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New York Designer Moves Islamic Fashion Forward

"I want women to feel so feminine and glamorous and beautiful," says fashion designer Nzinga Knight.
"I want women to feel so feminine and glamorous and beautiful," says fashion designer Nzinga Knight.
NEW YORK -- Fashion designer Nzinga Knight is in a business that usually leaves little to the imagination.

But in a city where cleavage and short hemlines hold sway, her modest designs have grabbed New York's attention.

Knight is turning on its head any perception that Islamic dress is intended to hide a woman's beauty.

"I want women to feel so feminine and glamorous and beautiful," she says. "And I want them to feel confident when they're wearing the clothes. I want them to feel sensual and sexy, and, you know, all of those things. And I want them to feel comfortable."

Her second and most recent clothing line, which features vibrantly colored, flowing, and often curve-hugging dresses, debuted at New York Fashion Week in September. Her models held their own as they strode alongside more skimpily dressed women.

Knight's parents, who are from Guyana and the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean, converted to Islam after they moved to New York as young adults. She says her style comes out of her Caribbean roots and the "fresh and cosmopolitan" dress of New Yorkers -- not to mention growing up as one of six fashion-savvy sisters.

PHOTO GALLERY: Designs from Knight's first two collections

Her choice to dress modestly -- and design for women with the same values -- is not only about faith.

"I value coverage. I'm informed about it from the point of view of Islam," Knight says, "but I embrace it from my own values about what that actually does for a woman. It elevates her."

A "misconception" about Islamic fashion, she says, is that it is designed only for Muslims. She says her customers come from all faiths and nationalities, and that many of them are luminaries, which makes sense given her clothes' price tags. Blouses and skirts start at $365 and gowns range from $1,200 to $3,500. New York socialites are common customers, Knight says.

Her first collection is sold at high-end stores in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and she says she regularly receives inquires from women in Malaysia, Pakistan, and other Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries.

Acknowledging that the items are too expensive for most women, Knight hopes to create a more affordable line once she is more established. She also hopes to make her clothes more available throughout the Islamic world.

Knight's visionary designs are part of a growing trend.

Muslim designer Barjis Chohan told Britain's "The Guardian" that Islamic fashion represents a $96 billion global industry. A New York modeling agency for Muslim models, called Underwraps, held its first show in September. And Medni Kadyrova, the wife of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, owns her own fashion house that offers modern Islamic designs for Muslim women.

Knight says her mission is personal: to foster a greater respect and appreciation for the female figure.

"These clothes enable that sense of somebody actually looking at you in praise or in awe, as opposed to looking at you as, you know, a piece of meat because they're seeing all your skin," she says.

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