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Making the Kingdom fashionable: Saudi Arabia hosts first-ever fashion week

Strict social restrictions have eased dramatically under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Sarah Dadouch | Reuters  |  Riyadh 

Women attend the Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh	Photo: Reuters
Women attend the Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh Photo: Reuters

Fashionable women, dark-haired Saudis and blonde Eastern Europeans alike, fill the gold-trimmed halls of Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, marking the start of Saudi Arabia’s first-ever fashion week.

Models and makeup artists preparing for the inaugural Saudi episode of Arab Fashion Week said they were surprised the event was taking place in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

“We are so excited because this is the first fashion week in Saudi Arabia, so we are making history,” model said.

Strict social restrictions have eased dramatically under Mohammed bin Salman, who has reined in religious police, introduced public concerts and lifted bans on cinemas and women driving.

Yet, restrictions persist. Tuesday’s reception was open to men and cameras, but only women are permitted at catwalk events and outside photography is barred.

Women in public places in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, wear abayas — loose-fitting, full-length robes symbolic of piety.

With recent reforms, women in some cities have begun to don more colourful abayas, sometimes trimmed with lace and velvet or left open to reveal long skirts or jeans.

No abayas will feature on the catwalk. The event hosts invitation-only fashion viewings and a Harvey Nichols pop-up store in a tent that was still being erected hours before the first show.

Another tent holds the catwalk, featuring designers from Brazil, Lebanon, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

Making the kingdom fashionable

The event, initially scheduled for last month, was postponed because of delays in issuing visas. Industry figures from Italy, and flocked to Riyadh, many for the first time, to admire the work of local and designers.

Layla Issa Abouzeid, country director for the Dubai-based Arab Fashion Council (AFC) organising the event, said 1,500 people were expected to attend, including 400 from abroad.

She hopes the event will bring revenue into the kingdom and highlight local talent.

“(When) people go to Paris on the Paris Fashion week, the hotels are completely fully booked,” she said. “I want to create the same demand in Saudi Arabia, twice a year. I want to create a platform for the local designers to go worldwide.”

Lebanese Naja Saade came to Riyadh to display his couture collection. “I’m very proud to participate in this first edition of Arab Fashion Week in Saudi Arabia, because it’s a part of the revolution of the women in this country,” he said.

By bringing talent from Europe and placing brands on the same catwalk as Arab brands, he hopes to elevate local fashion designers.

AFC wants to introduce fashion courses, internships and scholarships to and develop a fashion district in Riyadh.

First Published: Thu, April 12 2018. 21:00 IST
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