France may ban burqas, but chic abayas for export are fine
When French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared last month that the burqa was not welcome in France, he unleashed a global debate on Islam and veils that drew in everyone from bloggers and full-time pundits to Al Qaeda’s North African wing. FaithWorld has dealt with it when Sarkozy spoke, in the aftermath of that speech, with a view from Afghanistan and a televised debate with a National Assembly deputy backing the ban.
(Photo: Kabul women in burqas, 20 Nov 2001/Yannis Behrakis)
Last week, a somewhat unlikely group of commentators joined the debate — fashion designers at the haute couture shows in Paris. The niqab and the burqa are, after all, garments, so maybe it should not be surprising that the high priests of fashion have spent some thought on the issue.
In fact, many top French designers make customised abayas (long, baggy gowns some Arab women usually worn with a veil) and other luxury versions of traditional outfits for their Middle Eastern clients.
Speaking backstage before and after their shows, surrounded by half-naked models, most stuck to the middle ground, saying they had nothing against the burqa, abaya or niqab as long as the woman was not forced into it. Couturier Franck Sorbier pointed out that in most hot places, including Corsica, women
wear some kind of headscarf.
(Photo: Stephane Rolland and model in wedding dress he designed, 21 Jan 2004/Philippe Wojazer)
When asked about the broader debate whether veils are a sign of subservience and should be outlawed, his confidence wavered. “I don’t want to speak about religion, that’s a different subject. But I don’t want to cover the woman — alas, I don’t want to think about that,” he said before turning away.
And at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld mused about the practical side of the burqa:
“It might be quite nice to wear it, you don’t need to go to the hairdresser and you can see everything without being seen, I find that quite comfortable,” he told me after the Chanel haute couture show last week. “Veils, tunics, I’m not against all that, I findit picturesque. Live and let live!”
For the latest on the French burqa debate, from the chic fashion shows to burqa shops in scruffy Paris suburbs, read my feature here.
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