(NEW YORK) — Among the hundreds of shows during New York’s Fashion Week, the Saturday night presentation for the Ann Nahari label may be the only one in which the models are draped to conceal rather than reveal.
“You can be modest and still be fashion-forward and stay true to your faith,” said Nailah Lymus.
Lymus, 29, is a practicing Muslim and a fashion designer who has found her own way to merge two seemingly incongruous worlds. She designs a line for secular women who desire a little more modesty in their clothing.
Though she is not showing her own creations during Fashion Week, she is producing Saturday’s show for fellow designer Sumiyyah Rasheed, who is showing her upscale plus-size fashion. Lymus incorporated her own modest sensibilities into the entire show, from models wearing artful head wraps to layers of flowing fabric.
But Lymus is not only a designer. She has an agency for which she specifically recruits Muslim women as models.
“These girls have everything — the height, the look. And it’s like a dream deferred because they dress a certain way,” said Lymus. “Muslim women are fashion-forward. We embrace everything that other women do, but we just have certain stipulations.”
That means no tight clothing or exposed cleavage. In fact, no skin can be shown at all except for hands, feet and face. The models’ hair must also be covered. But even the hijabs can be fashion-forward.
Lymus works her design aesthetic into the head coverings and said they can be styled with as much versatility as hair can.
Her modeling company, UnderWraps Agency, has booked runway and print jobs for its three Muslim models, one of whom walking in Saturday’s show.
Before starting the year-old agency, Lymus was careful to check with a few imams and elders in her community, who all agreed that it was an opportunity for fashion to be relatable to Muslims.
She is very selective in which models she signs.
“The models have to be very strong in themselves, confident and strong in conviction,” she said. “It can be tough to mix the secular and faith-based worlds. I don’t want to bring in anyone who’s not strong enough to handle this industry.”
One of those models is Hajer Naili, who was born and raised in Toulouse, France, and now lives in New York City. After Lymus saw her photo on a friend’s Facebook page, she reached out to the 27-year-old.
“I have always been into fashion, but from what I’ve seen so far, as a model you have to show your body,” said Naili. “I’m just not comfortable with that. I follow certain Islamic guidelines and stick with that as much as I can.”
Naili is a full-time journalist who also works as a print model on the side. Naili has done several photo shoots and even appeared in a rap music video wearing a black leather jacket over a long shirt, black jeans and boots. Her hair was wrapped in a turban. Rap singer Tableek wanted to present an image of women that wasn’t sexualized.
Breaking down stereotypes is also partly why Lymus began the modeling agency.
“There’s a thought that Muslim women can’t work or go to school or dress fashionably,” she said. “I want to get rid of that misunderstanding in an inviting forum. This is a positive religion.
“Women can be covered and confident,” she said, “secure and beautiful.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio