Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Muslim Bashing

Muslim bashing. Well, everyone else does it in the press, so I thought I’d have a go too. But I’m going to going to attempt to deliver this blog in a witty and light-hearted fashion despite its venomous attacks. I’m confident I can do it: one time in a presentation I told a lefty joke to a room full of middle and upper class white folks but I got away with it because I’m pretty and I smiled at the end (I also got a laugh).

On my journey of realising the concept of “Muslim fashion”, I have learned a lot about The Muslim in a British context.
Growing up not practising Islam, this has been a fairly new revelation to me: both understanding Muslim social politics and the perception of me as a Muslim by ordinary British people.

I’ve compiled some observations which I would be grateful if you should look at as to why there seems to be a massive disconnect between Muslims and British people and Muslims and Muslims. For which reason? An insight as to what makes me sigh at the irony of life.

So here goes.

“The clique phenomenon”
I have met people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, who don’t know the first thing about Muslims. Not a bean. That’s a bit weird isn’t it, since it’s London, the ol’ Cultural Melting Pot, I’m talking about…So when those fascists at The Daily Mail etc spin their tales of woe about Muslims in the press, is it any wonder the masses believe them if they don’t have any points of references to check with?
Muslims hang exclusively with Muslims. I understand the practical and heck, religious benefits of the luxury of sticking to our own, but in a time where Muslims are so misunderstood and badly represented, is it really a luxury we can afford? I personally don’t think it is.

“The Dubai Contradiction”
Step aside “Infusion d'iris” by Prada and “Gucci” by Gucci, here comes the new fragrance, “Contradiction” by Muslim Folk.
Example: person X will relentlessly update their Facebook status with phrases such as “Don’t sin, Allah is watching” and, “Dunya is so not worth it, man” etc…followed by the posting of a link to a Nancy Ajram video (that’s trashy Arab pop music for those not in the know) and spending their annual holiday in luxurious, ostentatious, capital of materialism, Dubai (then coming back and bragging about it for the remaining 351 days of the year)…There’s something massively wrong about that isn’t there? There’s something wrong with an acceptance of two very polarised concepts….isn’t there?

“The Religious Veto”
The manifestation of this practise is twofold:
1) A seemingly “more religious” person will have used a technique known in the trade as “guerrilla marketing”. Said person will consistently use religious words and over a period of time will paint a picture of themselves that they are infinitely more religious and wise. Example: >ring ring, ring ring<, >answers phone<, >Assalaamu alaikum, InshaAllah, can I speak to Fluffy, Masha’Allah<.
2) People using hadiths (traditions of the Prophet Mohammad PBUH) which are out of context. For example, one time someone ultimately came to the conclusion that making someone laugh was haraam….(I think the actual hadith was referring to while someone was praying etc). No further comments.

In both cases said person(s) will ultimately have the “deciding vote” on what is halal and haraam by instilling a fear into everyone else that they must be right because they are more religious, and if you do whatever it is, you are a shameful person. Because, let’s face it, we do get awfully defensive when someone accuses us of being haraam, so we’re likely to back off and become victims to the religious veto and not ever try to change things for the better.

So what is the solution or resolution to this delusion and confusion? I leave you with this nugget of wisdom from the great philosopher, Michael Jackson “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”.

Big Smile :D

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Fashion, Business and Bad Ideas

There’s a running theme of my blogs which indicates that I’m not really a big fan of “fashion” and today’s episode doesn’t break the tradition. I’d compare my relationship with fashion to the behaviour of that of a sine wave...but actually spend time more time troughing than would you draw that mathematically? I don’t know. Anyway.
So, today’s outrageous and bold statement is the following:

Fashion is about business, not ideas.

Contrary to popular belief, fashion is actually quite conservative and doesn’t really embrace new ideas. Conservative. Ironic, isn’t it? What with all those exposed nipples and such you would think that fashion was about being free and liberal etc.

Now let me explain. Have you ever watched a fashion advert and thought “that doesn’t really make sense”? Stop worrying that you’re a philistine and don’t understand it because you’re not cultured enough, it’s not actually supposed to make sense. It IS however, supposed to make you feel something, or connect with something, or make you want to be something, even if those things are shallow and/or dirty...welcome to the business of fashion, or at least, how Elenany sees it.
I recently had the privilege of having a chat with the director of one of the best fashion PR companies in London who told me straight, “Honey, fashion isn’t interested in anything controversial or political or religious, it’s shallow!”.
Ohhhh, so THAT’s why everyone uses sex to sell their products and rely on a celebrity wearing their stuff to raise their profile, rather than the actual quality of the idea of the garment itself. Rather than evolving culture, it just reflects and rides off the credibility of other arts.

