New East Digital Archive

Blending modesty and modern design through contemporary Islamic attire

10 November 2020

Moscow-based designer Karolina Pavlovskaya worked as stylist for a decade before launching annurclothes: a sustainable brand putting a contemporary take on modest female attire.

Pavlovskaya converted to Islam four years ago, but faced a lack of choice in stores. “I wanted to dress according to sharia law, but to look stylish and radiate light and glory,” remembers Pavlovskaya. She started work on annurclothes, naming the brand after her favorite Qur’anic surah: An-nur or Ray of Light. It is also the chapter of the Qur’an which provides guidance on modesty, family, and relationships.

Pavlovskaya was born in Riga into a multicultural Orthodox family, with a Polish-Jewish mother and a Russian father. At the age of 18, she began her own spiritual journey, spending five years studying the Vedas, the oldest scriptures in Hinduism, and later reading the Qur’an. It did not take her long to convert to Islam. “The tradition of female modesty is strong in many cultures, not only in Islam, she says,” shares Pavlovskaya. “We are inspired by the ancient women’s garments, and try to adapt them for the modern needs.”

The small size of the boutique brand means that Pavlovskaya currently oversees every part of the process, from production to visual aesthetics, working closely with a part-time designer from two workshops outside Moscow.

Trips to the Muslim-majority region of Dagestan in southern Russia have also impacted Pavlovskaya’s vision, pushing her to keep the brand eco-friendly. “We use only natural fabrics, pale colours, try to minimise manufacturing waste, produce a limited number of items, don’t use bags, and aim to work with stock-sourced fabrics only,” she says. Pavlovskaya feels that promoting sustainability on Instagram has been an important part of her work, particular in areas of Russia where eco-culture is still far from ingrained. “In Dagestan the trendiest thing is still a takeaway coffee cup. Among men, having clean shoes is almost a mania — they’ll clean their shoes with single-use wet wipes several times a day, throwing the waste right onto the street where they join all of the plastic bags. It’s very windy in Dagestan, and all the rubbish gets scattered all over quickly,’ she adds.

The brand’s Instagram is also used to share words from the Qur’an and rare archival images, attracting followers from outside of the Islamic community. Pavlovskaya says that Russians are now far more tolerant of women dressing modestly. “I myself used to become the center of attention entering a café fully-clad in black. but now — because of the pandemic as well — everyone is generally more covered, wearing masks, gloves and scarves,’ she adds.

As more people wear face coverings, it is no longer unusual that the brand uses models wearing pearl-encrusted masks — something that Pavlovskaya says fights back against what she perceives as the commodification of female faces on platforms such as Instagram. But as she stresses, the appeal of sleek and timeless designs are key — and sure to keep drawing a bigger audience. “We are having more and more non-Muslim customers ordering our hat and scarf sets seeing it as a stylish protective kit rather than a religious item,” she says.