January issue 2009

By | Fashion | Life Style | Published 15 years ago

It’s not your typical haute couture, but as Pakistan becomes increasingly Islamised, the abaya is gaining popularity among all classes of society. The country’s premier luxury abaya seller, Hijab-ul-Hareem, has an estimated 12,000 customers every year who come from locations as diverse as Hyderi and Zamzama in Karachi to Sialkot and Faisalabad. Abayas are chosen not just for the sake of modesty. Saad Saleem of Hijab-ul-Hareem told Newsline that their Islamabad store is frequented by US soldiers who allegedly use the abayas for espionage purposes.

Their other customers are a multicultural lot as well. Even diplomatic staff from other Muslim countries purchase their stocks in Pakistan. This demand for abayas has increased since 9/11, as more and more orders pour in from the West, where many Muslims are becoming increasingly conservative. Meanwhile, locally, Saleem thinksabayas are in greater demand in light of the rise in sexual harassment. Moreover, abayas have managed to carve a niche in the mainstream fashion scene.

As Saleem explains, “Formerly there was a misconception that abayas are only supposed to be simple.” But gone are the days of the plain abaya. Even as “bling” is on the decline internationally, the hottest trend in abayas is the diamante-studded style complete with Swarovski-laden embroidery. They can also be made to order. As Saleem reveals, “Many customers bring their own designs.” Flared sleeves are also very in, as is embroidery, both machine and handmade, proving that you can pull off religious devotion in style. On the more risque side, sleeveless abayas and those made of see-through fabrics are also on the rise, giving one what Saleem terms “the feel of a dress, while having an abaya in name.” Even more traditional customers are now buying printed or coloured abayas. The most common material is georgette, and while most are locally designed, some are variations of Saudi or Iranian styles.

Yet all abayas are not created equal. Saleem tells us that Hijab-ul-Hareem also runs a low-end abaya label called Arabis, in which relatively cheaper Czech sequins and crystals are showcased. Most of his high-end customers are from “good families” and do not baulk at the prices, which can go up to Rs.25,000.

Scarves, imported from India, Italy, China, Morocco and Turkey, are all the rage. While traditionalists go for the more simple designs, those with a desire to make a statement often choose brightly coloured or printed headscarves. With the huge variety flooding the market, consumers are spoiled for choice, and sales are high.

All in all, while this trend may not have invaded the runways yet, it is well on its way to matching the designer market.

See the entire abaya photoshoot below. Click on any photo to begin.
Coordination: Amna Khalique
Photography: Kohi Marri
Label: Hijab-ul-Hareem
Make-up: Saba Bhatti@Shellz
Model: Nadia Ali

Akbar Shahid Ahmed is a Washington-based reporter for the Huffington Post, writing on U.S. foreign policy. He has contributed to Newsline since 2008.