fashion protests denmark’s full-face veil ban
Reza Etamadi used his MUF10 spring/summer 19 show to “support all women’s freedom of speech and freedom of thought.”
Image courtesy of Copenhagen Fashion Week
After Denmark’s parliament enacted the full-face veil ban in May -- joining France, Austria and Belgium -- Iran-born, Copenhagen-based Reza Etamadi decided to use his Copenhagen Fashion Week platform to join the protest movement against a law that infringes women’s rights to dress as they choose. Days after the law came into force and the first woman was charged and fined, Reza closed his MUF10 spring/summer 19 show of Arabic slogan-infused modest sportswear with niqab-wearing women presented with flowers by models dressed as police officers. This poetic act of resistance was the most-talked about moment of the show season.
“The reactions and the divisions in the population worried me,” Reza exclusively explains over email with i-D. “Politics often splits more than it unifies, and when it comes to our freedom rights, everybody must go on the pitch and challenge “tight” solutions.” In a statement shared post-show, he explained that “no man should be the judge of what a woman chooses to wear.” By enforcing the ban, Danish authorities are violating women’s rights and “the free choice we in the Western world are known for and proud to have,” he added.
Despite its generic wording of “anyone who wears a garment that hides the face in public will be punished with a fine” -- there’s no specific mention of the body-covering burqa or the face-covering niqab -- the legislation has justifiably been seen as being directed at the dress worn by a minority of Muslim women and read as part of a wider anti-immigration movement. It is commonly dubbed the "burqa ban" and with good reason. Marcus Knuth, a Danish MP for Venstre, recently argued that the dress worn by conservative Muslim women was “strongly oppressive”.
So, as protestors took to the streets of Copenhagen in burqas and niqabs (and Boris Johnson, British politics' dangerous buffoon, made his "letter box" remarks), Reza decided to make his own stand, both for the 150 to 200 Muslim women who do wear full-face coverings in Denmark and the wider freedoms and values the law contravenes. “Art and politics do not always mix but when it comes to the point where basic rights and freedoms are restricted, we need to be clear and dare to interfere,” he says. “It’s not only about the women because the ban hits them. Now there is also a general danger of taking our freedom rights lightly, so it affects us all.”
MUF10 describes itself as “a sanctuary for everybody with street in the blood and couture in the heart.” In today's turbulent socio-political climate, the experience of an Iranian-born, Denmark-raised designer working in Copenhagen and making a mark on the global stage is not easy. “It’s no secret that there’s a battle to have representation in the fashion industry. It is not an easy task to work against these structures. I took the lack of privilege and representation as a challenge and not a barrage. It became my motivation and it continues to be. I also believe that the fashion industry shows susceptibility now.” The time for action is now.
So what Reza like readers to take away from his catwalk act of political resistance? “Meet your opposition with a smile, handshake or flower,” he answers. “You open the door for conversations that can change both parties.”