A sample of Knight's work. Photo courtesy nzingaknight.com

NEW YORK: Designers love to push boundaries in the search for that sexy catwalk look, but Nzinga Knight, an American Muslim, takes an even more daring tack: covering her models up.

At New York Fashion Week, which starts Thursday, impossibly tall, slinky creatures will sashay down the runways at Lincoln Center in clothes that can leave little to the imagination.

But when it's Knight's turn, forget about flashes of breast or thigh-high split skirts. There will be long sleeves, long hems – and they'll be sure to get attention.

“Definitely in my work people look at it and say that it's really different and fashion's really about being different,” she told AFP at a studio in the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she was embroidering a romantic but decidedly modest black and cream dress.

Knight, 31, is a devout Muslim, praying five times a day. But the up-and-coming designer is more fashionista than preacher.

“The look of my work is sensual, mysterious, innovative,” she said, describing her target as “a woman who's happy to be a woman.” The difference lies in how she creates that sensuality.

When she launched her line in 2008, she found designers were fixated by clothes that “show cleavage and back.” “I felt a lot of women were wearing things because that's what the magazines told them,” she said. “It seemed each designer had the same point of view.” So Knight set out to combine Islam's strict moral codes with her native New Yorker's sense of style and quickly found she had what any enterprising young designers would crave: a niche.

“My aesthetic was something really missing in the market,” she said. “It's very distinct and can give me an edge.” Her upcoming collection will feature 10 evening dresses and several blouses.

Various shades of off-white, black, pink and matte gold dominate, with beads hand-sewn in India added to the trim. One full length dress in black and oyster shell white features a ruffled lower hem, but only at the back, so that it comes as a surprise, like a mermaid's tail.

It is modest clothing, but hardly fit for a shrinking violet.

Whoever wears them “definitely has places to go,” she said.

Caribbean Muslim New Yorker with a fresh eye

A sample of Knight's work. Photo courtesy nzingaknight.com

Knight's original outlook makes her almost unique on planet fashion, where black designers are rare and black Muslims rarer. “There are basically none,” she says.

But with her exotic background she's always comfortable navigating her own path.

Her father emigrated from Trinidad, her mother from Guyana, both of them converted to Islam after reaching New York, where they raised six daughters.

“The fact I'm in New York, a native New Yorker, and New York is very much about style, what's fresh, what's hot, and the fact that I come from a Caribbean culture that's very vibrant and then the fact that I'm Muslim...” Knight had to pause to catch her breath.

“I embody a lot of things,” she said.

In some Muslim countries, head-to-toe black robes, or abayas, are obligatory for women in the street, something that horrifies many Westerners.

But Knight says her experiences make her sympathetic. On a trip last year to Dubai, where one of her sisters lives, she recalls discovering the apparently uniform black fabric contains a multitude of subtle, individual differences.

“No two women were the same,” she said.

She also realized that at home, women take off their robes to reveal the latest in high fashion they'd been wearing underneath.

“They are vibrant and wear amazing colors. Only their special friends get to see them though,” Knight said. “I think it's sexy for a woman to have secrets, good secrets.” In Western society, she argues, women are not as liberated as they may think they are.

Knight gave the example of pop stars, saying men are judged largely on their singing talent, while female performers have to go an extra step.

“I think that women in this society aren't allowed just to stand on their own merit,” she said. “For most of the women who really make it, you know, they have to take their clothes off. That's the game they have to play.” In her own work, she's looking to shift the rules of the game.

“I'm telling a story that people aren't telling,” Knight said.

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Comments (25)

September 4, 2012 4:14 pm
What quran does it say that in? Please show me the Ayat.
September 5, 2012 5:44 am
cant agree more...
September 5, 2012 11:20 am
She is a brave creative woman. Fashion should not be limited to tight or revealing clothes.
September 4, 2012 9:59 pm
Hmm...the word 'oxymoron' comes to mind.
September 10, 2012 5:17 pm
I congradulate desinger Ms. Knight for her collection and look forward to much more from her. She is very talented and educated about the industry; which I can't say for many other want to be designed in this field. Her clothing absolutly complies with the muslim culture and we are "happy" to see her get the exposer. Thanks.
September 4, 2012 3:53 pm
Good start,
September 5, 2012 8:46 am
Great work Miss Knight
September 5, 2012 12:30 am
Whatever Knight's skills as a fashion designer may be, they are totally eclipsed by the skills of the hairdresser of the fashion model. Fantastic!
September 4, 2012 5:52 pm
I totally agreed with you Ali!
Saloo Bhai
September 5, 2012 7:31 am
Nice job lady.
September 4, 2012 3:35 pm
Its still 10 times better than cleavage-showing and back-baring dresses.
Muhammad Asim Ilyas
September 4, 2012 5:51 pm
yes, it is nice attempt and shows that how we can use modern clothes with in our limits and how beautiful is our culture, why we should run behind the western culture why cant't we do best of best our self
Raana Qureshi
September 4, 2012 3:42 pm
Congratulations Ms.Knight,I commend you for coming out with such beautiful dresses.We in the west are longing to have such evening wear that can be modest and yet beautiful.
September 5, 2012 3:41 am
Why is every Islamist trying to cover or hide women? Is that all Islam is about? There are millions of other things to be followed as well.
September 5, 2012 7:39 am
it is a challenging effort the sister has emarked upon and i wish her strength and real success. as to your comments fail to understand those. please read through for an answer.
September 5, 2012 7:10 am
good , a plus point
September 4, 2012 11:59 am
Bravo!! Maybe her work might prompt other designers here in PAKISTAN to stop blindly following the western designers and get back some sense in clothing. What women want is clothes which hides their body not clothes which publicly showcases their bodies! Good work Miss Knight!
September 4, 2012 2:10 pm
good attempt but again wayward. The basic code is islamic dressing for both Men and Women is a dress should not show "curves and contours" of the body. So, men praying in tight jeans or women with clothes clinging to their bodies is not allowed. I see some business greed involved here else you can cover the body with Lara Corft dress! Knights dresses are "step" into a good direction for Muslim women but do not "fulfill " the criteria for "islamic code of dressing". Still I give her credit!
king Imran
September 6, 2012 8:52 am
nice dress for Muslims......
September 5, 2012 1:09 am
Knight's effort is very much appreciated.
September 5, 2012 7:22 am
This is feminism in it’s purest form. A secure, confident woman doesn't have to dress up ”sexily” to please other people’s senses or to feel validated. She’s what she is for her brains, her values and not for her curves and skin.
September 7, 2012 7:31 am
great effort......... confidence at its peak......refusing to follow the crowd.....no presha!!!!
September 7, 2012 10:05 am
Great work.my thynx
Amjed Abro
September 5, 2012 1:38 am
I really appreciate the effort. And I totally agree that fashion is all about being different, in positive sense.
September 6, 2012 12:13 am
Love the idea and creativity, but I disagree on one point. It's not true that the only way for a woman to make it big in the west is by removing clothes. There are plenty of talented, beautiful classy women who don't use their sexuality to get to the top! Among younger pop stars, British singer Adele comes to mind. Her voice got her to the top, not her skin.
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