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A Modest Proposal

Rabia Z.’s customers can be fashionable without showing skin
by Alex Joseph  


In November, designer Rabia Zargarpur showed her summer 2012 collection at Casa La Femme, a sumptuous Egyptian restaurant in Greenwich Village. Rendered in jersey in gorgeous jewel tones, her slinky tops, harem trousers, and duster coats, embellished with screen prints of traditional Mukhawara embroidery, exhibited exquisite draping. Zargarpur, who goes by Rabia Z., also her company name, studied this skill at FIT.

Zargarpur’s outfits cover the wearer enough to be modest, but the designer doesn’t call them hijab. “The term ‘Islamic fashion’ is an oxymoron,” she says. “Islam is so spiritual, and fashion is so out there.” Stylish women don’t have to be religious to abhor midriff-baring or skin-tight trends. “We have a lot of non-Muslim customers who like that our clothes are modest and fashionable at the same time.”

Point taken. The designer herself is Muslim, though, like most of her customers. She founded her namesake company after 9/11, when she lived in New York. A spiritual transformation inspired her to begin covering, and to start a company dedicated to the practical problem of looking chic while staying modest. In 2007, sales picked up after she won the Emerging Designer Award for her debut collection at Dubai Fashion Week. The Financial Times and took note. A lively presence on Facebook and YouTube, Rabia Z., now based in Dubai, sells online in 45 countries, with its largest sales to young American Muslims.

After the show, when told that her clothes looked a little, well, sexy, the designer laughed. “We keep the shows buyer- and media-friendly. My customer knows how to wear the look a little looser, or with a bigger head scarf.” A woman wearing hijab who introduced herself as the Crown Princess of Dubai told a journalist that observant Muslim women usually assemble modest styles piecemeal; Rabia is unusual, she said, in marketing a total, unified look. Taking a tip from Yohji Yamamoto and other Japanese designers who use abstract silhouettes, Rabia has made jersey her signature fabric, as it provides perfect drape. Also: “It’s breathable, comfortable, practical,” she says. But beauty comes first.  “Hijab means you don’t have to be sexy, but you don’t have to be ugly, either.”




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