Dubai Modest Fashion Week convenes with chic, conservative designs

Runways, talk shows and retail therapy await at the third edition of the event, taking place this weekend in JBR

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“Are these Instagrammable outfits really wearable?” asks UAE modest fashion blogger and the event's panel moderator, Ines Sibiane.

She is voicing a question that has crossed many of our minds upon seeing fashion influencers posing artfully in elaborate outfits on the ‘gram. Panel guest Taima Khabbaz responds, saying she believes comfort is not always crucial to an outfit, and that there is a Russian phrase that translates to “beauty means sacrifice".

Many of us may have spent the past year in comfort-first tracksuits and loungewear, but a celebration of fashion – the bold, bedazzling, eye-catching and sometimes uncomfortable kind – is back on the calendar with the third edition of Dubai Modest Fashion Week, under way this weekend at Rixos Premium Dubai JBR.

The event, orchestrated by Think Fashion and having taken place in several cities including Jakarta, Istanbul, London and Amsterdam, combines a trade-show model with catwalk shows and panel discussions. Entry is free for visitors.

A model walks for Hukka at Dubai Modest Fashion Week. Chris Whiteoak/ The National

After completing registration on the first floor of the hotel, visitors enter a large room bordered by brands exhibiting their wares. Peach and gold hues set a luxurious tone to the space, which houses everything from ready-to-wear and modest swimwear to decadent evening gowns from 40 participating labels.

At the back of the room, a narrow entryway leads to the runway area, which is decorated to echo this year’s event theme, "Awakening”. A red-leafed tree stands tall in the centre of the space, along with scattered green shrubs on a bright red floor bordered by reflective bleacher-style seating for the audience – a mixture of bloggers, buyers and modest fashion enthusiasts.

Like any fashion show front row, there are some interesting characters – such as the woman dressed in a lime green, puffy, tulle top (a wearable loofah, if you will) layered over white pants and shirt, completing the unique ensemble with sunglasses – indoors – at night. There’s also the hijabi influencer in all-black leather and a fedora hat, armed with her own photographer, who captures photos of herself on the runway moments before the show commences.

Visitors at Dubai Modest Fashion Week. Chris Whiteoak/ The National

Nevertheless, as the audience wait patiently for the first show to start, there’s a palpable excitement in the air. It’s officially “events season”, and this is first time many of the visitors have dressed up to this extent, or travelled, since the onset of the global pandemic. Many have come from across the GCC and overseas – seated next to me is modest fashion blogger Elizabeth Rich (@justahandmaiden), who has flown in from Texas. Behind us is a duo of hijabi stylists (@themodeststylist.official) who have travelled from Amsterdam to style swimwear by new label, Digerari, set to showcase on the runway today.

To say that the runway area is a full house for the first day’s shows would be an understatement. Guests are seated shoulder-to-shoulder, with many more crowding the narrow entrance, desperate for a seat or at the very least, a good view. Ozlem Sahin, co-founder of Modest Fashion Weeks takes the stage with sequinned red drapes sprouting from her fitted black gown like flames, as she inaugurates the opening ceremony.

A remix of the song Bella Ciao by Manu Pilas, which has found modern fame in the hit TV show Money Heist, emanates from the speakers as the first show commences, and Turkish brand Mimya sends forth a collection of all-white, layered looks, almost angelic in appearance. Some have pleats and pussy-bow neck ties, others have feather trims and bejewelled belt buckles. In fashion design, white is tricky – as is satin, but Mimya expertly uses both and delivers exquisite, ethereal elegance.

White is also the colour of choice for the uniform midi dresses that serve as canvasses for Surturban, a headdress brand from the US. As a medley of songs including Lady Gaga’s Born this way and Missy Elliot’s Get your Freak on, plus some traditional Arabic songs blare out, models show off head-turning headwear – from a regal fuchsia turban to a pristine white design adorned with a strip of black, punky spikes.

Wedding gowns debut on the runway during the show from UAE label Neven Elkady, whose collection is an ode to Palestinian heritage. Deconstructed ghutra prints cover silky suits and skirts, while “tatreez”, or traditional Palestinian embroidery, appears in crystallised form on dresses and gowns. Lace designs are lined with long-sleeved tops in shades of black and white – a reminder that what sets modest fashion weeks apart from other fashion events, is the guideline to cover models’ skin.

Coega Sunwear designs at Dubai Modest Fashion Week. JBR, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak/ The National

Burkini-clad women hold on to beach balls and inflatable tubes for the runway show of UAE swimwear brand, Coega Sunwear – a pioneering home-grown label in the growing niche of modest swimwear. A range of modest designs featuring stylish prints and various levels of coverage are on display at the stall of Italian label Munamer. Also available in the exhibitors’ hall are leafy, tropical-printed, tunics and leggings made in Belgium by Nordays, a brand that claims to have created the world’s first modest swimwear that you can tan in.

Homolog Paris, known for its borderline avant-garde creations, is unusually toned down this evening, though the kaftans decorated with mosaic-style prints and topped off with ornate beadwork don’t fail to impress.

Serious showstoppers come courtesy of Jordanian designer Zeina Ali, with ensembles flaunting exaggerated shoulders and dramatically oversized lapels in a candy-coloured palette. Hers are seasonless designs, featuring experimentative elements and interesting colour combinations: such as an electrifying bubble-gum pink suit with metallic and rainbow-toned shoulder panels.

A model wearing Homolog walks the runway. Chris Whiteoak/ The National

The night comes to a close with a spectacular showcase by UAE brand Poca & Poca, where shimmering party dresses with exaggerated sleeves are worn over glitzy turtlenecks – a surprisingly splendid pairing that is sure to inspire many modest fashion enthusiasts this holiday season.

Visitors can learn more about modest fashion and styling at the talk shows taking place as part of Dubai Modest Fashion Week. Today's sessions include talks on styling tips and the secret fashion tricks of influencers, while Saturday's schedule has discussions centred around sustainability, female entrepreneurship and fashion buying.

Dubai Modest Fashion Week is open from 11am-9pm; November 18-20; Rixos Premium Dubai JBR

Updated: November 19, 2021, 12:25 PM