Two hijabs on display

Gizelle Sabreen Begler ’08 teams up with apparel course for hijab design competition

Fiber Science & Apparel Design Assistant Professor Denise Green ’07, teamed up with Haute Hijab Creative Director Gizelle Sabreen Begler FSAD ’08, to have students in her Color and Surface Design course compete to design a hijab for the world’s most powerful woman. The winning designer would receive $150 and a chance at having their design produced by Haute Hijab, one of the leading hijab companies in the United States.

Green said she wanted the competition to offer students the opportunity to research and design for an unfamiliar market, while developing hand-painting techniques on silk and learning about how to scale their designs to larger production.

The project was also intended to educate students about the often-misunderstood hijab, Begler explained. “In the West, hijab has come to be associated with oppression and something women are forced to wear, but that’s not the case at all. For women who choose to wear hijab, it’s empowering. It’s saying: don’t sexualize me when you talk to me, talk to who I am as a person.”

As part of the project, Green’s students, none of whom identified as Muslim, were paired with students from the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association (MECA) for an interview-format discussion about hijab. The design students asked the students from MECA about their aesthetic preferences, their relationship to wearing hijab, and the big question: what does being powerful mean to you?

The conversations between the design students and the students from MECA were a positive experience for all involved. Green recalled one of the students from MECA saying that people are often afraid to ask questions about the hijab and about Islam. She said the students enjoyed being asked questions about the hijab – why they wear it, what they like about wearing it, what don’t they like about wearing it – in a safe space where they could share openly about their experiences, both good and bad.

“As many of them pointed out, when you wear a hijab you become very visible and your face is displayed much more visibly. That can be very dangerous in this country at this time. I think they appreciated being able to talk about that candidly and with people who were intending to design something that would hopefully meet their needs better than what they have now.”

The student designs were so impressive that the Haute Hijab team had a hard time choosing between them and in the end selected two winners: Architecture major Cornelius Tulloch ’21, and Monet Phisphahutharn, a fashion design exchange student from ESMOD Paris.

“We loved the designs but we also loved the design statements, they were really powerful. You see how they drew inspiration from what the students from MECA shared with them,” Begler said.

Tulloch’s design, an underwater scene, connected the way pearls are created under pressure with the public scrutiny of women who choose to wear hijab. “It isn’t too often that I get the opportunity to design for a community I do not know much about, but it was one of the most humbling experiences. For many of the women we spoke to I began to see that the hijab was an extension of themselves. I was inspired by the beauty, confidence, and presence that the hijab held for them,” Tulloch said.

While Green was pleased with the student hijabs, describing them as works of art, the interaction between her students and the students from MECA was the real prize.

“Watching as some of their assumptions and stereotypes got blown apart, was really awesome. They learned through engagement with students who are at the same life stage as them and part of this campus just as they are, but who have a very different experience being visible in the world. That cross-cultural dialogue was the most valuable, exciting, and inspiring part of this project,” she said.

Rising Star Award

Denise Green FSAD ’07, assistant professor of Fiber Science & Apparel Design, was recently awarded the International Textile and Apparel Association’s Rising Star Award, recognizing her outstanding teaching, research, creative scholarship, and outreach in the area of apparel design. Green was identified for her development and teaching of courses in art and design, surface design, and anthropology of the fashioned body, as well as her work as faculty director of the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection.