Forget the miniskirt, this website offers luxury fashion for modest dressers

E-commerce entrepreneur Ghizlan Guenez spotted a luxury niche and launched The Modist, a website offering top labels such as Marni and Alberta Ferretti to women who prefer to show style, not skin

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 April, 2017, 4:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 April, 2017, 8:36pm

E-commerce entrepreneur Ghizlan Guenez was raised in Algiers, Beirut, London and Dubai and knows the difficulty of buying fashionable clothes that don’t offend one’s modesty.“It is an experience and a frustration that I’ve seen for as long as I can remember,” she says.

Brought up in an all-female household, half of whom dressed modestly, she watched them go through the frustration of trying to find fashion that fitted their culture and lifestyle. Buying clothes was a time-consuming experience that often entailed altering or layering pieces.

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Guenez spotted an opportunity and on International Women’s Day, March 8, this year she launched a website for women who prefer to dress modestly.

The Modist sells top labels such as Marni, Alberta Ferretti, Mary Katrantzou and Christopher Kane, and aims to take the pain out of shopping for those who prefer a more covered-up look – and not just for religious reasons. There are no miniskirts or lacy gowns. “If it’s not relevant to her then it is not on the site,” says Guenez. “We want to make the shopping experience more fun, as opposed to frustrating.”

Self-funded by Guenez, the curated site also offers advice on styling, assembled by an experienced team which includes Lisa Bridgett, who was global sales and marketing director at Net-a-Porter, and Sasha Sarokin, who was global buying manager with the same e-commerce giant.

The market for modest fashion is projected to reach US$484 billion by 2019. Guenez recognised that there was nobody addressing it from a luxury perspective, ”so to me it was a no-brainer to go e-commerce”.

She expects 50 per cent of the site’s business to come from customers in the Middle East, but Guenez says The Modist is not serving followers of a particular religion.

“We are picking a fashion point of view and understanding the needs of women who want to dress in a demure way in a professional field, or are of a certain age and feel it is more appropriate and elegant to dress in a certain way.” She believes dressing modestly straddles ethnicities, cultures and religions, a point of view validated by the first few weeks of the website’s operation, which saw customers from Singapore to London, and the Gulf region, using it to shop.

Fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana recently showed its second abaya collection, featuring some of the idiosyncratic tulip, majolica tile and banana tree prints from its main fashion line. Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab is filming the second season of TV show Project Runway Middle East, which he fronts, and the international catwalks have witnessed their first hijab-wearing model.

Somali-American Salima Aden modelled for MaxMara, Alberta Ferretti and Kanye West’s Yeezy collection at New York Fashion Week. The 19-year-old told Business of Fashion, “I wanted to spread a positive message about beauty and diversity, and to show other young Muslim women that there is room for them.”

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Coinciding with The Modist launch was the debut of Vogue Arabia magazine. Supermodel Gigi Hadid, whose father, Mohammed Hadid, is Palestinian-American, caused a sensation with her cover photo in which she is partially veiled. Some on social media accused Hadid of using the hijab as a fashion statement, while others suggested she was taking advantage of her Palestinian roots for the shoot, despite not having publicly spoken about them before.

Vogue Arabia, says Mohieb Dahabieh, the magazine’s special projects editor, “is documenting and shedding a light on the very important changes in the Arab fashion world. Other magazines have looked to what is happening in the West and no one cared about documenting what is happening here.”

In mitigation, he points out that Arabs and others who have felt the economic and political turmoil of recent years have always looked to the West for validation, “but at least when it comes to fashion Vogue Arabia starts from the inside and that is great for local readers”.

Guenez says: “It is a great time for the Middle East to shine. Vogue Arabia is going to be a beautiful tool to promote what’s in the Middle East.” Dubai already has a young designers forum, Fashion Forward Dubai, that is promoted at Paris Fashion Week, and apart from international names, The Modist will include local talent such as Madiyah Al Sharqi.

“We will bring in young talents that are strong enough for us to nurture and sit beautifully side by side with our established designers,” Guenez says.