Refreshingly (and thankfully), the fashion industry has been using the fall 2017 collections as a platform to make political statements and take a stand for rights and values threatened by the Trump administration, to name just a few: reproductive health, inclusivity, diversity and immigration.
But designer Anniesa Hasibuan, an Indonesian Muslim, made her own statement last year at her New York Fashion Week debut by sending all her models down the runway wearing hijabs — a first at NYFW. Hasibuan's headline-making theme from spring 2017 hits an especially powerful note this season in light of the currently blocked travel ban targeting Muslims from seven Muslim-majority countries. And for fall, she continued her sartorial protest against Islamophobic and xenophobic sentiments and policies in the U.S. by casting an international mix of models who are immigrants, green card holders or first- or second- generation Americans.
It's worth noting that the overall lineup was still pretty, um, white. But the sentiment was there, perhaps to also communicate the Jakarta-based designer's global take on modest fashion, featuring ornate separates that can also be worn by "Western" women who don't adhere to a conservative dress code.
"For me, fashion is an open world. It should be providing opportunities for everybody. So we don't differentiate people," a soft-spoken Hasibuan told Fashionista, via interpreter, backstage before the show. "Diversity is a beautiful value that everybody should embrace."
Hasibuan's fall collection, dubbed "Drama," also grew from a topical and meaningful message of feminism. Specifically, the designer drew from the power she sees within women. "'Drama' is truly inspired by the strength of women," Hasibuan said. "Women are characterized by a very dynamic character with all the sad, happy, complicated moments. But at the end of the day, it's the strength of women that can actually cope with everything and become empowered and rise."
The designer channeled empowerment through her modest collection by showing that conservative dressing doesn't have to be any less dynamic. Full arm coverage offered an opportunity to be creative with layering: a cape with Swarovski crystal epaulets, a paillette-covered poncho and pearl and sequin adornment on blazer cuffs. Hasibuan also played with proportion and shape, by adding twisty belts and pairing voluminous cropped jackets with longline skirts to define the waistline. Like last season, her international cast of models wore hijabs.
While riding the fine line between conservative dress and taking a sartorial risk, Hasibuan's twist on modest fashion can also be a tool to help dispel some people's misconception that Muslim women are oppressed. And it's personal. "I'm here to show the world that Muslim women have a lot of potential. I have passion. I have hobbies. I have something that I love so much to do. And fashion is one of the ways to actually express myself," Hasibuan said. "I hope it will bring more understanding about the real Muslim world and [that] Muslim women are not oppressed and that we are not pretty much [suppressed from] doing things that we love."
She also has high hopes that the fashion industry can continue to take a political stand in this uncertain, if not totally terrifying new political environment.
"I'm pretty sure we can nail it," Hasibuan said confidently. "Fashion is one of the most important means we can use to express [ourselves]. To make political statements. To right the wrong."