Discreet allure: Lindsay Lohan boosts 'trend-setting' London Modest Fashion Week

Discreet allure: Lindsay Lohan boosts 'trend-setting' London Modest Fashion Week
In its second edition, the world's foremost modest fashion event appeals to new audiences beyond modest clothing customers with a message of empowerment and practicality, reports Sophia Akram.
5 min read
19 February, 2018
London's Modest Fashion Week 2018 showcased the collections of international designers [Sophia Akram]
In 2017, the London fashion scene saw a first in the form of London Modest Fashion Week (LMFW), celebrating couture fashion that caters to a modest dress code.

Organisers deemed it a sell-out success. This year, eager to continue its record for pioneering new trends, LMFW was again dominated by a series of firsts.

Roumana Bint-Abubaker is CEO and founder of Haute-Elan. Adijuma and HIJUP recently acquired a majority stake in the company, a modest fashion e-commerce site and organiser of LMFW. "What is exciting", she said, "is the diversity of segments. We have everything from menswear, sportswear and leisure to bridal and couture.

"Secondly we're getting really interesting guests like Lindsay Lohan to openly support us."

Lohan attended the opening ceremony this Saturday 17 February donning a silky black hijab and reportedly wearing halal make up.

Other notable guests included H&M and Select Model's first hijab-wearing model Mariah Idrissi who spoke about the "commodification of religion and trends in modest fashion" and "the role of influencers in young women's lives" in two panel discussions.

Bushra Shaikh - Apprentice 2017 candidate, joined Jewish designer of modest fashion Hannah Sufrin, Vivy Yusof - a Malaysian e-commerce entrepreneur - and Professor Reina Lewis over the two-day event.

Disucssing juggling business with family life, panelists provided advice and insight into the modest fashion business, saying that they catered to a gap that women of faith were keen to see filled.

However, noted Shaikh, despite the "modesty industry" being predominantly Islamic, there wasn't much support out there for those wanting to get involved.

Haute-Elan itself contributes £1 of every purchase to the WeAreOne Foundation. Bint-Abubaker says that it's this type of social entrepreneurial spirit that underpins what they're about.

"It's the foundation of what we do. Because we as Muslims believe there's no purpose in business for the sake of business itself. It's only of benefit if it is benefitting greater society, if it has a greater cause."

While the show boasted a raft of contributors to fulfil women's demand, the entry of men's modest fashion at this year's LMFW reflects a growing market.

While it may not be as big as the women's market, Akil Desai of Jubbas, seen on the runway this year, says, "I think it's a huge market... I don't see nearly enough being done in the way of male modest fashion in the UK for men who want to wear it."

Jubbas started as a family business 17 years ago, but in the past five years has found itself adapting its brand and image, fitting the more contemporary market. Desai admits there may be apprehension around wearing long garments in certain places, so Jubbas has made its garments more "urban" and "trendy".

Desai also says that LMFW is the perfect place to try and "break the trend" as even though it's "95 percent female, they have brothers, husbands, kids who are the perfect audience to show that there is male modest fashion as well".

Other future developments could include more designers from Iran to join a diverse selection from the Gulf and South East Asia

He also says that Jubbas even has non-Muslim customers who like wearing the garments in the evening as they're comfortable.

Designers and attendees Nish Dax and Ali A of This is Dusk agree that the market is growing for men. But Dax says "with male modest fashion, it is modest but it's 'simply' modest. That's the difference between women and men's modesty... There's no experimental design".

Of the day he adds, "what we've seen so far has been pretty inspiring. There's been a lot of good movements, the models are strong, and the vision is clear. It's looking at a bright future. London Modest Fashion Week will grow inevitably. As long as it's growing with the right movements and the right ethos behind it, then it will succeed."

Lindsey Lohan (left) with Roumana Bint-Abubaker, CEO and
founder of Haute-Elan. [London Modest Fashion Week]

Ali A made a special mention of Ummah Models and its founder who he said was particularly inspiring, "She's bringing more modest models who can work for modest brands... she's [cornered] a very nice gap in the market there".

LMFW also showcased emerging talent such as Coverme, Shamila Bassir, The Elegance of Black and Sanzaa. But Bint-Abubaker says that in September 2018, there will be at least three mainstream brands seen at LMFW's second event, as it will be showcasing twice in one year.

"This year, we were this close to having international brands participate but the political issues that they face mean that they were nervous [about] participating."

Bint-Abubaker explained that while at least one of the international brands she spoke to had already launched a collection specifically for the Muslim market, retailers were nervous about taking up their product for fear of political backlash from consumers.

"Actually it ended up being a product they didn't even put into production in many numbers despite the huge size of the population who need [it]. That's definitely still an issue. I think it's changing but it's taking a long time."

However, she remains confident that the three brands she has in mind will be on board by September.

Other future developments could include more designers from Iran to join a diverse selection from the Gulf and South East Asia. A collaboration with London Fashion Week may also be on the cards.

"London Fashion Week would like us to work with them. They are looking for a way. I'm all up for collaboration so maybe the next step would be that we become a segment of London Fashion Week", said Bint-Abubaker. 

Sophia Akram is a researcher and communications professional with a special interest in human rights particularly across the Middle East. 

Follow her on Twitter: @mssophiaakram