Example: remember when Jordan wore Juicy Couture and it got really popular? I mean, come on, velvet tracksuits? What was that all about man?

So how does Islam and Muslims and modesty fit in to an industry that uses sex to sell its products? It would seem that it doesn’t. Or, it would mean the focus of the products would have to be on good product design, that is embraced at a grassroots level. It would mean that the design of the actual garment was paramount, and the marketing aspect was secondary; contradictory to the standard process. And where the marketing aspect was introduced, it would mean that the methods would have to be credible, rather than sexual. Kind of like the stuff that Elenany does. Thank you.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Creatively Retarded

Graffiti style. The universal socially acceptable graphic art form.

I was at an event yesterday which triggered suppressed emotions I have for this style. I saw a lot of people selling t-shirts emblazoned with “Islamic words” in a graffiti font, as if writing it in such a way somehow made it relevant and acceptable to the masses.

Argh! Graffiti! I never understood how something which was predominantly associated with American hip-hop culture had any relevance to my life and more to the point, relevance to me as a Muslim.
It bothered me that this was the graphic identity that young Muslims had adopted to symbolise their culture. It bothered me that they were borrowing someone else’s culture. It bothered me that they weren’t trying to create their own identity, especially since Islamic history has such deep connections with art; beautiful art. As you can see I was quite bothered.

I thought I had dealt with these emotions long ago, but I clearly had not yet had closure. Journey, I journeyed to the ends of the realm of my logical capabilities and explored the possible answers to these questions keeping me awake at night.
I will now share with you the possible answers I came up with on why we don’t seem to have our own identity.

Is there a lack of value for creativity? I know that being of Arab origin I rarely impress any of my family members when I tell them I’m a designer. Most of them say something along the lines of “You should’ve studied something useful, then you could have done your designing in your spare time”. And with my Asian friends parents it’s simply “No, you’re going to study medicine”, or possibly engineering.

Is it because of the negative association of the culture of “innovation”? In Islam, there’s a term for “innovation in religion” called “biddah” which refers to people inventing new things into religious practise. It’s a very bad thing. So is the whole “nature of innovation” frowned upon? Islam is after all, about letting go of your ego.

Or is it because Muslims today haven’t self-actualised? Are we still on the penultimate step on the Maslow Pyramid? Why is this? Why are we embarrassed? Is it because generally religion is frowned upon in the West and we constantly feel like we have to apologise?

......Or, do we for some reason just like how graffiti looks and I’m thinking about this way too much?
I feel like, we should be forging our own identity. We should be taking elements of our native, adopted and Islamic cultures and creating something beautiful. And I don’t mean graffiti in an arabesque style font. I mean, the kind of stuff that Elenany does :) Thank you.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

I’m not a fashion designer.

There have been malicious rumours circulating in some press lately that I am a fashion designer. Particularly hurtful have been things like that I’m inspired by The Catwalk, and mix trends with “hijabi fashion”. I mean, how upsetting. I’d like to clear this up once and for all with the following statement:

I hereby declare that I am not a fashion designer.

I never have been. I’m not interested in fashion. One time when I started out I tried to convince myself that I was really into shoes, but I just couldn’t sustain the lie for very long at all.
But I design clothes, right? Yeah, but I am a product designer who designs products, and my products just happen to be clothes. Look, I studied Engineering Product Design, not to brag that I can do engineering or anything, rather, to illustrate the point that there is a very practical/ pragmatic approach to my clothes design. The reason why I started the label was to provide very wearable products, that could work within a context relevant to the culture “Western Muslims” lived in and still be covered up and modest. I really could not care less about fashion-y fashion or what The Saturdays are wearing or what the latest gimmick to grace The Catwalk is. Really. Seriously. Believe me.

I think the most cutting of comments is that I’m inspired by the latest trends. How insulting. To imply that my work will only be good for one particular 6-month season is really hurtful. Nay, my clothes can be worn this season, next season, so last season. In other words Elenany clothes are timeless. Good design is timeless.

But in all seriousness I think it’s the reactions to expressions such as “Muslim fashion” which sparks the most interesting debate. It’s by and large the opinion that Muslim and fashion are contradictory terms which I would agree with, but going with the definition that “fashion” is showy and attention grabbing by its very nature. I therefore hope with the explanation of the ethos of my brand above, that’s not how I roll, at all. The more interesting reaction is “why do we (the Muslims) want to fit in and be a part of mainstream society?”. That’s the real debate. Start talking.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Religion, Politics and……Design?

