Haute Couture and Muslim fashionistas have something in common

If I suddenly happened upon millions of dollars, I would do the following three things in this order: give my parents however much they wished to have to spend on themselves; travel around the entire world – all of it; and hire John Galliano as my personal stylist.

And it better be a big jackpot because Mr. Galliano’s work – and my mom’s taste in handbags – doesn’t come at a small price.

The world of art, design and fashion has always been my second passion, after travel. In fact, even when I’m travelling I naturally gravitate towards destinations known for their fabulous art and design scene.

But thanks to the prevalence of literature available online, you don’t have to leave your house – or your bed – to access a world of fashion inspiration. Within minutes, photos and analysis from the latest fashion show get distributed across the Internet for instant consumption by runway groupies.

The ever-reigning queen of all fashion events is the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, a twice-a-year showcase of exclusive custom-fit clothing assembled completely by hand. Paris’ Haute Couture Week – not to be confused with plain ol’ Paris Fashion Week – presents only the most high-status designers who are recognized by the prestigious (dare I say supercilious?) Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris based on a list of extremely specific stick-in-butt criteria.

You can criticize the French all you want for being irritatingly meticulous, but you can’t deny that the results of all their nit picking are absolutely astounding. Season after season, the couturiers create hand-embroidered, hand-stitched art pieces that simply can’t be valued at any monetary price.

Save for a few hundred elite clients around the world, Haute Couture never actually ends up in someone’s shopping bag. So what’s the point then? Pardon the cliché, but it’s warranted here – Haute Couture is art for art’s sake. It is a true representation of beauty that can emerge when an artist is allowed to create freely without rules and restrictions. It is a passionate voice that’s been awarded the right to speak as loud as it wants. And I love to soak up every word it speaks.


Even after the unfortunate departure of John Galliano from the brand, the house of Dior continues to stun at Haute Couture Week


Until the day you or I magically unearth a treasure – and until the day it’s socially acceptable to wear an Haute Couture piece on the streets of Toronto – we’ll have to make do with pret-a-porter or the ready-to-wear collections produced by design houses, which ultimately serve as inspiration for product sold at regular chain brands.

For most, the trickle down effect of the fashion industry stops at this lowest common denominator. A Canadian woman can easily walk into an average retail clothing store and purchase a piece that simply and conveniently fits her style, wardrobe and her budget. But most Muslim women who adopt a modest way of dress need to take this process one step further, particularly during the spring-summer season.

Short skirts, cropped tops, sleeveless dresses and plunging necklines just aren’t an option for a Muslim woman who chooses to fully cover her body – and for a fashion conscious Muslim woman, niche brands that produce ethnically inspired clothing targeted at Muslims aren’t an option either.

So, what’s a girl to do?

Well, she’s got to get right back to what art, design and fashion are all about – creativity.

When shopping, a Muslim woman not only has to look for items that fit her personal style and flatter her body type, she has to look for creative ways to modify outfits to make them more modest while still remaining fashionable.

Thankfully, the layering trend that’s been very popular for quite a few years has made this easy for a fashionable Muslim woman trying to get by in 2014. Since baring the midriff isn’t an option, a crop top can easily be layered with a bright coloured or textured tank underneath; short dresses and skirts can be worn with colourful tights or patterned stockings; cardigans and jackets help cover up arms; and any plunging neckline is not even an issue if a girl wears a head scarf that covers her neck too. The summer months are the trickiest since adding layers can make you hot under the beating sun. But light, wispy layers in breathable natural fibres solve that issue too. And it helps to know your way with a sewing machine. A few quick tweaks and additions to a garment can easily turn it from something that might be too revealing to something that looks like a custom-made garment.


A bit of chiffon in a matching colour is all I needed to transform this one shoulder bridesmaid dress into something I was comfortable wearing

If anything adding layers to an outfit enhances the palette of a fashionista. It’s not a frustrating problem, rather it’s an opportunity to think outside the rulebooks to create a look that’s uniquely yours. Far too often, being fashionable is associated with a hungry chase to keep up with ever-changing seasonal trends. But if you take inspiration from some of the most notable fashion icons through history – Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy – being fashionable is about having a personal style that’s unique and timeless.

Ultimately it’s about freedom. I mean, who really wants to walk around looking like the mannequin in every store window? When you mature as a stylist, you learn to focus less on the rules, and more on creativity. And just like the couturiers, you take this liberty and use fashion as a way to sound your voice – a right that belongs to every human being. The leaders of the industry are there to inspire you with new ideas and concepts. But, like every other woman across Canada, when I get up each morning I’m the only one who gets to decide what I’ll wear that day. The only thing that makes me different is that I choose to keep my head wrapped in a flowing piece of chiffon. Or silk. Or pashmina. Or lace. Or…

We asked Zebunnisa:

What does being a fashionable Muslim mean to you?
It’s all about creativity, baby!

How would you describe your style?

I’m always on the move. I like exploring stylish European cities like Paris, London, Amsterdam and Zurich, relaxing at the beaches and spas of the Caribbean, and hiking through pebbly trails in Jordan, New Zealand and the Canadian Rockies. For the most part my style is about simple elegance, with a focus on colours and forms that flatter my shape. But when I get the opportunity to dress up, I take it to the nines.

What inspires your style the most?

I’m a runway junkie! I love soaking up the looks from the runway, and then I try to incorporate elements of what I see into my own style. My favourite fashion houses? Dior, Valentino, Elie Saab, Balenciaga and Lanvin.

Favourite fashion items:

A well-fitting coat, a bright handbag, figure-flattering silhouettes, and a perfect shade of lipstick.

Biggest fashion frustrations:
The lack of shoes that are both stylish and comfortable!

Favourite element of men’s fashion:

Knit ties, layering bright prints and colour under masculine neutrals, cosy casual wear and musky-sweet cologne.



We thank Zebunnisa Mirza for sharing her views and opinions with SPI

Follow Zeb’s journeys around the world on [button url=”http://instagram.com/zebunnisa” style=”blue” size=”default” block=”false” target=”_blank” icon=”check”]instagram[/button] & [button url=”https://twitter.com/zebunnisa” style=”blue” size=”default” block=”false” target=”_blank” icon=”check”]Twitter[/button]and check out her latest travel articles on her site: zebunnisa.com


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