Saudi Arabia is walking confidently down the global catwalk after its first Fashion Week. The world is in a frenzy with seasonal changes summoning Fashion Week season. The most well-known catwalks are held in Paris and New York. Saudi Arabia is hosting Fashion Week to showcase its openness and talent. The event has become a triumphant moment for the kingdom.
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is ultraconservative. As part of the Arabian Peninsula, the region is deeply rooted in tradition and religion, possessing a patriarchal society where "guardianship laws" give male family members authority to have the final say in the daily decisions of their female family members. The conservative nature of the region surely impacted the preparations and production of Fashion Week.
Journalists, models, and other foreign guests were given an informational packet covering fourteen main points for their visit to Saudi Arabia. The points focused on laws banning alcohol, homosexual activity, and extra-marital relations, as these actions are considered “illegal and can be subject to severe penalties.” Additionally, the international guests struggled to secure proper visas. Not gaining access to Saudi Arabia meant Fashion Week had to be pushed back by two weeks.
The Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel once used to detain socially and politically elite criminals, provided a visually enchanting backdrop for the Arab Fashion Week held in Riyadh. Fashion Week featured designers from Brazil, Lebanon, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates. International designers Jean Paul Gaultier and Roberto Cavalli headlined the show with couture collections. Neither Gaultier nor Cavalli are strangers to Saudi Arabia. Located in the Olaya district, the designers have boutiques in Riyadh’s major mall, Kingdom Centre.
While Arab Fashion Council (AFC) President Princess Noura bint Faisal may have been able to attend, CEO Jacob Abrian was not. Arab Fashion Week was a women-only event. This requirement certainly reflects the culture and tradition of Saudi Arabia. Another interesting facet of the event’s organization is the limitation of media. No social media was allowed, and only a few female photographers were granted access to the event. Besides those attendees, 1,500 people paid 500 riyals ($133) to join the Fashion Week festivities. The exclusive guest list of 1,500 people contained 400 foreign guests.
Arab Fashion Week demonstrates the new openness developing in Saudi Arabia. A major player in the increasingly liberal nature of the region is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS. The kingdom has seen changes and commentary on tradition that lean away from the ultraconservative standards of Saudi Arabia. MBS has lifted the ban on cinemas, talked of women gaining the right to drive, and has commented on abaya not being compulsory for women.
Thanks to a great deal of ambition and care, Saudi Arabia’s Fashion Week concluded successfully. Typically, Arab Fashion Week is held in Dubai. Dubai is preparing for the sixth edition of their Fashion Week, which will last from May 9-12. Saudi Arabia scheduled the second edition of their Fashion Week for October 23-27. The AFC is looking to build a better foundation for Saudi Arabia’s fashion industry to grow. Investments are being made into the fashion district, including courses, internships, and scholarships. Mashael Alrajhi had this to say about investing in Saudi Arabia versus seeking careers in foreign countries: “There is so much creative talent flourishing here now. The next priority has to be building a better local infrastructure so that the Saudi fashion industry can grow, and most designers don’t have to leave to scale themselves anymore.”
Saudi Arabia is demonstrating its development in the most creative and expressive way; fashion has become another step towards fulfilling a new vision for the region.
View the official Arab Fashion Council’s Instagram page to check out looks from Fashion Week.