Designer Brings Muslim Fashion To The Runway

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Nailah Lymus is a 27-year-old aspiring designer who had her first runway show during New York's Fashion Week in September, and she has just had another one.

Lymus began designing jewelry when she was 7, and now has a line of clothing called Amirah Creations. She is a devout Muslim, but her dresses will surprise you.

They are full of color: blues, purples, prints and tapestry woven pieces. Lymus is determined to break down many of the stereotypes about Muslim women — like the assumption that all Muslim women are docile and wear black.

"I like colors and I like flowers, and I like head pieces with feathers coming off of them, and all I do is just put it on top of my hijab instead of putting it on my hair," Lymus says. "I am a woman — I am attracted to those things, so I really want to break down that stereotype."

Amirah Creations takes its inspiration from the 1920s-1950s. The dresses have a lot of flow, "a lot of pouf," and there are "a lot of very playful kind of pieces."

"I'm inspired by that era," she says, "but also, Islamically, it is pretty modest."

The 1950s, Lymus says, was a period where you could be feminine, but you also could be covered. As an African-American designer who lives in Brooklyn and grew up Muslim, Lymus herself wears bright prints and colors, but her head and arms are always covered.

She wants to design apparel that appeals to both Muslim and non-Muslim women, and Lymus says she wants it to be "transitional."

There are other Muslim women designers in New York, but most of them design traditional Muslim garments, like the outer garments known as abayas. There are only a handful who design for all women, she says.

At a fashion show in midtown Manhattan put on by Sonic Eclectic, five designers each have a dozen or so models on the runway. Model Felecia Verna is wearing a vibrant blue evening gown, long but sleeveless, designed by Lymus.

"I feel like a million bucks — I feel like a princess, a queen," Verna says. "She is a designer that everyone needs to look out for."

The host of the runway show announces that the next designer is Amirah Creations. The models walk down the runway to music and cheers. But when you see Lymus' clothes on the models, you realize no modest Muslim woman could wear most of them; there are halter dresses, tube tops, backs that are cut out, and skirts that are shorter than required by modesty. They are clothes that Lymus herself couldn't wear without a little extra something.

But Lymus says she uses a world — "Islamify" — to describe what a Muslim woman would do.

"That means having to throw a blazer on it, or a sweater ... [so] it is modest enough so we can wear it," Lymus says.

Lymus says that her local Muslim community has supported her work. But when you take Islam out of the equation, these dresses are simply classic design.

Lymus has only been designing clothing for five years, As a single mom, she says, she survives month to month. She's also a wardrobe stylist, wardrobe consultant and hair stylist to make ends meet, and she hopes to get more stores and clients buying her designs.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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