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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Fashion and Design

ISRAEL: Bill to ban fur gets fuzzy -- but also gets Pamela Anderson

Furunderground Well, it's not every day that an ultra-Orthodox Jew gets a personal letter from a Playboy cover girl, but in this case there's a perfectly good explanation.

Pamela Anderson, expected to descend on Israel in full glory next week for the new season of the local version of "Dancing With the Stars," is joining the local move to ban fur.

On paper, passing such a bill shouldn't be very hard in Israel, with its hot climate, seriously informal dress code and teeny fur trade. And nearly 80% of the people support the initiative, according to public opinion polls. But when presented last year, the proposed legislation hit an unexpected snag: ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Specifically, their shtreimels. Common among ultra-Orthodox Jews of European descent, the shtreimel -- a hat trimmed with fur -- is worn mostly by married men on the Sabbath, Jewish holidays and festive occasions. Style and other nuances disclose their affiliation, sometimes social and financial standing too.

Some are imported, others manufactured locally using imported fur. Only about 10,000 are made annually worldwide, says one Jerusalem craftsman, and they sell for about $4,000.

"Oy vey, you will be sending thousands of haredim to jail!" lawmaker Menachem Eliezer Moses of the United Torah Judaism faction is said to have exclaimed last year  upon seeing the bill that called for a one-year jail sentence for violators.

The law has sputtered for over a year now, undergoing various incarnations. The original proposal sought to ban the use of fur from cats and dogs. Later expanded to include other furs imported or incorporated into textile, the bill did allow for certain religious use.

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SYRIA: Foreigners' interest in traditional furnishings counteracts weak local demand

Syrian furniture

The rich, dark wood furniture with mother-of-pearl inlay or mosaic decoration is a trademark of Syrian living rooms, luxury boutique hotels and government offices. But now the artisanal furniture from Damascus' traditional markets is increasingly attracting the eye of foreigners.

In the shops on Straight Street, furniture makers are experiencing a rise in exports, fueled by demand predominantly from the Gulf.

Al Moazen is a family outfit whose roots are more than 300 years old. The workshop, at the back of the shop, is abuzz as the handmade items are constructed. Chairs with beige cushions and mirrors surrounded by mosaic clutter the shop. Small tables and chests are stacked high upon one another.

"There is a lot more interest from outside Syria than there was," says Abdullah al-Moazen, the youngest generation to go into the business.

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IRAN: Officials shut European cosmetics firm Oriflame's offices, arrest 5 employees

Iranian security officials shut down the local office of European cosmetics firm Oriflame in northern Tehran over the weekend and arrested employees for alleged illegal activities, including running a pyramid scheme, an Iranian media report and company officials said. Picture 2

Oriflame’s chief financial officer, Gabriel Bennet, told The Times in a phone interview Monday that three full-time employees and two sales consultants had been arrested Sunday at the company's offices in Tehran. Two of the employees are Iranian citizens while the third carries dual Swedish-Iranian citizenship, Bennet said. The two sales consultants are both Iranian citizens.

The charges against the company are vague. The Fars news agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, reported Sunday that the company was shut down because of a judicial decree accusing it of running a pyramid scheme.

Oriflame, a publicly held $1.6-billion cosmetics firm that eschews animal testing and claims to use  natural ingredients, has been operating in Iran for several years. Founded in Sweden in 1967, it is now based in Luxembourg and Switzerland and does business in 62 countries around the world.

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IRAN: In a surprise, hard-liners take on Ahmadinejad for being too lax on 'improper' veiling

Picture 24

Hard-line clerics are gearing up for a fight over how to reverse the trend of "badly veiled women" whose loose or self-styled interpretations of Islamic dress have been deemed improper by authorities.

Their target, believe it or not, is none other than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ultraconservative firebrand.

In a televised interview last week, Ahmadinejad suggested a "cultural campaign" against unsatisfactory veiling rather than the humiliating, unpopular and high-profile police crackdown currently underway.

His comments came weeks after law enforcement agencies stepped up efforts to curb what many within the regime see as a growing threat to the ruling ideology. Babylon & Beyond reported on morality police stopping cars and shutting down stores that sell clothing considered immodest.

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IRAN: Morality police launch crackdown on clothing and hairdos deemed un-Islamic


Iran's puritanical guardians of morality have stepped up their cultural war against those who dress too modern for their tastes, sharpening class and social tensions just two weeks before the anniversary of the nation's disputed presidential elections.

Days after Friday prayer leaders delivered fiery sermons in which they called for a clampdown on women dressing immodestly, morality police squads began cracking down on youngsters sporting figure-hugging outfits or hairdos deemed un-Islamic.

On Saturday, police stopped and checked 30 cars in east Tehran. Some of the vehicles were seized, and owners had to retrieve them from a police parking lot after paying fines, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported.

The news agency also published a series of photos from the first days of this year's annual anti-vice campaign, which  usually falls in the beginning of the summer when people start wearing lighter clothes in hot weather.

Images show young women with tight, colorful short coats and locks of hair showing from beneath their head scarves being stopped by police officers.

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SAUDI ARABIA: Clothier sets record for world's largest Arabic robe


One surefire way to generate buzz in the Middle East, be it for a cause or a company, is to set a world record. From the Israeli-Lebanese hummus wars to the most expensive cellphone number ever sold, Guinness World Records continue to be a source of pride, controversy and, most importantly, publicity.

Last week, Saudi clothing company Lomar made its own buzz when it unveiled the world's largest "thobe," a traditional tunic worn by Saudi men, at the Red Sea Mall in Jeddah.

