When modesty met style

Mohamad Kadry
Filed on May 3, 2009

WHEN HER CREATIONS were seen strutting down the catwalk during London’s Fashion Week, she knew that she had finally arrived.

Celebrity stylist Kithe Brewster even flew from New York to support her, and after years of pushing for the evolution of more modest fashion, Emirati-Afghani designer Rabia Zargarpur is finally being recognised as one of the leading fashionistas in Dubai.

What she is calling “conservative couture”, Rabia’s designs are far from being an exclusively Arab or Islamic line.

“Conservative couture is not necessarily for women who wear the hijab (head scarf),” she explained inside the Splash retail store at Oasis Centre where her designs are currently being sold. “Modern yet modest applies to all my labels.”

Rabia, who decided to wear the hijab nine years ago, found it difficult to find clothing that was both stylish and not revealing.

“When I started wearing the hijab in America, my experiences and struggles are what brought the label into life,” she said.

After spending half her life living and studying all over the West, it was her return to the UAE that really put things in perspective.

“I actuallt experienced culture shock coming back here; it was bizarre,” she said. “If I hadn’t had all this diversity and exposure to different cultures living abroad, I don’t think my collection would be the way it is now. I’m able to really understand the different demographics of Muslim women, knowing that they are not just Arab but women from around the world.”

But after arriving back in her homeland, Rabia recognised a void in the local industry that mostly ignored Islamic wear, a market she hoped to glam up.

“Dubai is not a fashion hub as yet. Our fashion week is not recognised as something global or international but starting off here was the best thing for me. I was able to start on a platform without restrictions or fears for covering up my models. It was actually very welcomed.”

But the design beauty has travelled the world, recognising the immense diversity of women around the world who want to remain modern, yet conservative.

“It’s almost ignorant to say that Muslims are Arabs because its just not the case. Muslims are from all walks of life, which is why I purposely don’t make the clothes that very traditional looking. I’m proud to say that I’m able to appeal to Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs non-Araba alike.”

The popularity of her line has exceeded expectations from just the Muslim market, as more Western women turn to her fresh new designs.

“When people see my stuff, they assume I make Arab and Muslim designs, but the truth comes when they see my work. Suddenly it’s a whole other perception.”

“The best part of showing in London was showing my looks exactly as they are, meaning fully covered. I didn’t have to worry about tweaking it or removing the scarves from the runway,” she recalled.

“Though my line is not always for the covered woman, that’s just me and who I am.”

Deeply inspired by the rich tapestries of Eastern tradition, Rabia’s sensitivity to functional, yet fashionable, silhoettes has even garnered her great acclaim, getting recently awarded as one of the ‘Top 100 Most Influential Arab Personalities in the World’, as well as winner of the 2008 ‘International Young Fashion Entrepreneur of the Year Award’.

“Sometimes I am surprised at how much I’ve been blessed with since I’ve started. I’m still so new and I’m still learning, but I’m very grateful at how far I’ve come.”

“I wouldn’t be doing anything else,” she adds. “This is my calling.”

Rabia Z’s new sub-label ‘Ruby’ is available exclusively at Splash in The Oasis Center. Visit www.rabiaz.com for more details.

Fashion tips from Rabia Z

· This summer colours include: mustards, purple and fuschia. Make sure to have a few pieces in your wardrobe, even if it’s a scarf, belt, bag or shoes.

· With the recession hitting pocketbooks hard, make sure to use accessories and incorporate them into your existing wardrobe.

· Jumpsuits are definitely back in season.



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