Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt to Present Acclaimed "Contemporary Muslim Fashions" Exhibition

In recent years, there has been increased awareness of Muslim consumers as an important segment of the global fashion industry, and increased visibility for designers and brands whose clothing responds to diverse interpretations of modesty. Featuring garments and styles from around the world, “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” focuses on the intersection of regional dress styles, global fashion trends and personal attitudes toward modesty. It considers how Muslim women define themselves and are defined by their dress, providing a snapshot of the current moment in Muslim modest fashion. Modest fashion refers to garments that are both highly fashionable and provide sufficient body cover to address cultural concerns for modesty. Many Muslim women and men dress modestly, in accordance with their faith, but individual and collective interpretations of modesty vary widely.

Photo Credit: Melinda Looi (b. 1973, Malaysia) for Melinda Looi (est. 2000, Malaysia); Ensemble (dress, turban, earrings, rings, and shoes); Sunset in Africa Collection, 2012; Tie-dyed silk chiffon with feathers, semi-precious stones, and Swarovski crystals, silk satin lining; Photograph by Sebastian Kim.

Contemporary Muslim Fashions,” the first major museum exhibition to explore the rise of the modest fashion industry, will be on view in winter 2020 at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, this pioneering exhibition examines how Muslim women—those who cover and those who do not—have become arbiters of style within and beyond their communities. On view Feb. 28, 2020, through Aug. 23, 2020, the exhibition features approximately 80 ensembles drawn from established and emerging designers in high-end fashion, streetwear, sportswear and couture, as well as about 40 photographs that will contextualize the garments on view.

Cooper Hewitt will host a slate of fashion exhibitions in 2020, including ‘Contemporary Muslim Fashions’ and ‘Willi Smith: Street Couture,’ which honor the innovations and legacies of fashion designers and fashion movements that have expanded design’s horizons,” said Caroline Baumann, director of the museum. “As America’s design museum, Cooper Hewitt is committed to championing inclusion and the power of design to transform lives. This exhibition shines a spotlight on the underrepresented sector of Muslim modest fashion and connects diverse audiences through the universal language of fashion.”

New video content, produced by Cooper Hewitt, will introduce the designers behind the looks and expand on the design process. Through interviews and footage of designers at work in their studios, visitors will be introduced to a new generation of designers—75% of the designers, artists and influencers in the exhibition are female, Muslim and under 40 years of age—and their focus on entrepreneurship, inclusion and sustainable and ethical practices. A spotlight on the rich textile heritage of Southeast Asia, including batik and ikat dyeing and songket weaving, will highlight the craftsmanship and textile traditions that inform many of the contemporary designs on view. A final video will explore how materials research and high-performance apparel make it possible for modest-dressing women and girls to engage in sports at the recreational and competitive levels, from sports hijabs and full-coverage swimwear.

As Islam is a multicultural faith, the dress of its practitioners is shaped not only by religious traditions but also by local customs and global trends. The exhibition looks at parts of the globe where designers are creating and consumers are wearing highly fashionable garments, with a specific focus on the Middle East, Southeast Asia and communities throughout Europe and the United States. Using social media as primary source material, the exhibition credits much of the recent, popular awareness of this sector to bloggers and influencers who took to social media when they could not find accurate representations of themselves in traditional media.

Fashion can serve as a platform for self-expression and as a tool for positive social change,” said Susan Brown, associate curator of textiles at Cooper Hewitt. “Focusing on the work of young professional Muslim designers and artists, the exhibition celebrates the vibrant global community that has arisen around modest fashion and uses contemporary art, street photography, social media and music videos to bring diverse voices into the gallery.”

Contemporary Muslim Fashions” is organized by Jill D’Alessandro, curator in charge of costume and textile arts, and Laura L. Camerlengo, associate curator of costume and textiles at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Reina Lewis, professor of cultural studies at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, serves as consulting curator. The New York presentation of “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” is organized by Susan Brown, associate curator of textiles, Cooper Hewitt.

Following the widely acclaimed opening at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the exhibition traveled to Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt. This is the only East Coast showing of “Contemporary Muslim Fashions.”

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco with Delmonico/Prestel have published a scholarly catalog, “Contemporary Muslims Fashions,” to accompany the exhibition. The volume includes essays by D’Alessandro, Camerlengo and Lewis. Additional texts by Alex Aubry, director of the Fashion Resource Center at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and editor-at-large for Harper’s Bazaar Arabia; Shiva Balaghi, cultural historian of the Middle East and writer; Carla Jones, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder; Su’ad Abdul Khabeer; Deena Aljuhan Abdulaziz; Remona Aly; Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor; and Shelina Janmohamed.

Cooper Hewitt is America’s design museum. Inclusive, innovative and experimental, the museum’s dynamic exhibitions, education programs, master’s program, publications and online resources inspire, educate and empower people through design. An integral part of the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum and research complex—Cooper Hewitt is located on New York City’s Museum Mile in the historic, landmark Carnegie Mansion. Steward of one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections—over 210,000 objects that range from an ancient Egyptian faience cup dating to about 1100 BC to contemporary 3-D-printed objects and digital code—Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design and its power to change the world. Cooper Hewitt knits digital into experiences to enhance ideas, extend reach beyond museum walls and enable greater access, personalization, experimentation and connection. The museum is fully accessible.

For more information, visit www.cooperhewitt.org or follow @cooperhewitt on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, are the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park and was established as the Memorial Museum in 1895. It was later renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, who spearheaded its creation. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in October 2005. It holds the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Africa, Oceania and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.