DUBAI: “Formal + strict sneakers” – that was the dress code on Tamila Kochkarova’s wedding invitation last year. “I wore a pair of Nike Air Max 98 that were all white,” the Uzbek photographer and sneaker collector, who has lied in Dubai for the past 16 years, told Arab News. “My number one priority on my wedding day was my comfort.”
Once considered a niche and alternative in the region, the sneaker style has now gone mainstream and is gaining popularity with Middle Eastern women – a demographic that stereotypically spits on luxurious attire with ornate embellishments, paired with shoes that are a little more ‘ ladylike ‘are sneakers.
But while glamor has historically been the driving force behind fashion, comfort now has a major influence on style movements, especially two of the most popular in this region: modest fashion and sneaker culture. Both contributed to Kochkarova’s personal style.
“I got into sneaker culture when I was young, around 12 or 13,” she says. “I just started hanging out weekly at Dubai Festival City at the skate park there, and my friends were all skateboarders who really liked sneakers.”
Today, skaters aren’t the only ones to buy the trend of clunky, colorful sneakers. Female ‘sneakerheads’ have become influencers on social media, and a number of them also happen to dress in skin-covering clothing. Instagram is now buzzing with modest fashion bloggers – early images of these women were on the more traditionally feminine side – elegant dresses and flowy maxi dresses and skirts, with fabrics fluttering over slingback heels, strappy stilettos and the occasional ballerina. But a new wave of sneakerhead hijabis sheds light on an alternative kind of modest fashion.
Striking architectural backdrops, sharp angles, avant-garde poses and a clear focus on bold – and often rare – sneakers, including limited-edition Nike Air Max, Jordan and Air Force One styles, are hallmarks of trending images in the humble way blogosphere. Born and raised in Dubai and now living in Canada, Su’aad Hassan has more than 18,000 followers on Instagram. Her outfits include light tracksuits, plaid blazers, denim jackets, bucket hats, silk scarves, retro sunglasses and a range of sporty footwear. “I think modest fashion and sneaker culture go hand in hand, because modest fashion as a whole is a push against the social norm,” she explains.
Modesty is currently dominating the runways and sneakers are also in vogue and are produced by brands like Gucci, Balenciaga and even Christian Dior, the quintessentially ‘ladylike’ French fashion house that recently teamed up with Nike on an exclusive pair of Dior logo stamped Air Jordans . But both subcultures had been banned from mainstream fashion for years. Even in the Middle East, where modest fashion is more common, covering up wasn’t always considered trendy for young women, Hassan explains.
“Whether you observe the hijab or not, dressing modestly in the Middle East, especially in the last few years, is not the cultural norm that everyone thinks it is,” she says. “To be able to dress the way you want and to express yourself as authentically as possible – choosing yourself and your comfort above someone else’s expectations – requires a level of comfort with your identity, and this ties in with overall comfort in dress and appearance. . Sneakers make this so easy. “
Femininity has long been synonymous with high-heeled shoes. Louboutin – rather than Reebok or Adidas – is the brand of choice for glamor-loving women, especially in the Middle East. But Athleisure and sports luxury trends in mainstream fashion have helped popularize streetwear and sporty footwear, and today women in the region pair clunky sneakers with their abayas, flowy maxi dresses and stylish tracksuits – an eclectic mix of sartorial standards, with space for a range of personal styles that are not necessarily in keeping with tradition.
“Women, especially nowadays in the Arab world, have completely renewed the term ‘femininity’. It’s by our own rules – we can wear a dress with a pair of sneakers and feel very, very feminine. We don’t have to wear six-inch heels to feel like a woman, ”says Kochkarova, who is in the process of launching a website – noboysallowed.ae – dedicated to female sneakerheads from the Arab world. The site, she says, will spotlight muses from the Middle East or from the Middle East and abroad through creative photo shoots and illuminating interviews, forming an online community celebrating women and their coveted sneakers.
Joshua Cox, co-founder of Sole DXB – the Middle East’s largest sneaker, streetwear and lifestyle fair – says sneaker culture would be ‘incomplete’ without women, and that labels are now paying extra attention to this target audience.
“Our turnout has always been fairly consistent, with women making up half of our audience, but it is only in the last three years that we have seen brands in the region expand and improve their offering to women,” he says.
Brands now also work with creatives who identify with both modest fashion and sneaker culture. For example, Reebok, ahead of Sole DXB 2019, Sharjah-based Sudanese graphic designer Rihab Nubi recruited Nubi for his digital campaign to promote pieces from the Reebok by Pyer Moss Collection 3. Nubi wore top-and-pants with a dramatic, pleated , silhouette combined with sturdy black, yellow and salmon-colored shoes from the collection and an off-white headscarf.
While religion is certainly a driver for women who dress modestly in the region, it isn’t the only reason women are drawn to conservative austerity. Many, inspired by the appeal of covering your body, rather than being pressured to show it off, have begun to dress more modestly without even realizing that their clothes could be labeled ‘modest fashion’.
“It wasn’t that I was getting dressed to try to be modest, it’s just the kind of clothes that I just happen to be comfortable in. I never liked revealing too much,” says Kochkarova of her signature loose skirts and oversized shirts. . She adds that her favorite element of modest fashion is creative and experimental layering: “I’ve been deeply influenced by fashion in Japan, especially after two visits last year, and they do it regularly.” She also finds inspiration in the emerging sneaker culture in Saudi Arabia. “These children in Saudi Arabia are insanely creative – they are so underrated,” she says, citing Jawaher from @fashionizmything and Riyadh-based photographer Hayat Osamah as examples.
The ambitions and aesthetics that drive these women’s personal styles are unique and diverse, but it is clear that comfort and practicality reign in the humble fashion and sneaker-style subcultures, which are re-imagining what an enlightened and empowered woman looks like. can see.
“What we can see as observers … is that women choose to use sneaker culture for self-expression. They don’t respond to stereotypes about femininity, ”says Cox. “Bringing together modest fashion and sneaker culture, they make it their own and contribute as much to the culture as they take away from it.”