It’s probably a couple of weeks too late to be talking about politics. A bit irresponsible of me really, what with my 6 blog followers, I’m obviously influential enough to have made the difference in deciding the outcome of the election.

Why am I even talking about politics on a design blog? Because politics is important to me as a designer. Why so? Because politics is about life and the way I design things is a product of my life.
Design makes the world better and easier. It improves the way people live their lives. It simplifies things. It is at the service of the people. It brings people together. It breaks barriers. It makes the world smaller. Proper design anyway, not showy design which only serves to make the “designer” some cash.
As a designer I need to be intuitive in order to assess everyday problems and find ways of finding solutions to these problems. I need to have an open mind, a free mind, an independent mind. And be creative, obviously. I also need an environment where I can be subject to these conditions. And what does politics do except dictate the conditions which I live under.

………So which system allows me these conditions? Capitalism makes me a slave to materialism; it therefore contradicts my right to be free.
Where does this leave me? Somewhere on the Left….Most good designers and fair people are.

Let me complain a bit more about capitalism and its followers. Thanks.
I think most people who vote conservative consider themselves to be “hard working and good people”. I however, would generally consider them to be “ordinary people”. To be good, implies that you are doing something extra-ordinary. Like, for example, not just doing the ordinary instinctive thing and caring about yourself; but caring for others to an equal extent.
I think that capitalism/materialism encourages us to own things which we think will make us happy. Anyone who has ever travelled to a poor country and has seen that people can be happy without nice cars and that they treat each other with kindness will understand that people don’t actually need nice things to be happy. Likewise, anyone who has ever met someone with a crazy amount of money and is unhappy and unfulfilled will realise the same thing. I believe life is like design. The best kind of design, is simple design. It’s about taking out the superfluous crap that doesn’t need to be there. And capitalism encourages us to strive for superfluous crap. And be competitive for this crap and not like each other in the process of attaining it.

So now let me talk about the Left. I think that Islam is basically socialism but with God and rules. It puts the well-being of the people above the well-being of the individual. It allows me to express myself and be relaxed and open in doing so. It means I don’t feel that I am less than someone just because they own more things than I do. It allows me to feel safe around other people. It provides the environment I need to feel free and therefore be a good designer. This is why politics is important to me.

So to say I am disappointed that Cameron is our new Prime Minister would be a gross understatement. Cameron and his party philosophy are only good for him and his rich friends and setting the bar at the height of being like him and his rich friends.
Like design, I think that life should be inclusive; for all.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The final chapter. For now.

Now safely back in the UK I conclude my Indonesia blog with my overall impressions of this enchanted country. I have gathered my thoughts on varying elements and present them to in three sections: People culture, Tradition culture and Fashion culture.

People culture:
Indonesians are one of the most laid back, polite and friendly people I have ever met. You don’t get a feeling of social hierarchy there. We met quite a lot of important people and yet they never made us feel like we owed them anything, or that we had to kiss their asses. The Indonesians don’t stare at you for being a foreigner. They show love. This might be because Indonesia has been occupied, invaded and visited (by the Dutch, Japanese, Arabs etc etc etc) so many times over the years, new cultures don’t phase them….Each culture that has come has left its mark without the Indonesians being resentful about it, be it in art, religion or whatever. One of our tour co-ordinators said that he spends he holidays travelling around the islands of Indonesia staying each night with a different family, who he doesn’t know, who invite him in. That’s pretty cool. Such is the people culture in Indonesia.

Tradition Culture.
Tradition and heritage is alive and strong and celebrated. There is Batik everywhere. Both young and old people wear it and are inspired by it. There is a story behind each design and there are thousands of designs. That’s a lot of stories.
The food is……nothing like I’ve ever tasted before……If I were to describe Indonesian food using music, I would say it was like Aphex Twin……
There are also many other traditions which have been preserved and are practised on a daily basis whose product’s largely provide the domestic market such as wood carving, weaving and art using natural elements…like bones for example.

The "Singing Fish" dish and a worker at a weaving machine

Fashion Culture.
Fashion isn’t really that “big” in Indonesia but it is growing. While we were there, people kept asking us how we could export Indonesian fashion to The West, for commercial reasons of course. Indonesian products might be too traditional for Western tastes how they stand but careful/sensitive collaboration between the two cultures can potentially create something beautiful. You would just need the right designer. And that’s where I come in.

