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Fashion as a mission for world peace

Dipti Nair


Fashion is not just clothes or designs. It encases entire cultures and their traditions, and depicts how people live or used to live. It brings people together, and in the hands of someone as creative as Turkish designer Rabia Yalcin, fashion also acts as a bridge unifying cultures and eras.

She was in Doha recently for the launch of 'Reflect your light with Kutnu', her own project, where she has collaborated with the Turkish Exporters Assembly to give a global message of peace and unity. During the launch, she showcased her collection which was all done with Kutnu, a handmade fabric into which is woven the rich history and cultural heritage of Turkey. Her collection brought elements of the past like old embroidery and styles into the present, making it suitable for the modern woman. The project is not just a one-off fashion show but an ongoing peace mission and it was received well by people in Qatar.

Rabia Yalcin may never have learned fashion in a school, but her talent of creating unique styles and designs will amaze you. Coming from a family of tailors and craftsmen, it was only natural that she take an interest in the craft early on. The self-taught designer started taking an interest in clothes and began designing her own dresses at the age of five.

Rabia Yalcin believes that artistic talent is a natural gift and feels she has been blessed with it."An artistic point of view is like the colour of your eyes," she says."You are born with it. And I feel this calling or this urge to share my artistic point of view with everyone."

Yalcin's talent was first recognised on the streets of Turkey in the 1990s, when women would stop her on the roads to admire her dress.

"Strangers would always pull alongside me and ask where I bought my dress or skirt but they would all be my designs. In those days, Muslim women in Turkey and generally in the Middle East did not have many services provided to them. There weren't many options for modest clothes. This was my inspiration, to create something for the traditional Muslim woman with a sense of fashion," she recounted.

Yalcin's foray into the fashion industry was made with an unpretentious show of her first collection at a private club in 1996. The work received high praise and launched her line Rabia Yalçf1'fdn Haute Couture. In no time, she became a darling of the European fashion scene and began designing for prominent international figures in politics, business and entertainment.

Rabia Yalcin ventured into the United States fashion scene with a fund-raising event for Darfur at the New York Fashion Week in 2007. The same year, she held her first solo runway show as part of the New York Couture Week. In 2008, she showed her environmentalist empathy at the New York Couture Week by designing a collection with fabric made out of recycled plastic bottles. This won her the coveted f0'the most innovative designer award' and catapulted her to global fame.

Yalcin credits her global acceptance and success to her respect for different cultures, religions and views of life.

"All through my life and career I have given a lot of respect to people irrespective of their religion or way of life. I believe that mutual respect is the only way to bring peace in the world. I have a very firm stand on my religion and values, but at the same time, I respect other cultures and faiths too, and because of this attitude, I believe, I am respected and accepted wherever I go," she said.

According to her, Islam and fashion are two different concepts but the rules of Islam are not subject to change, so fashion is changing and circling around the rules of Islam. Yalcin feels that the need for a woman to look elegant and beautiful has remained constant over the years. In earlier days, there were not many options for a Muslim woman to dress modestly and still look pretty. But now, there are more ways for a woman to express herself in a modest yet elegant way.

"Fashion is a commercial concept that changes every season but the Islamic laws of a woman covering her body remain unchanged. What I do, is use contemporary elements like fabric and embroidery in my designs to fit the existing Islamic laws, so the modern Muslim woman can look pretty and sophisticated and still be within the rules and regulations of Islam," said Yalcin.

She believes that the use of colours, instead of just black, has triggered acceptance of modest fashion globally. While designing, Yalcin is creating for a courageous and powerful modern Muslim woman.

"Muslim women are prominent everywhere now, be it business or academia. They show themselves more, they are more courageous and this is reflected in their way of dressing too," she said.

Yalcin's designs are not restricted to the modest designs as she designs for women of different cultures and values, but her personal style is to cover herself.

"I did not give up on my femininity when I decided to cover myself," she said."Every woman is beautiful and if she knows she is beautiful and if she is feminine, then she is automatically empowered. Women need to understand that power comes from within and it will be reflected in her style. A woman doesn't have to lose out on her femininity to be powerful. If she is courageous, she can beat the odds and triumph."

Yalcin's journey as a Muslim woman trying to have her own life outside Turkey, hasn't been an easy one and every step was strewn with difficulties and challenges.

"Being a woman makes you knock at a door twice to get it opened. Being a Muslim woman, you have to knock at the door three times to get it opened. During the last 20 years, I have had many setbacks, but I never once asked 'why me'. Every time I fell, I got up with a handful of soil in my hand. Each time, I pick up something from my fall and I say to myself that these experiences will come handy eventually. And they have," she averred.

Yalcin said that all her success has come from courage and respect, courage of conviction and respect for the arts. She doesn't let anyone put her into certain shapes or set limits for her and she wants to give this back to the community.

"I was brought up with these values of giving back to society," says Yalcin."It's a big part of Islam, and in Turkey, we have that sense of community."

Yalcin dreams of starting a design school, where she can impart her knowledge of the arts to the next generation.

"I want children to find their arty side and produce for themselves. The grading system in my school will be based on their courage and the risks they are willing to take to nurture their inborn talent and not just on the quality of their artwork or designs. I have never let anyone grade my artwork and have kept my freedom and that is part of my success. There are certain things that you cannot buy with money, one is courage and another is inborn talent. You have got to have them within you, and this is what I will preach in my design school, and encourage students to open their minds, speak freely and design freely."


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