ISTANBUL - How can you be stylish without drawing attention to yourself, while thoroughly respecting the guidelines of Islamic fashion?
Since June 2011, the editors of the fashion magazine “Âlâ” have been doling out just those kinds of tips in their glossy monthly dedicated solely to Muslims in Turkey. “It is possible to be glamorous, wear high heels, and be stylish while respecting the values of Islam," says the editor, Esra Sezis, who was hired through Twitter a year ago.
The 24-year-old, who wears an elegant black scarf and many brown tones, admits the task is not easy, given the number of rules governing what women may wear. They include the limited use of colors, skirts and dresses to the ankles, sleeves to the wrists, no cleavage, clothing loose enough so as not to emphasize the female form, and headscarves.
The cover of the magazine's issue No. 8 sets the tone: a young woman with big blue eyes proudly wears a crimson blazer jacket that contrasts with her canary yellow headscarf.
Faced with competition from other women's magazines that sell at least 20,000 copies, Âlâ got off to a very good start, selling 30,000 units per month in Turkey with an additional 5,000 in Germany. “Elle, Vogue, and Marie Claire do not provide fashion answers to conservative women living in Turkey,” says Mehmet Volkan Atay, founder of the magazine.
The magazine's potential is even greater, he explains, as approximately 60% of women in Turkey wear either a traditional scarf worn loosely (ba?örtüsü), a headscarf which leaves no lock of hair uncovered, or a çar?af, the black cloth that covers the whole body.
“Our readers are generally urban, educated and come from relatively privileged backgrounds, just like the readers of Elle, except for their interest in Islam,” says Atay, who founded the business after being inspired by the British magazine Emel, which is also written for Muslim women.
The success of the magazine has surprised everyone in its small editorial office, which does not have professional journalists or fashion experts. “We meet a huge need,” explains Sevda Eskici, a sociologist and member of the editorial team. “Women who wear the headscarf want to know they are not alone. What do they eat? What do they drink? What do they dream of? What are their problems? We are the first ones to be asking them these questions!”
In addition to the fashion pages that feature the works of artists such as Yetim Filiz, Âlâ provides content related to engagements, marriage, education, career, nutrition, psychology and the law, rather than scantily-clad women or gossip pages.
“Being a conservative is much easier today than it was 10 years ago, when we were insulted because we wore the headscarf,” says Sevda Eskici.
Since the conservative Muslim party (AKP) came to power in Turkey in 2002, the Islamic headscarf debate has lost much of its force. The wife of the current Turkish president wears a headscarf, a symbol that has been widely decried by advocates of a strict secular state. Since September 2010, veiled female students have also been allowed to attend classes at universities, a practice which had long been prohibited.
“These women have gained confidence,” confirms Ayse Gul Berktay, a sociologist at Istanbul University. “They are no longer seen as a problem – they're going to class, venturing out of their social circles. They are embracing their individualism. They are also being empowered through fashion.”
More and more, this group is gaining ground against the Kemalist model of a “modern” Turkish woman who does not wear a headscarf. They are also gaining confidence through Turkey's economic boom, even though many still have trouble finding work. As political scientist Dilek Cindoglu notes in a report on “The Scarf and Discrimination,” veiled women are still confined to menial jobs despite their qualifications and continue to be treated as a cheap labor source. Within the pages of Âlâ, these issues are widely debated.
"To have both a career and the three children advised by the Prime Minister is difficult – but possible,” says Eskici.
“We support the emancipation of Muslim women,” adds Atay, whose wife works in a bank. “We want them to lead companies. We should change the men who are far more conservative than the women!”
Read the original article in French
Photo - Âlâ magazine