Having lived in Dubai for most of my life, I don’t think much when I see a woman wearing an abaya. For those of you unfamiliar with Islamic culture, abaya refers to the black cloak that Muslim women wear, while hijab refers to the head-covering specifically. While abayas are generally thought to consist of a simple black cloak, abaya fashion has evolved considerably in recent years. When I arrived in Dubai in 1994, the majority of abayas I saw were very basic, but overtime I’ve noticed abayas to include gorgeous embroidery, colored panels and different styles and cuts.
A few weeks ago, myself and bloggers Zahra (Lyla Loves Fashion) and Meho (Oversized Shades & Coffee) met with one of the UAE’s leading abaya designers, Amal Murad. Amal spoke to us about the world of abaya fashion and I was absolutely spellbound. I knew that there was more to abayas than yards of black fabric but I didn’t realize how much thought and design went into it. Amal’s designs are beautiful and the following is one of my favorites.
Amal then told us about the Persil Abaya Shampoo Arwa’a Abaya III: Mission Innovation, a show on MBC that is looking for the next great abaya designer, or what I like to call it, the Middle East’s answer to Project Runway. Arwa3 Abaya features 8 upcoming abaya designers. Each week they get a challenge from an Arab celebrity and have to design an abaya based on those guidelines. The celebrity panel then chooses the bottom 3 contestants, of which one is eliminated via audience polling. Check out the 1st episode of Arwa3 Abaya where all the contestants were introduced. They were given their first assignment by Sumayyah Al Suwaidi, the first female Emirati digital artist and head of her own fashion label called “س” (‘Seen’ in Arabic). Summayah requested for an abaya that was uniquely colored but not obnoxiously loud, while also incorporating the vintage trend as well.
Even though I don’t speak a word of Arabic, I feel drawn in to the world of abaya fashion and am even inspired to go buy my very first abaya! If you are interested in learning more about abaya fashion and the Persil Abaya Shampoo Arwa’a Abaya III competition, check out their Facebook page or watch it on MBC 1’s morning show every Monday.
Fun fact/fairytale about abayas: Amal told us that centuries ago, abayas weren’t limited to black. However, one day, the importer only received a consignment of black fabric. In order to prevent losses, he asked one of the famous romantic poets to write a poem extolling the beauty of black abayas. The women fell in love with the poem and black abayas became the trend and thus the norm after that day!