At a large convention center here, models prepare for the annual Islamic fashion show. While this type of dress may be commonplace in conservative areas in this country, it is definitely new to the models.
Amid the backstage chaos, Venezuelan model Christina says that while she doesn’t really understand all this, as she comes from a much more liberal place, it’s a job and she’s happy to work. Most of the models here are hired on three-month contracts from around the world and brought to Istanbul - many for the first time. A South African model remarks that she’s never even seen a head scarf before as a cluster of tiny women from the design company engulfs her to help her dress.
On the runway, it’s a different story. The crowd has gathered to see the latest fashions from new Islamic designers. The MC makes jokes between sets and pumps up the crowd for the next collection. Models in head scarves parade in floor-length trench coats that Islamic woman wear out of doors. The latest Islamic swimwear is also shown, received excitedly by women in the audience: The outfits will let them enjoy the water while leaving only their faces, hands, and feet exposed. One suit is called the “Burkini,” a portmanteau of “burka” and “bikini.”
Each collection is greeted with rounds of enthusiastic applause, and cellphones are whipped out to send images to friends. Leering men film the show, lured by the foreign models, many of whom seem to be feet taller than they are. Women wrapped in head scarves whisper to one another other ardently about the new colors and styles that still uphold traditional Islamic modesty.