A new Farfetch-Modist partnership and a first-of-its-kind Muslim fashion exhibit point to the power of “Generation M” to influence global fashion.

On Thursday, international fashion marketplace Farfetch announced a partnership with The Modist, a year-old luxury e-tailer devoted entirely to modest fashion, which now allows Farfetch shoppers to also shop a curated edit of The Modist’s assortment, including its new house brand, Layeur by The Modist.

This comes just days before the first major fashion exhibition focusing on Muslim dress worldwide opens at San Francisco’s de Young museum. “Contemporary Muslim Fashions,” kicking off Saturday, displays a range of designers, geographies and interpretations of modest dress, from custom couture to fast fashion and sportswear. Designers include Yves Saint Laurent, Malaysia-based Blancheur and London-based Sarah Elenany.

These are just a few recent examples of the increasing access to and awareness of modest Muslim dress — driven by a new generation of Muslim bloggers, designers and brands whose digital audience looks to them as both fashion influencers and as unofficial ambassadors of their cultures.

Social media served as primary research material in guiding the narrative of the Muslim fashion exhibit, said co-curator Laura Cemerlengo, as associate curator of costume and textile arts at the museum. Early on, she interviewed U.S.-based Muslim fashion influencers including political fashion blogger Hoda Katebi (@hodakatebi), feminist and model Leah Vernon (@lvernon2000) and fashion student Fatima Abdallah (@allthingsfatima). “Each uses fashion as a medium for discussions about contemporary religious concerns and social injustices, and as a tool for positive social change,” Cemerlengo said.

Exhibit catalog contributor Shelina Janmohamed referred to Muslim millennials — affluent and empowered Muslim women and men in their mid-20s to mid-30s — as “Generation M,” and Cemerlengo said that much of the activity around modest fashion is being driven by this demographic; almost half of the designers, artists, lenders and contributors to the exhibition fell into Generation M.

“Like many of their non-Muslim peers in modest fashion, early Muslim fashion bloggers often cited the lack of diversity in mainstream media as a major motivator for their engagement in blogging,” she said, adding that Instagram has proven to be particularly influential. “[These are] Muslim millennials who believe faith and modernity go hand-in-hand, and who seek to positively change and shape the world around them. By their actions and creative outputs, they are leading global understandings of their religion and respective cultures.”

The gallery includes a screen showing Instagram content and viral videos, which in addition to highlighting the diversity of Muslim modest dress codes, extends the exhibition’s purview beyond areas able to be represented with physical pieces. Viral videos include “Somewhere in America #MIPSTERZ” by Habib Yazdi, Abbas Rattani and Sara Aghajanian, and “Hijabi (Wrap my Hijab)” by poet, rapper and activist Mona Haydar.

One of the most recognizable faces in Muslim fashion is 20-year-old model Halima Aden, a Somali refugee who, after competing in the 2016 Miss Minnesota USA pageant wearing a hijab, was tapped to appear on the July 2017 cover of Allure (also wearing a hijab), and has walked on runways ranging from Yeezy to Max Mara.

Aden appears in the museum’s first-ever fashion photoshoot, shot by fashion photographer Sebastian Kim and including pieces from designers such as Indonesia’s Dian Pelangi, Malaysia’s Melinda Looi and the Labanese-born Celine Semaan, founder of U.S. label Slow Factory.

The museum’s Linda Butler, director of marketing, communications and visitor experience, coordinated the shoot and said that all of the participants — who contributed their services at a “deeply discounted rate” — were eager to participate as a way to contribute to the dialogue initiated by the exhibit.

Fashion makes the potentially political more palatable, Butler said. “Fashion impacts all of us — especially for an art museum, fashion is an entry point that feels safe,” Butler said. “[This exhibit is] particularly interesting because it is an entrée into deeper, more substantial conversations around women and women’s rights to choose, and being celebratory of Islam and Muslim women, where there are a lot of preconceived notions — but we can maintain neutrality by doing it through fashion.”

It’s a conversation that has increasingly had more voices, especially in the fashion world.

Earlier this year, New York Fashion Week hosted the abaya-only New York Modest Fashion show, while Dubai held a fashion event called “Pret-a-Cover,” and Macy’s introduced a modest-clothing collection called Verona Collection. The latter built on the momentum from new releases including Vogue Arabia and the Nike’s Pro Hijab line in 2017, and Dolce & Gabbana’s abaya line in 2016, among other Western designers doubling-down on modest apparel.

Stylist and blogger Saba Ali, who styled the pieces featured in the exhibit (including contributing her own wedding dress), said that many women — not just Muslim women — prefer modest-wear, and that offering it is a smart marketing decision rather than a fleeting trend. The math checks out. According to the latest Global Islamic Economy report, consumers spent $254 billion in 2016 on Muslim attire, with the market expected to grow to $373 billion by 2022.

“Five or 10 years ago, if I saw a really cute maxi skirt, I would grab it in every color. Now, I can find them more easily, between styles and colors and prints, and I don’t go crazy when I see one. It’s changed the way we have all shopped,” Ali said, adding that both this exhibit and the democracy of social media offer “a window into Muslim life and a more fun aspect of it. I want people to see that Muslim women are creative and innovative, and not everyone wears a typical black abaya and head scarf.”

The partnership between Farfetch and Modist is testament not only to modest wear’s ubiquity but also to its global economic appeal; the news was announced this week, the same week Farfetch was set to file for an initial public offering.

“As the desire for modest dressing options grows, we have sought out an exciting partner in The Modist to ensure we can offer our women the most unrivaled range of fashion. We know our global customer is going to love shopping this increased offering,” said Yasmin Sewell, who is Farfetch vp of style and creative. She added that a few of the brands available that consistently cater to this need include Erdem, Racil, Zeus + Dione, Ellery, Oscar de La Renta and Joseph, among others.

Of the partnership, The Modist founder and CEO Ghizlan Guenez said that it was an opportunity to attract women worldwide.  “As we grow our partnership with Farfetch, we continue to drive The Modist with the purpose of empowering women and heralding a new era of diversity and inclusiveness.”

Photo by Sebastian Kim

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