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the coexistence and emergence of different local fashion genres

Posted Mar 24 2013 3:09pm

“Islamic chic,” locally produced

Western “chic,” and so-called “ethnic chic,” all of which have emerged

in parallel to imported Western fashions, which have a long tradition

in Egypt. These new trends are interpreted as part and parcel of the

processes of globalization.



GULI Spring/Summer 2012 Collection - Runway

Written a century ago, Georg Simmel’s work on fashion remains

one of the most inspiring works on the issue. Simmel saw that fashion

entailed a paradox, a tension between the opposing poles of uniformity

and imitation, and of the individual and the social. Fashion as imitation.

Shifting Landscapes of Fashion in Contemporary Egypt 283

The popular market of Bulaq.

Photograph: Mona Abaza.

or rather as a “charming imitation” fulfills the role of social adaptation.

But it also provides a feeling of differentiation and dissimilarity.

According to Simmel, imported fashion has high value because by

definition it comes from somewhere else and is therefore a rare good.

Some aspects of Simmel’s observations are still valid for today’s Egypt.^

The fact that imported clothes have often been clear-cut status markers

dates back to as early as the beginning of the twentieth century owing

to the large number of foreign women who “played a key role in fashion

transmission providing journals, patterns and stores” (Micklewright in

Russell 2004: 30). Travel guides written during the first two decades of

the last century, state that Cairo competed admirably in the realm of

fashion with any European capital. In other words, demonstrating one’s

social distinction through wearing Chanel, Dior, and Cardin designs

and through an obsession with ‘”griffe” (branded) items has been an

important practice for generations of upper-class Egyptian women

and continues to persist today. One important aspect of conspicuous

consumption of this sort consisted of boasting of travel to Paris, Milan

or Rome every year, if not twice a year, specifically for the purpose of

purchasing the latest fashions. This is still the practice amongst rich

Egyptians, even today.

Pierre Bourdieu discussed fashion from the perspective of the

“sociology of intellectual production.” He looked at the competing

forces in the structure of the “field of production” in Erench haute

couture. For Bourdieu the dominant actors are the ones who have the

power to constitute the so-called scarce and rare objects by means of

the “griffe” (1980: 197-8). He analyzed their strategies of conservation

284 Mona Abaza

as well as the strategies of subversion, by which newcomers respond

to these. Bourdieu reminds us that what is at stake are the dialectics

of pretentiousness and social distinction that generate transformations

in both the fields of production and consumption. Bourdieu’s analysis

is very applicable to Egypt, with its ascending competing agents, who

aspire to promote differing and counter-current trends in fashion.

What is striking about the current fashion scene in Egypt is the

extraordinary variety of different fashions that coexist in the same

streets, especially among the youth. Some would interpret this as a

dissonance of tastes; others might see it as a case of “anything goes.”

Some women look fashionable and sexy, wearing bright colors, tight

jeans, lipstick, makeup, and tight or short skirts.

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