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Stylish diplomacy: The power of modesty

June 2, 2020

reading time: 10 minutes

by Frank Schröder, guest author

Ashley Al Busmait @oalgurg

On the fashion scene of the United Arab Emirates, respect and cross-cultural threads: An interview with Ashley Al Busmait. 

In her own words, she takes on the world one outfit at time: Ashley Al Busmait is a rising Emirati-Mexican fashion tastemaker. Her fashion blog "Mirage d'Ash" is her visual diary and presents her muses, her cultural background and her spin on modest fashion in her city of choice, Dubai.

We had the chance to speak to her about the local fashion industry, her quest to balance elegance and modesty in her work and the taboo for women to be seen on social media.

You are not only an acclaimed influencer, but also a local fashion creative in the UAE. How is the fashion industry evolving right now?

The regional fashion industry is flourishing with emerging designers, photographers, and an overall cool, eclectic mix of creatives. In recent years, there has been a massive transition in the UAE’s young creative scene. Societal themes and sustainable clothing practices are increasingly being explored.

You've created a unique Instagram aesthetic. How did you originally find your way into the fashion world?

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Dubai is home to a young and creative fashion scene. Image: IG @mila.namida

About four years ago, two colleagues suggested the idea of starting a fashion page. I was initially hesitant. It was seen as taboo for a woman to be publicly seen on social media at that time, and I wanted to avoid any negative consequences. Thanks to much encouragement from my friends and parents, and a conscious decision to be brave, I started my fashion page, previously called Desert Vogue and now Ashley Al Busmait. The theme of my Instagram account is centered around my personal journey of self-discovery from an artistic perspective, highlighting the cross-cultural threads that weave us together. 

Was the local fashion scene always so vibrant and multifaceted, or is it a recent development?

The fashion scene in the United Arab Emirates has gone through a massive transition in recent years, with international labels finding a home in the region and the emergence of local talent. I believe the UAE always had a rich fashion scene, but in earlier years it was more private and exclusive due to cultural sensitivities. Nowadays, however, the city flourishes with young talented millennials creating art that echoes a united message that the UAE wants to send to the world: one of tolerance and respect.

In earlier years, the Dubai fashion scene used to be more traditional, private and exclusive. Image: IG @oalgurg

When I think of fashion from the UAE I think of long, luxurious evening wear. But I am sure there must be more trends to discover right now – what is your observation?

Although fashion trends continue to evolve in the UAE, one aspect that remains constant is the regal manner in which women dress. As a melting pot of cultures, the UAE has encouraged cross-cultural exchange and a fusion of aesthetics between Eastern and Western influences. While intricately adorned gowns still make their debut at special functions and events, more modern silhouettes take the lead in daily life.

Ashley Al Busmait
"As a melting pot of cultures, the UAE has encouraged an open dialogue for cross-cultural exchange." Image: IG @moezachour2

Which local designers should we have an eye on for our next trip to Dubai?

There are so many strong emerging local labels, but I do have to say my favorites include Beige Label, a womenswear brand that experiments with voluminous, minimalist shapes. Their collections evoke a feeling of the Romantic era with a modern twist. When it comes to the traditional abaya, the long black cloak, I admire labels such as Slouchyz for their youthful and edgy styling, Bouguessa for introducing a contemporary sleek aesthetic to the former feminine patterns we were used to seeing, and Arwa Banawi for creating androgynous-inspired, impeccably tailored pieces that include statements such as “It’s her Life” gracing the fabrics.

When invited to a wedding or a local festivity, how is it perceived when a Western visitor wears traditional attire?

It is warmly welcomed! Emiratis are one of the most hospitable people, and are always happy to take visitors on an immersive experience – from joining intimate festivities such as weddings or enjoying a traditional Emirati feast, to offering them traditional attire to adorn. When attending an Emirati wedding, one would normally wear an elegant gown with a luxurious abaya gracefully layered on top.

Ashley Al Busmait
"Modesty can be expressed in so many different ways." Images: IG @lensqueendubai @burumbumbum

On your Instagram pictures, you cover your hair not only with a traditional light veil but also with big hats or even with a 90s-style American baseball cap. How is this perceived in the UAE?

The beauty of modesty is that it can be expressed in so many different ways. When I first started my journey in fashion, I wore a traditional veil, the so-called “sheila”. However, as I began experimenting more with my outfits, I discovered so many alternative ways of head coverings that appealed to my personal aesthetic. I was intrigued by dramatic, wide-brimmed hats and intricately patterned scarves.

Tell me more about your cultural concept of modesty. Why do you find it so beautiful?

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"A message not only of beauty, but of power and control." Images: IG @_felinafelina

I have been heavily influenced by the independent and empowered women in my life – both from an Emirati and Mexican background. Their way of modest dressing evoked impeccable elegance. I discovered early on that dressing modestly evokes a certain sense of respect. Most people would assume that the modest theme is derived from the Arab World, but it exists in various cultures and civilizations… And it is being adopted widely in today's world, for it is not merely a way of dress or an extension of religion, but sends a message not only of beauty, but also of power and control. I hope that through my work, I can empower women to celebrate their choices, combat stereotypes, and take on the world one outfit at time. 

Images: IG @oalgrurg, @deepunairphotography, @mila.namida, @moezachour2 

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