Fashion is about culture

- Tingting Cojuangco () - February 12, 2012 - 12:00am

The revulsion felt about the misdeeds of some Muslim extremists on 9/11 dug deep into the hearts of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, leaving the impression that Islam is a religion of intolerance. Muslims the world over were quickly regarded with suspicion and fear. The Western world immediately viewed Muslims as security risks, regardless of their origins, even how they were dressed. To turn the tide, Malaysian devotees of Allah embarked on a campaign to promote peace and compassion, embedded in Islam’s Hadith and Adat. Dato’ Raja Rezza Shah of Malaysian royalty did his part and conceptualized the Islamic Fashion Festival. His upbringing in the Malaysian east coast state of Kelantan, known for being the bastion of Islamic lifestyle, equipped him for the complexities of cultural challenges and religious sensitivity. A model-actor, Dato’ Rezza produced events and cultural shows. This entrepreneur can be credited for creating several museums in Kelantan to preserve Malaysian heritage and is likewise adviser to 26 museums throughout his country under the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture of Malaysia. On the international front, he is a Peace Ambassador of the New York-based Universal Peace Federation.

Like other creative and artistic endeavors, the Islamic Fashion Festival chose a patron who not only shared the same vision but who would be fully committed to championing the Islamic Fashion Festival’s cause of peace and brotherhood through high fashion. Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor, wife of Malaysian Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak, has been their mentor. A personable and elegant woman, she saw enormous economic growth for Malaysian’s weaving industry, inspiring designers while enticing the Southeast Asian region couturiers to join Islamic Fashion Festivals.

I asked Dato’ Rezza some questions. What is the objective of the Islamic Fashion Festival? Rezza’s answer: “The Islamic Fashion Festival’s overall objective is to win the hearts and minds of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Not to hate and reject and see Islam as restrictive and uncompromising.” Are you stymied in producing Islamic fashion because of its restrictions in adhering to modesty? She responded: “The Islamic Fashion Festival would like to encourage creative expression and interpretation among designers to exemplify the versatility and viability of dynamic Islamic fashion in ‘beauty of modesty.’” Dato’ Rezza continued: “I gently impart the audience that they must know, understand and appreciate the call for women to cover up based on our religion. The intent is neither to preach nor convert but rather deliver the simple message that there is beauty in covering up at every level from ‘slight to full.’”

Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Monsor

I asked her: What is the business opportunity you envision on your worldwide trips? “Taking into account the global Muslim population, it is only prudent to capitalize on the business opportunity that the Muslim market affords,” she responded. “Esmod, the Dubai-based French University of Fashion, estimates the Islamic fashion market to be worth US$96 billion; furthermore Datin Rosmah and I want Malaysia to be the center of Islamic fashion while encouraging and ever assisting other designers in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore to do likewise, so I can bring their creations all over the world. The business aspect is always for the promotion of our fashion industry in Malaysia and Southeast Asia… to inspire fabric manufacturers, designers, and seamstresses to excel and to give back to our country and Southeast Asia’s great opportunities for appreciation of craftsmanship and income.”

How many designers have you featured so far? “The Islamic Fashion Festival has featured more than 250 designers and labels from diversified cultural and religious backgrounds from Cameroon, France, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Palestine and Singapore,” she responded. “The designers include Biyan, Etro, Hindi Mahdi, Meldinda Looi, Milo, Swarovski, Tom Abang Saufi and Zang Toi. On Feb. 23, four Filipino designers will participate in Manila, Rajo Laurel, JC Buendia, Jun Escorio, Veejay FLoresca and will be featured eventually in future Islamic Fashion Festival’s around the world.”

Your events are grand affairs and networking to you is of utmost importance, right? Rezza: “All Islamic Fashion Festival events are grand affairs attended by royalties, world leaders, diplomats, socialites, high government officials, celebrities and the fashionables. The Islamic Fashion Festival provides the ideal opportunity for high-level social networking. Royal guests who have graced the Islamic Fashion Festival include the King and Queen of Malaysia, Sultans and Sultanahs of various Malaysian states, Prince Albert of Monaco and Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi (wife of the founder and the first President of UAE). International celebrities who have attended Islamic Fashion Festival events include Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron, Jamie Foxx, Datuk Michelle Yeoh and Datuk Jimmy Choo.”

How do you encourage Islamic fashion, I asked. Rezza responded: “The Islamic Fashion Festival is guided by a style council, made up of members of Royal Houses and prominent luminaries. Their primary role is to represent Islamic Fashion Festival and act as its Ambassador.

“The introduction of Malaysia and Southeast Asian culture the world over could break the myth of an outdated faith and invite interaction among nationalities, to learn about Islam and ultimately encourage a creative interpretation of modesty with glamour,” she continued. “To quote Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Dato’ Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad, ‘Fashion is the amalgamation of cultures.’ Datin Zainab, his wife, says, ‘Never the clash of civilizations.’”

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