Fri, 13 Aug 2010

Models present creations by Indonesian designer Ian Adrian

The fashion models lounged in the public hallway of a Jakarta retail mall in hot pants, batting false eyelashes and adjusting their hairdos.

Minutes later, they hit the catwalk wearing headscarves and covered by full-length prayer gowns in an auditorium closed to men.

The swift transformation was an expression of the many faces of Islam in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, which has started to assert itself as a leader in fashion for the faithful. The international market is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year and is growing.

The girls displayed the latest creations by designers at the Indonesia Islamic fashion fair: shimmering Chinese silk dresses, multicoloured headbands and jewel-studded necklaces. Dozens of shows have been held in the run-up to Ramadan, which began on Wednesday, when Muslims fast to be closer to God and splurge on festive attire.

“It’s a dream, but 10 years from now we should be the world capital of Islamic fashion,” said Gilarsi Wahju Setijono, strategic director of the Islamic Fashion Consortium, a newly formed industry group. “Our main strength is that we are an Islamic country. We are immediately outstanding. Who can compete with us in that?”

In Indonesia, home to some 200m Muslims, consumer spending surges by about 20 per cent during the month-long holiday season. People buy gifts, handbags, prayer rugs, headscarves and religious accessories. Millions of holidaymakers head home to visit relatives, cramming roads, trains and aircraft. Islam has been Indonesia’s predominant faith for centuries but the majority of Muslims are moderate in outlook.

“Many countries have rules about how a woman has to wear the hijab [headscarf], but here in Indonesia we are so free,” said Jetti Hadi, editor-in-chief of Noor, Indonesia’s leading Islamic lifestyle magazine. “We are so colourful. We have a wealth of design and style. Thank God for that.”

During the 32-year dictatorship of Suharto, open expression of religious identity was discouraged. Since the arrival of democracy in 1998 Indonesians have been able to practise Islam openly and many are discovering their religious identity. Sales of Islamic-style clothing were growing by 10 to 15 per cent a year, the fashion consortium said.

Women who pray infrequently often wear headscarves in combination with jeans, shirts and make-up. Men wear colourful batik or finely embroidered Saudi-influenced shirts to Friday prayers at the mosque.

“Every single island, every single community has its own type of Islamic dress. There is no one who says: No! You have to do it like this’,” Ms Hadi said.

Indonesia was a leading global producer of textiles but was overtaken after the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis by manufacturers in China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It now exports just $10bn (7.7bn, 6.4bn) worth of clothing a year.

If it can promote Islamic fashion as something Indonesian, the country had a chance to revive a once-powerful industry, create jobs and support a strong tradition of fabric weaving and handicraft, said Mari Pangestu, the trade minister.

The minister, who does not cover her head for most of the year, will wear a scarf during Ramadan engagements. Maybe she, along with millions of other Indonesian women, will buy a new headscarf.