France May Be Planning Burka Ban, Fashion World Has Mixed Feelings

June 24, 2009 • Magazine

French President Nicholas Sarkozy at Versailles to discuss the legislation of banning burkas in France

A plan announced yesterday that the French government is actually considering to ban a traditional Islamic garment, the burka, created a stir which touched every end of the globe. French President Nicholas Sarkozy stated on Monday that the burka, which covers a woman's entire body and sometimes her face, is "unwelcome" in France. Under the country's tradition of laicité (complete separation of religion
and the state), the country’s National Assembly said yesterday it has created a commission of 32 deputies to decide
whether women should be allowed to wear burkas. Their report, expected
within six months, could ultimately lead to it being banned in public. Do they not have anything better to do?!! Obviously not since a previous movement resulted in abolishing all religious symbols, such as headscarves,
in schools in 2004.

Burka Burkas
Women in traditional burkas

Although the issue involves religious, cultural, and political themes, one of the most directly involved is the luxury industry, and many fashion designers and retail companies alike opened up with their takes on the issue. Fashion and beauty director for upscale British retailer Harrods, Marigay McKee, thinks the ban would be a major, and seemingly offensive mistake for much of the shop's clientele. "At Harrods, we believe people should have freedom of a choice," she said. "It’s a
religious garment that for a lot of people is sacred…and it’s quite
dangerous to become involved in the political angle of it.” One would think France would be more mindful of it's own diversity, especially since many French businesses, such as couture labels and luxury hotels, are either frequented or owned by Arabs.

Sarkozy's is attempting to surround his argument with themes of subservience and submission, claiming "We cannot accept to have in our country women imprisoned behind
netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity. That is
not the idea that the French Republic has of women’s dignity.” So how about giving them the dignity of wearing whatever they like? Is it truly bothering the French government if French women or tourists are adhering to the customs they grew up within their own culture? Lebanese designer Elie Saab agrees with the common school of thought to just leave well enough alone. “One should respect the religion and ways of being of others,” he said.
“For me, individuals have the right to total liberty as long as it
doesn’t interfere with others.” Exactly! Other opinions in the fashion world called the potential ban "unnecessary", some claimed it was a woman's "fundamental right" to wear what she wanted and handbag and shoe designer Zufi Alexander explained of her fellow Dubai natives, "It’s like being told you won’t be allowed to wear jeans. It’s their
daily wear. There’s no legitimate reason why women would not be allowed
to wear burkas.”

Lebanese designer Elie Saab believes women should be allowed to wear what they want

Yet some personalities in the fashion industry, Muslim or otherwise, agree with the government's intent and are stating that the ban is long overdue. Armand Hadida, owner of the retailer L’Eclaireur in Paris said, “We abolished slavery more than two centuries ago. I don’t understand
why we are still speaking today about the burka, which diminishes a
woman by making her absent, behind the burka. We want a world that’s
open, not closed, which invites an exchange of knowledge and culture. A
burka is a wall; it’s worse than a prison. It’s a closing off of

Due to the mixture of opinions on the topic, would it not be better for the French government to respect the various backgrounds that people come from in their country and therefore avoid a blanket legislation that will hinder more than it will help? President Obama held a joint press conference with
Sarkozy earlier this month and disagreed with the French President by saying the basic U.S. attitude on the issue is “we’re not
going to tell people what to wear.”

Article Source: WWD
Photo Sources: BBC, fashioninsider

-Alia Rajput

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