Photo courtesy of Amanda Friedman
There’s apparently someone new and tall that’s joining the modest couture business. Chanel, queen of French haute couture since World War II, recently decorated its Beverly Hills boutique windows with headscarves that are said to be directed to the city’s Muslim clientele.
The hijab, this headscarf that believers put around their head and neck, is at the center of all fashionable attention since the West understood that real money and real fidelity to brand came from the East. Dolce & Gabbana first launched a hijab and abaya collection earlier this year (here) in the Middle East, London and Paris in what Forbes called their “smartest move in years.” Greeted by fashion minded people for being one step ahead and inclusive of all clients especially the wealthiest (this is me), strongly criticized by human rights advocates who are unfamiliar with how fashion works (this is my aunt), it became quite a controversial topic – especially in France where the modest fashion debate has been burning rational minds down since the attacks in Paris last November.
And now, it should be Chanel’s turn to step into the big, long, thorny yet fruitful venue of Muslim-wear? But I see no direct reference to Islam in these so-said hijabs. Today’s circumstances have us thinking “Muslim” every single time a headscarf is at sight. But are headscarves exclusive to religions? I doubt so. If I had never read anything about the Muslim-oriented marketing move orchestrated by Chanel and I had only seen the photos of the colorful accessories that the boutique’s mannequins were sporting, it would have sincerely reminded me more of the French Riviera, or the headpieces that women used to wear during the 30s.
So how come is the whole fashion scene applauding the house’s move? Should there only be a marketing move. The world, and I will not exclude myself, has become quite sensitive to the question of who is wearing a headscarf and for what reasons. We hear every day that a headscarf equals a hijab, and that a maxi dress or skirt, equals an abaya. At least we do in France, where they try to police how young and less young women dress daily, injecting fear of the clothing itself for the message they stick to it. With an altered vision of reality, we human beings tend to judge a book by its cover first and the Chanel headscarves might just be that again. Per Prêt-à-reporter, the house didn’t issue any statement nor gave any explanation regarding the question despite media effort.
Then again, Chanel might just be playing the discreet card. Launching a hijab collection far from the original France which is where the polemic is the most sensitive. Going step by step, piece after piece so that the transition into more modest headscarves is more subtle, easier to accept for the second part of the population mentioned above. The only thing we know for sure is that Chanel’s ready-to-wear and couture pay the bills also thanks to the Middle Eastern clientele that is part of the 2,000 lucky winners who can afford haute couture in this world. And it is primordial for brands today to adjust their needs and include their lifestyle into specifications that are involved during the creative process of making a collection – safe to say it doesn’t apply on locally sold pieces only because Islam believers represent more than a billion people who are peacefully living everywhere in the world.
I am learning lately that marketing is all about adapting to one specific situation and this might turn out to be the case. What matters is that fashion gets more diversified regardless of symbols and etiquettes, and right on the most fertile spot of the garden are blooming laced silk abayas along with crystal-embroidered hijabs that are just getting enough sun to grow beautifully. And couture houses pampering their new baby hoping they will never go into flames.
Do you think Western couture is right to offer Muslim clientele fashion that suits their lifestyle? Do you think Chanel is on the same path as Dolce & Gabbana? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. We can also connect on Instagram But most importantly, you can subscribe to the blog by entering your e-mail address in the appropriate block. I’ll buy you a cookie when we meet.