Tucked away on a colorful street in northern Italy, a small shop playing Arabic music that smells of jasmine displays hundreds of colorful clothes and vibrant accessories behind a set of glass doors. Welcome to Fatima Shop, a fashion boutique for Muslim women.
Fatima Asmaa Paciotti, a 55-year-old Italian entrepreneur who converted to Islam in 2005, first began selling faith-influenced clothes on Facebook. The page now boasts over 33,000 followers and Paciotti has added a brick-and-mortar store to the mix.
The store’s rising profile is even more impressive because it is in Cantù, in the northern province of Como, where a far-right League party politician was elected mayor in the most recent elections. Another local League member, Nicola Molteni, has launched a battle against women who wear Muslim veils in public.
Fatima Shop’s one-of-kind merchandise has been designed to draw people in, regardless of their background. Nothing is left to chance: “This is a boutique, not a bazaar,” Paciotti told HuffPost Italy as she leaned behind the counter, revealing a strong Roman accent and a smile framed by her veil. She has created a unique ambience in the shop, which is decorated in a shabby chic style, featuring furniture and mirrors from all over the world.
“Coming into my store is a sensory experience,” she said. It’s not only clothes that embellish the boutique. There are perfumes (strictly alcohol-free) from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia in scents ranging from pink vanilla to black musk, which is “just like the one Prophet Muhammad used.”
Faith guides the designs of both the apparel and the store itself: Two editions of the Quran are prominently displayed on an empty piece of teak furniture upon which Paciotti intends to showcase a range of niqabs, the full veil that leaves only the eyes uncovered.
“If sisters decide to wear it, they should have the freedom to do so. I want everyone to find what they are looking for in my shop,” said Paciotti, who for three years wore her own niqab, despite insults and threats lobbed her way. She said she was once almost run over by a man who yelled at her to “go back to her country.”
The Muslim veil is controversial in Italy, as it has been in many parts of Europe.
But Paciotti, who has lived in Cantù since 1993, said she earned the trust of her neighboring shopkeepers in just a few days.
“They were worried that I would cause a commotion and that I would invade the area with people who eat couscous on the street,” she said. But the locals changed their minds once they saw the store, and a League councilor even welcomed her to the area; although there are the occasional passersby who turn up their noses and walk away.
Non-Muslim customers also visit the store and “fall in love with the colors and designs, which are so different from what they are used to,” Paciotti said. Wide Jilbab pants — reminiscent of those featured in “Aladdin” — are popular, as are knee-length colored sweatshirts and dresses made of lace. Some customers prefer their clothes in the traditional black, but Paciotti said younger Muslim women are asking for khimars, or cloaks that cover the body from the head down, in various colors. A long blue tunic, which was made by Syrian refugees, hangs in the shop window and often catches the eyes of people walking past.
Paciotti said her religious journey inspired her to open the shop, and that she thought it was important to find a way to blend beauty with faith.
“A few years ago when I decided to dress like a Muslim woman, I only found poor quality clothes that were also expensive. They didn’t last long, and sometimes they were uncomfortable,” Paciotti said, while positioning copper lamps around the store. She identified a need for beautiful, high-quality clothing.
After all, she said, “as the Prophet Muhammed says, God is beautiful and he loves beauty.”