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How My Hijab Set Me Apart at NYFW by Mademoiselle Meme


Posted on Oct 04, 2016
Guest Contributor


Meme is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Mademoiselle Meme, a fashion and lifestyle magazine currently based between Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. Follow along on Instagram @mademoisellememe.

This year's New York Fashion Week was my first fashion week. I actually had no plans to go at all, and it was a spur of the moment decision, with little time to plan, prep, and secure my invitations.

As an Editor of a fashion and lifestyle magazine, covering NYFW isn't about myself, Meme. It is about the content for editorials and the NYFW happenings. I had no expectations when attending, not because my magazine is young, but because I have always been behind-the-scenes in the modest fashion scene. I’ve been a hijabi model, I've participated in numerous hijab fashion events, and I personally know lots of the hijab talents, since many originate from Southern California.

I was well aware of the media buzz around hijabis leading up to NYFW, including the two Muslim women who were attacked while walking their toddlers in Brooklyn. As a result, I anticipated that my hijab might attract unwanted attention. Knowing this, I went to NYFW merely as a spectator, a newcomer to this ultra-exclusive industry.

On day 1, my first show was Noon by Noor, a label designed by two Bahraini Shaikhas. I had already decided I wanted to wear an Arabic designer, House of Nomad, not only to honor the designers, but also to represent a piece of my own heritage.

The House of Nomad piece I chose was an oversized ivory sweater with bold black letters spelling out "Nomad" in Arabic. I didn't realize how popular it would end up being. To my surprise, and even before I had the chance to cue up in line, the PR executive covering the show pulled me out of line with his photographer to shoot my look, in the middle of the street with oncoming traffic. I was surrounded by some of the world's leading influencers, editors, and celebrities, so you can imagine that standing out in a sea of hundreds of beautiful and well-dressed people was really hard. After the shoot they asked me questions about my ethnicity, what my sweater said, and who I was. Their interest was surprising, yet I felt a sense of calm fall over me. This was a great way to start off my fashion week experience.

The Noon by Noor show finished and I ran out to catch my Uber. As I left the show, I broke through the barricades separating us from from the traffic and the other side of the street where the photographers await. This was when I noticed people taking photographs from all directions, and it was then that Phil Oh snapped his shot of me that later appeared on Vogue magazine (too bad I couldn't tell which was Phil Oh since there were about 30 other photographers).

The experience was a little overwhelming, but more than anything I was flattered that my sense of style, even as a hijabi, was worth capturing amidst dozens of other instafamous influencers. What seemed like a flash (excuse the pun) ended up turning into a 40 minute opportunity to network, snap, and be photographed with various media outlets.

I twirled, I walked, I posed. I missed my Uber.

I didn't know who anybody was around me. I just spoke to them about my scarf and how I dress with the hijab. I made myself very approachable to them, smiling and conversing with those I found staring at me, because I knew it would make them more comfortable to ask me things they had on their mind.

People at NYFW wanted to know about hijab, and it was obvious to them that I was a Muslim. I hoped that this would be a good opportunity for dawah. I think that it is only because of my hijab that I got this unexpected chance to show an alternate representation of a Muslim hijabi woman.

On day 2, I was approached by many of the press and photographers I met the day before who wanted to congratulate me on my Vogue magazine feature. Having only heard the news myself for the first time, my jaw dropped. Phil Oh, after all, was the photographer responsible for making street photography a major part of fashion week. Shortly thereafter, I interviewed with Vogue and Marie Claire Malaysia, and got featured in Cosmopolitan and by NYFW. It was lot to take in.

My hijab and my sweater, both bringing together my identity as a Muslim-Irish-Arab-American, seemed unusual to people. We all struggle with different aspects of our identity, but I think that this is an especially unique moment for Muslim women to take advantage of the reactions our hijabs inspire, good or bad. We can take what's good, but also take the opportunity to correct what's bad. Having a sense of confidence and pride in our image will not go unnoticed.

NYFW is just one example that Islam can be talked about in different conversations. Muslim women, moreover, can not only contribute to Western styles of fashion and beauty, but dominate in the modest fashion movement that we understand more than others. My hijab has never been something to block off opportunities; on the contrary, if anything, my hijab has opened many doors for me, and a part of that has been my recent experience at NYFW. Many people are open-minded and we forget that sometimes when only the negativity gets amplified.

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