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Iraqi Designer's Vision: Covered, Still Sexy

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Renowned Iraqi fashion designer Hana Sadiq has dressed both Queen Noor and Queen Rania of Jordan, as well as members of the royal families of Saudi Arabia.

For the past 25 years, Sadiq has shown her collections throughout the Middle East and Europe. Thursday night, she wraps up her first tour of the United States with an event at Washington, D.C.'s historic Lincoln Theatre. It's called "Turaath — A Celebration of Arab Culture in America," and it's sponsored by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Sadiq trained as a painter. While studying art in Paris, she tells Tell Me More host Michel Martin, she was inspired by memories of her grandmother, who dazzled guests at her home with her style. She entered rooms with grandeur and grace, wearing long flowing dresses with vibrant colors and traditional details. Sadiq thought her grandmother was far more chic than any of the European women she knew.

"I thought, my god, what I'm doing here?" Sadiq says. "I have to teach the women how to be feminine again and sensual as they were before."

Sadiq is known for her intricate designs, featuring detailed embroidery, vibrant colors and traditional calligraphy drawn from Arab culture. Many of her designs feature long, full sleeves and sweeping skirts. She says these elements are not about modesty, but are meant to signal that a woman is pampered, that she isn't dressed for household chores or work.

"It means she is served," Sadiq says, "she's not doing dishes, she's not working in the farm or gardening."

Sadiq's 2011 collection focuses on the idea of love. "All these people, they talk a lot of violence in the world," Sadiq says, "so I went back to the classic way of how we see love."

There are dozens of words in Arabic that mean "love." Sadiq signs each of her designs with one of these words to celebrate love and peace. Her dresses have verses of love poems embroidered on them.

With her first tour of the U.S., Sadiq hopes to show American women a glimpse of Arab fashion that celebrates the culture. She also wants to offer an alternative to the Western conception of glamour. She says fashion in the U.S. finds allure in gowns that leave skin bare, with open shoulders and high slits at the leg.

"But it's not sensual, it's not feminine," Sadiq says. "This is what I want to show them: You can be covered, but also very, very sexy and feminine."

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

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