Thursday, 15 July 2010

Harrods offers fashion for Muslim women

Qatar fund bought retailer in May

The Boston Globe

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Fashion designer Hind Beljafla makes abayas to match the Gucci shoes and Hermes handbags of high-spending women in the Gulf.

Now these women can buy her elegant versions of the black Islamic robes, which obscure the contours of a woman’s body, when they head to London this summer to escape the Arabian Peninsula’s sweltering heat. Harrods started selling abayas by Beljafla’s DAS Collection in June, a month after Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund bought the landmark store.

“Muslim women are like any women around the world: They love fashion and love shopping,’’ Beljafla, 24, said in her store here.

Fashion houses in Milan and Paris are waking up to the commercial potential for Muslim women’s clothing that respects religious values and sets new standards for style.

Gas exporter Qatar ranks among the world’s wealthiest nations, with a gross domestic product per capita of $121,000, while Saudi Arabia sits on a fifth of the planet’s oil reserves.

Last year, John Galliano was among 21 designers who participated in a Paris show at Hotel George V, owned by Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. The made-to-measure abayas displayed there were worth up to $10,000.

Saks Fifth Avenue, which hosted the event, then put designer abayas on sale for as much as $12,000 at its stores in the Saudi cities of Riyadh and Jeddah. The abayas are displayed alongside designer evening gowns on the women-only floor of a shopping mall in Riyadh’s glass skyscraper, the Kingdom Center, owned by Alwaleed.

Saudi Arabia, which follows a strict interpretation of Islam, forbids mixing in public between unrelated men and women.

Clients have asked DAS to make abayas to match the color of their designer bags and high heels by brands such as Christian Dior, Hermes, Channel, and Gucci, Beljafla said.

Four years ago, Christian Dior SA had one store in the Middle East, in Dubai. It has since opened 10 in the region, in locations including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Kuwait.

Paris-based Jean-Claude Jitrois has made abayas for several Saudi princesses as well as a collection of 40 for sale at Saks Fifth Avenue.

“There is no contradiction between the modernity of European fashion and modernity of Middle Eastern women,’’ he said. “Every culture has its traditions, and you have to respect this while giving it a twist.’’

Abayas have proved popular at Harrods in London, where summertime visitors from the Gulf throng the streets of the upscale Knightsbridge district.
© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

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