwrap, hijab, and turban, along with more recent commercial propositions for sportswear, such as the Nike pro hijab and the burkini, will be explored.

“Fashion is at its best when it both adapts to the needs of society and reflects its social and political undercurrents,” says Jill D’Alessandro, Curator in Charge of Costume and Textile Arts. “It is in this transformative moment where we now find modest fashion.”

As Islam is a multicultural faith, the dress of its practitioners is shaped not only by religious principles but also by local customs and traditions and global fashion trends. The exhibition’s main galleries will explore these developments throughout the world by regional survey, with the first section focusing on Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, such as Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. Among the designers to be featured in this section are Faiza Bouguessa, Mashael Alrajhi, and Wadha Al Hajri. The rich textile and costume traditions of Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, greatly inform the designs produced for its Muslim-modest-fashion sector, as evidenced by the use of luxurious fabrics, vibrant colors, and complex patterns by designers such as Blancheur, Itang Yunasz, Dian Pelangi, and Bernard Chandran.

“The transnational reach of modest Muslim fashion is astounding”, says consultant curator, Professor Reina Lewis of London College of Fashion. “In Muslim majority countries and in diaspora minority contexts, Muslim modest fashionistas draw on a mood board of global Muslim fashion inspiration from past and present to create new forms of fusion fashion that travel the world through social media and community and family connections.”

A selection of garments made by Muslims now living in the United States and the United Kingdom, such as Brooklyn-based Céline Semaan Vernon of Slow Factory and Saiqa Majeed of Saiqa London, will show how migration and relocation have also shaped social and religious practices and dress codes. To explore the rise of Muslim consumer culture, a section of the exhibition will showcase affordable luxury and fast fashion that cater to a modest clientele, such as designs by Sarah Elenany and Barjis Chohan.

As modest Muslim fashion design has been supported by a dynamic blogging community, Contemporary Muslim Fashions will include social media as primary material. Muslim voices and personal narratives will be framed by runway footage, news clips, and documentary and fashion photography.

“Muslim women have been early adopters of each new social media application as it has arrived,” says Laura L. Camerlengo, Associate Curator of Costume and Textile Arts. “For many modest dressers, fashion serves not only as a medium to share their personal style, but for discussions about contemporary religious concerns and social injustices and as a tool for positive social change.”

The exhibition’s final section explores high-end fashion designs that have been customized to accommodate Muslim women’s diverse modesty considerations.  Since the second half of the twentieth century, elite Muslim clients have been important patrons for the couture houses of Paris, where designs were often adapted for regional and religious sensibilities. True to the spirit of couture, this industry has long shown a willingness to modify its creations to suit the needs of clients who wish to dress modestly. Today, this tradition continues among the Western fashion design houses, such as Oscar de la Renta, who have created special collections for Ramadan and Eid, as well as the online luxury retailer, The Modist, that collaborates with a broad array of international brands to adapt styles for concerns of modesty.

Contemporary Muslim Fashions is curated by Jill D’Alessandro, Curator in Charge of Costume and Textile Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and Laura L. Camerlengo, Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Reina Lewis, Professor of Cultural Studies at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, is the consulting curator.



About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, are the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park and was established as the Memorial Museum in 1895. It was later renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, who spearheaded its creation. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in October 2005. It holds the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.



Max Hollein, Director and CEO, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Max Hollein joined the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco on June 1, 2016. Hollein previously served as director of Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle (since 2001) and as director of the Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection (since 2006). He is known for prodigious fund raising, innovative exhibitions, management and leadership skills, transforming institutions, building collections, and broadening audiences by making art more accessible. Born in Vienna, Hollein studied art history at the University of Vienna and business administration at the Vienna University of Economics.

His exhibition programs at Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and previous museums have spanned the centuries from antiquities to old masters and modern visionaries to cutting edge contemporary art. He has distinguished the program at each museum to advance scholarship and build new audiences. Hollein began his career at the Guggenheim Museum in New York under the leadership of Tom Krens and curated numerous exhibitions, including the American pavilion at the Seventh Venice Architecture Biennale in 2000 and the Austrian pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale in 2005.

Jill D’Alessandro, Curator in Charge of Costume and Textile Arts, & co-curator of Contemporary Muslim Fashions

Since 2002, Jill D’Alessandro has curated and co-curated numerous exhibitions on diverse variety of subjects, ranging from ethnographic textile traditions to 20th-century fashion design. D’Alessandro has spearheaded the Museums’ fashion program, organizing exhibitions such as Vivienne Westwood: 36 Years in Fashion, Yves Saint Laurent, Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, and most recently Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll for the Fine Arts Museums. Her publications include Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave (2011), Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from Weisel Family Collection (2013), and The Summer of Love: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll (2017). She was recently a contributor to Routledge anthology, Anthropology and Beauty: From Aesthetics to Creativity (2018). She holds a Master’s degree in Textile Arts from Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Philadelphia.

Laura L. Camerlengo, Associate Curator of Costume and Textile Arts, and co-curator of Contemporary Muslim Fashions

Since 2010, Laura L. Camerlengo has curated or co-curated numerous costume and textiles exhibitions for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, ranging from historic women’s fashions to contemporary decorative arts. She is the author of many articles on these subjects as well as The Miser’s Purse (2013), and a contributor to several museum catalogues, including most recently, Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade (2017). She holds a Master of Arts degree in the History of Decorative Arts and Design from Parsons, the New School for Design/Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Reina Lewis

Reina Lewis is Artscom Centenary Professor of Cultural Studies at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, and consulting curator of Contemporary Muslim Fashions. Her books include: Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures (2015), Rethinking Orientalism: Women, Travel and the Ottoman Harem (2004), and Gendering Orientalism: Race, Femininity and Representation (1996). She is editor of Modest Fashion: Styling Bodies, Mediating Faith, (2013), and co-editor of Contemporary South Asian Youth Cultures (2018, with Lipi Begum and Rohit K. Dasgupta); The Poetics and Politics of Place: Ottoman Istanbul and British Orientalism (2010, with Zeynep Inankur and Mary Roberts); and Gender, Modernity and Liberty: Middle Eastern and Western Women’s Writings: A Critical Reader (2006, with Nancy Micklewright). Now the go-to person for commentary and op-ed on modest fashion in the global media, Reina is also host of the public talk series Faith & Fashion held at LCF and around the world.

Hariri & Hariri Architecture

The celebrated New York-based firm Hariri & Hariri Architecture, led by Iranian born, Cornell educated sisters, Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri, will interpret the exhibition concept into a special design that will enhance visitors’ experience and understanding of the fashions that will be on display. Hariri & Hariri have been honored with numerous awards, including the 2015 American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design, and the career achievement award by PAAIA. They received the 2005 Academy Award for Architecture from American Academy of Arts and Letters. They were inducted into the Design Hall of Fame in 2006 by Interior Design magazine and in 2010 were named as one of today’s greatest talents in Architecture & Design in AD-100 by the prestigious Architectural Digest. In 2014, they were included on the DESIGN POWER-100 list by Surface Magazine.


Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Helena Nordstrom, International Communications Manager

Miriam Newcomer, Director of Communications
T. +1415.750.3554

Reiber + Partners

Naomi Crowther (US, South East Asia)
T. +44 (0)20 7079 3300

Inbal Mizrahi (UK)
T. +44 (0)20 7079 33 03

Zénaïde d'Albufera (France, Spain)
T. +32 2 850 23 23

Ginevra Fiorentini (Germany, Italy, Switzerland)
T. +44 (0)20 7436 6080

Anlam de Coster (Middle East, Turkey)
T. +44 (0)20 7436 6082