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Oman rings the changes.

Oman's first fashion show was held in Muscat recently. The theme was to introduce designs which maintained the identity and originality of traditional costumes while catering for contemporary tastes in colour and fabric.

The black abbaya or cloak worn in the Middle East has become almost symbolic of Arab womanhood for many in the West. But is it a symbol women of the region would have adopted for themselves? Certainly modest, undoubtedly discreet, the black abbaya has at the same time a universal sameness which robs the wearer of any real form of self expression.

Omani fashion designer, Kifah Dadiq Abduwani, is out to change the way women in the sultanate regard this essential part of their wardrobe. And if the audience at her latest show, which included members of ruling families from around the Gulf, are representative of general opinion, Omani women may soon be ringing fashion changes around the region.

The fashion show which was held at Muscat's opulent Al Bustan Palace Hotel featured 17 local, amateur models, who took to the catwalk to display Abduwani's spectacular designs, based on the theme of blending traditional and modern and to magnificent effect.

"The object is not to bring about any drastic changes in the original clothes. What I have attempted to do is ... by changing the fabric quality, colour combinations and so on." The designer feels the black abbaya is unsuitable for Oman's climate. "We have good quality fabrics which are more appropriate than the traditional silk. For example, voile, the light cotton materials is much more practical and within the reach of all Omani women," she noted.

Long before the prevalent fashion of wearing black abbayas Omani women wore the brightly coloured shadir. This traditional headdress cum cloak featured prominently in Abduwani's designs.

A selection of costumes representing the individuality of each of Oman's regions along with a selection of abbayas for day and evening wear, some inspired by traditional geometric designs, some Bedouin inspired designs, others by the colour and movement of the sea and the desert sands, delighted the sophisticated, international audience at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel. The clothes were complemented by a selection of magnificent traditional Omani jewellery. Indeed, a number of Western journalists were heard to remark that they had never seen so much precious metal gathered under one roof.

The final presentation was of a selection of stunning wedding gowns inspired by regional and traditional patterns and designs.

Each of Abduwani's designs struck a balance between the old and the new, a blend of ancient and modern. But always, even in the more simple designs, there was an impression of elegance, in the billowing of a well-cut abbaya or the intricate beading on a pair of leggings that made some Western fashions such as hot pants or the mini skirt seem tacky and ridiculous. As Abduwani points out, the basic designs she uses have been around for many years, her unique contribution has been in updating concepts and injecting, in an extraordinarily inventive way, a range of spectacular colour schemes.

Oman's souqs are a riot of colour. Silks and satins, embroidered in bold, bright colours, make a nonsense out of a sea of black abbayas from which hennaed hands emerge to examine the exotic merchandise on display.

If Kifah Sadiq Abduwani has her way, the sultanate's streets will soon present the same colourful canvas as Omani women throw off their melancholy black in favour of designs and colours which better reflect the modern, mellow ambiance of Oman in the 1990s.
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Title Annotation:Mosaic; first fashion show in Oman
Author:Lancaster, Pat
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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