Imran getting papped and a cool piece of Batik

I hope you have enjoyed my blog. I might start blogging properly now if/when I have interesting stuff to share.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Return to Jakarta

“What’s the name of the hotel we’re staying in again? Is it The Sultan or The Turban?” –May Cortazzi; genius.
Just arrived in Jakarta from Solo, after a very dodgy flight. So dodgy in fact, that the girl three seats next to me puked from the landing.

Solo was such a cool place (not as cool as Bandung though). This afternoon we had lunch at Madam Obin’s house, she’s kind of like an Indonesian Vivienne Westwood: completely bonkers and really influential in the cloth world. She also had a workshop next to her house which was awesome, you felt like the workers enjoyed coming to work.

Lunch at Madam Obin's. See her wonderful work

We also got our first taste of some “real Indonesia” –we’ve been pretty sheltered so far with staying in nice hotels and eating in fancy restaurants….we went to a real market for real people.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

From Bandung to Solo and MANGOSTEEEEEEEN!

Today we went round the Mayor of Solo’s house and we ate and he put on a fashion show especially for us and we did a mini tour of his palace. He looked a bit like Obama.

Yesterday in Bandung, I finally tasted my beautiful mangosteen! Although I got a bag full I accidentally left it in the fridge in the hotel so I’m back to square one. But check out the precious below.

I’m really gutted I didn’t take more pictures of Bandung, the camera on my battery ran out. It is so beautiful and one day I want to live there. It’s also a very hip town with a strong youth urban culture. My stuff would go down a treat ‘round these parts.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Farewell Jakarta

Another awesome day spent learning about the “Indonesian Muslim Fashion Scene”. Bare peeps want to hook up with me, it’s exciting!! It’s our last day in Jakarta today, tomorrow we go to Bandung where apparently both the weather and the people are cooler.
Today we spent some time discussing stuff at BINUS university, the best business school in Indonesia. Tomorrow I post pictures, but today you enjoy the ones below.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Dear Diary,

Sorry for not staying in touch like I said I would, it has been an intense and immense past three days. Everything is cool: the Indonesians, the weather, the food, but especially the Indonesians who are possibly the friendliest and most welcoming people I have come across. The hotel we’re staying courtesy of Femina Group is so luxurious there is a man who plays a Grand Piano in the lobby wearing a tux, but I’m not taking pictures of him or of the waterfall, or the 40” Plasma in my room because that’ll make me look really poor.
By the way I forgot to mention in the body of the first blog that you can check out the other contestants May, Justin, Imran and Susi here Check out their work too, it’s good stuff.
Still no sign of mangosteen after the third day, apparently it’s not in season, but we have been sampling other strange fruits, like Snake fruit, which May said tasted like “dry apple and hairspray” (it’s in the pic below). I personally thought it was more pineapple and hairspray.
We have done a LOT of eating. People keep feeding us. Relentlessly. Every day. Every meal. The Indonesians have made us feel really special.
I’ve only managed to spot some local birds but they were so quick I couldn’t snap them. Going more rural to Bandung on Saturday so hopefully I’ll see more exotic ones.
Check out some of the highlights below……until then, lots of love, talk soon xxx

Fig 1: Highlights Medley

Clockwise from left: Snake fruit, May tries Batik, a garden someplace, Imran in an elaborate hat by young indonesian designer , eating session, traditional batik fabric.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Elenany is going places. Literally.

Hello viewers and welcome to the first ever entry of my blog. I have been shortlisted for the British Council's Young Fashion Entrepreneur of the Year for Elenany which means I get to go to Indonesia. I leave tomorrow. I'm well excited!
The trip is a tour of the Indonesian fashion industry which, amongst other things, will see me schmoozing, liaising and collaborating with Indonesia's finest in fashion. I'll be reporting on a regular basis (hopefully daily) on the wonderful things I do and people I meet so hopefully you will join me on my industry exploration adventure.

Other things I am also looking forward to in Indonesia:
I'd like to state at this point that I am an extreme bird fancier and will be on the lookout for Indonesia's tropical birds.
Mangosteen. A magical fruit native to Indonesia, I will be eating several of these every day, even if it makes me sick. One time I ate 9 Alphonso mangoes in a day. And it made me sick.
I am also hoping to be inspired by Indonesian Islamic was a trip to Morocco a few years back which ignited my love for Islamic graphics -so I wonder what marvellous things Indonesia will show me...