As a child growing up in Southeast Asia, I marveled at the stylish outfits worn by the Muslim women around me. While the rest of us tried to beat the heat in shorts and T-shirts, Muslim women sashayed around in dresses covered in intricately-patterned batiks or fabulous saris embroidered in gold threads—some choosing to cover their heads, others not to.
In the United States, where Muslims make up less than 2% of the population, it can be hard to grasp the diversity and creativity in Islamic fashion. Cooper Hewitt, the design museum, wants to remedy this. Its Contemporary Muslim Fashions exhibit features the wide variety of aesthetics within the universe of Muslim style, with 80 outfits and 40 portraits featuring new and established designers across high fashion, streetwear, and sportswear.
The exhibit was originally organized by the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, and Susan Brown, associate curator of textiles at Cooper Hewitt, was eager to feature it at her museum. “So often in the media, Muslim women are presented in a burka or covered head to toe in black,” she tells Fast Company. “There’s a disparity between people’s impression of Muslim fashion and yet, when you travel in the Muslim world, there are vibrant, passionate communities of women who are fashion forward. The subject seemed long overdue for analysis.”