Carnegie Mellon University
January 25, 2016

In Doha, Fashion and Rhetoric Converge

CMU Qatar English Course Makes Connection Between Fashion and Writing

The 8th Heya Arabian Fashion Exhibition

Milan. New York. Paris—while we all know these cities as the fashion capitals of the world, Doha, Qatar has ambitions of becoming the fashion capital of the Middle East. With annual events, such as the Heya Arabian Fashion Exhibition, it is easy to think Doha is on its way to holding the title.

The 8th Heya Arabian Fashion Exhibition kicked off in November 2015 with a week’s worth of events including fashions shows, forums and workshops that showed off the latest in Arabian and Islamic designs. And, Carnegie Mellon University Qatar Professor Ludmila Hyman was in the center of it all.

Hyman, assistant teaching professor of English, participated in the exhibition’s opening discussion on "The Theory of Aesthetics: Clothing as The Ultimate Expression of Arabian Culture and Tradition.” Also participating on the high-level panel were Azin Valy, founder of the New York luxury fashion brand Cityzen by Azin and Zeina Abou Chaaban, founder of the Dubai-based luxury fashion label, Palestyle. Jane Dutton from Al Jazeera English moderated.

“Clothing is a form of language, powerful and sly,” said Hyman during the discussion. “Through it we can say more than we dare to say verbally: we express where we want to belong in the social world, with whom we want to belong, and whom we cut off.”

Hyman was invited to discuss the meaning of fashion in Arabia because she teaches the sociology of fashion in the form of argument in her section of ‘Interpretation and Argument’ called ‘Fashion: Industry, Sociology, Culture.’

“It is important to teach fashion to help people understand how we use appearances in our societies,” she said. “It’s a form of cultural studies—a form of critical inquiry of understanding clothing and luxury products, as a kind of text.”

She adds, “It helps us gain more control over how we present ourselves with confidence and grace. Teaching fashion becomes a form of rhetoric then.”

‘Interpretation and Argument,’ a required undergraduate course, is designed to help students improve their writing and analytics skills. They learn how to research, edit and write effective arguments, among other things. While all sections share the same set of goals and activities, sections taught by faculty and Ph.D. students in their second year and later can select a unique topic of their interest.

Hyman said she started teaching the course with a fashion focus because many CMU-Q students are interested in learning about the controversial topic. Along with blending sociology and rhetoric into the class, it offers a business component in the form of discussions on readings about the luxury product industry.

Ismail H., a freshman majoring in biological sciences, said the course changed his perspective on what “manliness” means in relation to fashion.

“Before I took the course, I considered fashion and manliness mutually exclusive, but after this semester I've come away understanding that the previous belief I held was really just some half-baked stereotype," he said. “I learned it was actually possible to be "manly" and fashionable at the same time.”

Fatima Abdulaziz also majors in biological sciences and participated in Hyman’s class last semester. She said the class was most exciting when they analyzed readings about fashion in order to better understand what it is and what it represents, to them and to other people. Her peers each had different ideas about what fashion meant to them.

“It was quite intriguing to explore where our differences came from, but we also found similarities between our cultures,” said Abdulaziz. “The course allowed us to understand and identify unspoken rules of fashion and relate them to our own lives. This really opened up my eyes and I now understand the reasons behind certain fashion trends and how and why they affect the way people dress.”

Follow @LudmilaHyman on Twitter for the latest in fashion trends and news.

By Amanda King