A Life in Monochrome

Abayaabaya
 n. a full length, sleeveless outer garment worn by Arabs.
< ORIGIN> mid 19th century: from Arabic ‘abãya
– Oxford Dictionary of English –

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A flock of black birds swoop through the automatic doors of the mall that part with a hiss at their commanding presence. Laughter floats through the air. Formless, flowing black robes cover sun-shy flesh and feminine curves. Black veils are pulled close to cover faces where carmine lips move in excited chatter. Gucci, Fendi and Birkin handbags are slung casually over shoulders or forearms to free up hands that clutch mobile phones. They glide into shops, scatter briefly to touch and look, before they move on again as a flock. Fabric rustles against skin. The mysterious scent of the Orient follows in their wake.

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“. . . say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.” Qur’an 24:30-31

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The sky glows red as darkness approaches. It is a time for families to gather. Many are drawn to the beach. Children run to meet the gentle lapping of waves. Fathers in crisp white kandouras follow at a distance; their hawk eyes guarding their young. Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters take their shoes off for a leisurely stroll. Their feet sink into soft sand. A slight figure walks into the lukewarm water of the Arabian Gulf. Her abaya an inky black jelly fish.

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“Modesty and style are the essence of the HESSEH collection. The subtle elegance, femininity and simplicity of the Abaya are constantly revamped to offer women an exploration and development of the original form of the garment.” – Hessa Al Obaidli owner and designer of Hesseh Abaya Haute Couture and Blackberry Brand Ambassador for the Middle East

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“O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters, and the believing women, to cover themselves with a loose garment. They will thus be recognised and no harm will come to them.” Qur’an 33:59

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Abaya shops and tailors line the narrow streets where bright white lights beckon shoppers to enter. Reams of fabric tumble down shelves – silk, crepe, georgette, chiffon, velvet. Pitch-black, coal-black, jet-black, midnight-black. Ready-made abayas line shop fronts, showcasing different styles. Square, straight, flared, pleated, split, fitted, ruffled, dolman, three-quarter, raglan, balloon, or bell-shaped sleeves are on offer. Embroidery can be handmade, machine made, black, colourful, intricate or simple. Swarovski crystals, pearls, beads and gold thread can be added. The choices are infinite.

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“The Effa ‘Abaya Couture’ line is designed for the independent, active and modern woman that wants her abaya to reflect her personality whilst keeping her cultural identity. Coined by some as the ‘little black dress’ of the Middle East, there is an Effa Abaya to take you from work to play and evening with effortless style.” – http://www.effa.ae

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The gurgle of a shisha pipe is the only sound in the empty café. Scarlet lips curl around the mouth piece. The scent of crisp apples drifts lazily through the humid air. A lone figure in a modest abaya, hide behind over-sized sunglasses – a mask of anonymity.

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“The label’s philosophy lies in every piece articulating simplicity, sophistication and most importantly, individuality.” – Abaya Couture

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In the cool of the evening groups of men, women, and families gather on the green grass of the Corniche for picnics. Blankets and chairs form loose circles of warmth and friendship. Grandmothers wearing metallic-looking burqas (masks), giving them an air of mystery, join granddaughters with loosely wrapped sheilas or shawls, over their heads that expose snatches of dark hair. The shrill voices of children playing fill the night. A feast of food is laid out to celebrate life.

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“Today, loose, fitted, coloured, embroidered, bejewelled or just black, the abaya has become more of a fashion accessory. And whereas no one can deny that it’s become part of the Emirati culture for women, I think it’s fair to say that in most cases it doesn’t serve the purpose it was intended for. The abaya is no longer synonymous with anonymity and humility.” – Fatima Al Shamsi

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People turn their heads as a tall figure walks past. Her abaya isn’t sweeping the floor as most do. It has slits revealing cerise skinny jeans and Christian Louboutin shoes.

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