The garment is 111 feet long, 56 feet across, and weighs 880 pounds, beating the previous record set by a group of Palestinian women in 2009. More than 20 tailors worked for over two months to complete it.

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MUSLIM WORLD: Barbie's 50th anniversary Islamic makeover


From Barbie Beach to Pilot Barbie to Hard Rock Barbie, the glamorous and iconic doll has undergone many makeovers since her creation 50 years ago, but none of her previous outfits has probably stirred as much buzz as her latest Islamic look.

It's Barbie in a burka, as it's been dubbed by the yellow press.

Wearing the traditional Islamic dress with a mesh eyehole, she went under the hammer along with 500 other Barbie dolls dressed in unique outfits at an auction in Florence, Italy, at the renowned auction house Sotheby’s to raise funds for Save the Children. 

The auction, held in late November, was part of the celebrations put on for Barbie this year as she celebrated her 50th anniversary.

In her new look, Barbie also appeared in a line of stylish turquoise, lime-green, orange-colored burkas and regular head-covering Muslim veil, known as hijab.

The set of multicultural Barbies, including the burka-clad one, was dressed by the Italian designer Eliana Lorena in a project backed by Barbie's owner, Mattel.

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TURKEY: An American-style mega mall sprouts in Istanbul


Hüseyin Bürge had a dream.

As the mayor of Istanbul’s Bayrampasa district, he dreamed it would one day be remembered for something more joyful than its notorious prison.

Two weeks ago, his dream became a reality with the opening of Forum Istanbul down the street from the former Bayrampasa Prison. The new mega-mall is branded as Europe’s largest shopping center and probably offers one of the world's most unique mall views -- a grim jail and barbed wire.

“Finally, with this project, my dream has become real,” the Turkish English-language newspaper Hürriyet quoted Bürge as saying at the inauguration of the mall on Nov. 18.

The giant shopping center features hundreds of Turkish and international brands, including Zara and a gigantic IKEA. It's located on a large swath of land, about 5,300 square feet near the center of Istanbul’s European side, and was developed by the company Multi Turkmall with an investment of up to 1 billion euros.

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DUBAI: Now, she can look pious in hijab and cool in her shades

Picture 3

Want to observe Islamic dress code while staying trendy in Dubai and Saudi Arabia’s scorching desert heat? 

Put on a pair of gold encrusted BQ shades --  the world’s first sunglasses especially tailored for piously dressed women in the Persian Gulf.

The brand's name BQ comes  from the word burqa --  a face-covering harness worn by women in the Persian Gulf region in nomadic times. BQ's debut collection features modern replicas of the traditional accessory in the form of large, dark aviator-style sunglasses.

Behind the line is London-based design firm Fitch branch in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It hopes BQ will become a hit among young fashionable women in the region by mixing trends with tradition.

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EGYPT: Nefertiti and the sly archeologist

Her05 What more does one need for a tale of intrigue and desire than a sly German archeologist and the sublime bust of an ancient queen?

Egypt has been pestering Germany for years to return the 3,400-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti. As with many battles over artifacts and history, this one, which crossed deserts, borders and seas, is unresolved. But a recently discovered 1924 paper suggests that cunning and sleight of hand cost Egypt one of its masterpieces.

The existence of the document, reported by the German magazine Der Spiegel, indicates that German archeologist Ludwig Borchardt disguised the bust of the woman with stellar makeup, perfect lips and a headdress that was all the rage in the time of the pyramids.

Egypt’s Al Ahram Weekly picked up on the story, reporting that Borchardt had covered the artwork “with a layer of gypsum to ensure that the committee charged with supervising the distribution of new discoveries between Egypt and foreign mission would not see how beautiful the bust was or realize that it was actually made of exquisitely painted limestone.”

Check out “how deceit won a beautiful woman” and decades worth of hard feelings between two nations.

-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: Queen Nefertiti. Credit: Al Ahram Weekly 

SYRIA: Secret world of sexy women's lingerie


“Look within your culture to discover the unexpected. What it might be hiding from you can give you a shock.”

That is how designer Rana Salam ended a talk about her book of undergarments, “The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie," at American University of Beirut.

"Secret Life" takes readers on a tour of the hidden intimacies and gaudy traditions of an outwardly rather conservative Arab country.

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EGYPT: Not your '70s movie

Men were humming verses from the Koran, gently moving their heads back and forth. Others were murmuring prayers while fumbling with strands of beads to keep count. The scene in Cairo's metro, on my first ride to the office here, was revelatory of the wave of religious fervor that Egypt has known in the last few years.   

Man_reading_koranThe contrast with an Egyptian movie from the 1970s I had seen in Beirut last week was staggering. The film featured women wearing miniskirts and dancing disco extravagantly. It was set at a time when the society in Cairo was embracing modernity and opening up to the West.

But witnessing the crowds of veiled women and bearded men on the metro, that permissive, open Cairo seems a distant recollection. In fact, Cairo does not resemble at all that idyllic image of the glamorous glitzy city we, in the rest of the Arab world, have repeatedly seen on our movie and TV screens.

Another stunning aspect was the characteristic bruise on the forehead of many men here. These marks are supposedly formed by the repeated contact between the forehead and the floor during prayers. These prayer bumps have become like fashion statements and are derisively referred to as "Zebiba," the Arabic word for a raisin.

—Raed Rafei in Cairo

Photo: Man reading the Koran. Credit: AFP


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