On Saturday, March 14, 2015, the Iraqi city of Baghdad hosted its first fashion show in over 25 years. The festivities took place at the beautiful Royal Tulip Hotel, known to Iraqis as "Rasheed". Over 500 people gathered to watch 16 young Iragi female models showcase designs by six homegrown designers.
The collections were largely plays on traditional Middle Eastern themes and dress but many displayed a glamorous edge with nods to luxury fashion and other Western details that are not typically accepted in modern Iraqi society.
The last fashion show in Baghdad was held at the Palestine Hotel in 1988. While just a couple decades old, this seems like worlds away. Iraq in the 1980s was a very different place. Despite an 8 year war with Iran, Baghdad during this time was a vibrant, cultural hub. It was much less socially and religiously conservative and artistic freedom, especially for women, was much more accepted. Unfortunately that has changed over the years and extremism now dominates much of Iraq's society.
However, on this day, it felt like the old times. Five out of the six designers were women and the beautiful young models were able to walk down the runway for the first time in their lives. Meanwhile, just 100 miles north, Iraqi troops were engaged along the Tigris river with Islamic State militants who seek to overtake and control the region.
This event is notable for so many reasons. Those of us in the West cannot even begin to comprehend the defiance of many of these designers, models and patrons. Fashion is not something that is a traditionally "accepted" career field in today's society and for many involved this was a radical move of defiance. With all of the other fashion weeks taking place around the world, in many ways this might be the most significant. These individuals are using fashion and creativity as war of their own, against oppressive ideals and religious extremism. Nothing is more Brvtal than that.
*all fashion week photographs by Ahmad Al-Rubay/AFP