Baghdad: Models in designer clothes strutted down a catwalk in front of Baghdad’s high society on Friday for a fashion show that tickled one generation’s nostalgia and filled the next one with hope.
Umm Mustafa and her husband cancelled all their family duties, bought new clothes and spent a whole week preparing for the first edition of the Baghdad Fashion Show.
“The last show we saw was in 1988 at the Palestine hotel,” she said, wearing a burgundy suit with flowery prints and candy floss pink nail varnish assorted to her smartphone cover.
“We love fashion and design… It’s the security situation that has affected everything. There’s development here but no opportunity to show the world,” said her husband, also in his late forties.
Despite Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran, Baghdad in the eighties had a vibrant cultural life and its society was less religiously conservative.
Around 500 people turned out in their best attire to watch 16 young Iraqi women model collections by six home-grown designers Friday as an oriental beat shook the walls of the luxurious Royal Tulip hotel’s gala hall.
Many of the creations were variations on traditional Arab themes, including a collection exploring the chequered keffiyeh pattern in modern urban designs that wowed the crowd.
On the horseshoe catwalk, the dresses were mostly long – there was no winking or lip-pursing at the cameras.
But there was a feeling both backstage and in the audience that the show was making a statement.
“It’s a dream come true. I have been dreaming of something like this for so long,” said Ayman Sultan Hajem, the only man among the six designers showcasing their work.
“I feel I am victorious over myself and over society,” said the 30-year-old from the conservative southern city of Basra, explaining the prejudice he had to overcome when he chose this line of work.
Huddled at the entrance of the changing room backstage, some of the models looked terrified before the show started.
Haneen, a tall 22-year-old, said her mother was the only person among her family and friends who knew she would model for the Baghdad Fashion Show.
“I don’t tell anyone I am a model because no-one accepts this idea… My father thinks I am an employee at a fashion house,” she said.
“People don’t realise that you can risk your life by choosing to be a model,” she told AFP at a rehearsal a few days before the show.
Several of the models who took part in Friday’s show were encouraged to do so by their mothers.
“Iraqi society was like this before. Religious extremism has changed it. In the eighties, people didn’t take such a hard view of these things,” said Thanaa, the mother of one of the models.
More than just a welcome distraction from the conflict and instability that has plagued Iraq for years, some argued the show was an act of resistance.
A hundred miles north along the Tigris, thousands of Iraqi soldiers, policemen and militia fighters were battling the Islamic State group.
The jihadist militants’ offensive in June threatened to split up a country that had barely started recovering from the 2003 US-led invasion, its bloody aftermath and the economic sanctions that preceded it.
Abdelkader Ghassan, a marketing manager for a tourism company with a hipster undercut and a tight crayola blue blazer, is not on the frontline but feels the show contributes to the war effort.