January 17, 2016
Earlier this month, Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) announced that their Spring- 2016 collection would see a line of abayas. An advertisement campaign was also launched alongside to
entice average Muslim women towards the products.
D&G is best known for women's wear inspired by the sultry sensualism of southern Italy. Yet, it has now decided to cater to the booming Middle Eastern market for high fashion with a collection of
abayas and hijabs.
"The abaya line", which conforms to the modesty requirements of most versions of Islam, was launched in the brand’s boutiques throughout the Middle East, as well as Milan, Munich, Paris and
The mini collection, billed as capturing the "allure of the Middle East", has generated a stir of interest on social media with designers Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce winning praise for
demonstrating that dressing modestly does not have to mean dressing drab.
Fabrics include georgette and charmeuse, with much use made of lace for trim and inserts. Oversized jewellery and sunglasses also give the collection Dolce & Gabbana's distinctive signature.
The fashion house has joined a number of other designers in a strategy to capitalize on the fact that Muslims represent a fast growing market in a slowly declining industry.
Research by Morgan Stanley suggests that the fashion industry sales are declining in America as millennials are spending more money on rent and bills. Conversely, in the Middle East, the industry
is booming. The fashion market in this region is expected to grow from $266 billion to $484 billion in annual sales, representing a compounded growth rate of 16 percent per year. The $266 billion
figure is greater than the total spend of Japan and Italy combined. Of course it makes sense for an Italian fashion house to try and tap into the market.
A large number of fashion houses have already tried to capitalize on the growth in the fashion and retail industry in the Middle East over the past few years. This includes Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY,
Oscar de la Renta, and Mango. Last year, Japanese retailer Uniqlo enlisted British designer Hana Tajima to design a range for Muslim women in the run up to Ramadan, while Sweden's H&M cast its
first hijab-wearing model, Mariah Idrissi.
This marketing strategy has not gone without criticism.
Humanitarian activist Yara al Wazir argues that religion should not be treated as a commodity to be traded, helping companies rise and fall on the stock exchange. "Religion is a deep spiritual
connection with God, and while many Muslim women choose to represent this connection through their clothing, this is no excuse for an international company to capitalize on those who choose to
"D&G is hardly trying to play the role of a mediator in a society that has very much politicized Muslim women’s choice of clothing, specifically the abaya. The abaya and the hijab have left women
in the West feeling alienated and sometimes have even led to attacks. In fact, the first quarter of 2015 saw a six-fold increase in Islamophobic attacks in Paris. While there is a lot to be done
to include Muslims, particularly women in western society and culture, highlighting and capitalizing the very garment that alienates them is not a valid method."
She adds that while the fashion houses bill their designs as being "breakthrough innovative products", "the truth is that these products have existed in the market for decades, just without the
"There are dozens of local fashion designers who make truly authentic Muslim garments, preserving the culture and heritage. Women like Alanoud Badr, a Saudi-Lebanese fashion consultant and
designer, launched a line of stunning abayas for UHS-boutique.
"As the fashion market in the region is growing, we must use this opportunity to allow local Middle-East based designers to grow with it to a point where they take their fashion lines
internationally. This will be better than international fashion houses infiltrating the local market."
H&M fashion model Mariah Idrissi, has a more positive outlook on the trend.
"Seeing Dolce & Gabbana launch in this market is definitely a positive thing," she says.
"I think [brands] are realising; let’s not just do it in that one month [Ramadan], let’s make this something to stay, because they’ve realised the potential and how much Muslim women spend on
Regarding the criticism, she says, "Some members of the community still don’t get it. I’m trying to explain to people that fashion is such a big, influential part of life, the same way that music
is to movies."
"If we were more used to seeing Muslim women, then for all the negative media that we hear about Muslims they’d also be a positive side to it as well."
"Dolce & Gabbana unveils ‘the abaya line’" DNA January 15, 2016
Yara al-Wazir, "How D&G is capitalizing on the Muslim faith" Al Arabiya January 17, 2016
Charlie Teater, "Dolce & Gabbana launches Abaya collection" Evening Standard January 8, 2016