Sparked by the Diesel “burka” ad controversy, I recently wrote an article on Islam and fashion, looking at the influence of the religion on Western high fashion over the
last century, as well as how some young Muslims are experimenting with dress and subculture to create their own radical styles and movements (e.g. Taqwacore or Muslim Punk).

I was pleased to discover that my writing on the subject has garnered some attention. In an article by the Religion News Service (but reproduced on the Huffington Post, in the foreign language Huffington Post Maghreb, and Washington Post) my opinion on the controversy is noted, and I’m described as “a writer specializing in religion and symbolism.”

Although the author may not agree with me entirely (which I view as a good thing, since it’s about debate, not marching in lockstep), more substantially, academic fashion blog Worn Through says:

Only one writer, Angel Millar, remarked on the nature of the material used to make the “make-shift niqab,” noting the juxtaposition of All-American Denim and its freedom/democracy/mainstream/(pop?) connotations with the staid/oppressive/religious of veils:

A denim niqab seems at once to indicate a rejection of both Western values and religious literalism, and it seems to hint at the fusion of East and West on the level of material culture.

Millar gives two examples of Islam’s influence on Western fashion: Poiret and Chalayan. The first was meant to establish the long connection between the two worlds; it may be generous to say “Islam’s influence on…” instead of “The West’s co-opting of…”, but the point is: this is not as new as some think. But the use of the niqab/burqa to intentionally provoke in the Reboot ad is perhaps better compared to Chalayan’s “Burka,” a collection from 1996, which is called “challenging” and “art” (links nsfw). If Diesel had presented this niqab in a runway show as opposed to in an advertising campaign, would it have landed differently? Does Chalayan, seen as a high-fashion artist, have more leeway to explore these themes than Diesel, seen as a mass-market brand, or are their approaches fundamentally different?

I have to say I was quite surprised that my article received so much attention. But it’s kinda cool.

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