Last week, Saudi Arabia organised its first Arab Fashion Week in the capital city of Riyadh. This is a huge step forward for a country that has been known for its highly conservative regime. The event was hailed as another landmark towards social and economic change in the country. The event venue, however, had restricted access for women only. No males were allowed. Yet, considering the rigid policies the country had adopted in the past, the event was still a step towards progress.
Marriam Mossalli, a luxury consultant in Jeddah, said to NYTimes, it was “an amazing opportunity to shift the disconnect in the minds of outsiders about Saudi women, how they design and how they dress. Women here have been waiting for years for a time to shine.”
Being the first ever event of its kind to have been organised in Saudi Arabia, it didn’t go smoothly. In fact, at one point the event was almost cancelled. The Arab Fashion Council had started preparing for the fashion week 5 months prior to the scheduled date. Initially, the event was supposed to take place on March 25. However, it had to be postponed since several models, buyers and journalists were unable to get a visa to the country on time.
The NY Times reported,” Three weeks later it was back with 16 shows scheduled, the high-profile guest designers Jean Paul Gaultier and Roberto Cavalli and attendees flew in from around the world.”
However, despite the scheduled date, the event was once again delayed for 24 hours. Apparently, the show tent was unsafe for use and the designers had to be notified about the rescheduling.
Symbolic of Social Change
The fashion week which took place after a number of issues was indeed a symbol of social and economic change. It was reflective of ambitious plans to bring liberal policies, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Fashion Week was a bold step towards uplifting the position of women in the society, who otherwise have been marginalised in the country.
“Taking inspiration from the successes (and failures) of smaller Gulf neighbours like Dubai, Saudi Arabia is trying to shift away from a reliance on oil and gas revenues and is repositioning itself as a dynamic place for business, hospitality and leisure — and foreign investment and visitors”, NY Times reported.
A mix of styles
The Fashion week witnessed extremely diverse participation from designers across the world. “Arwa Al-Banawi, a Saudi designer in Dubai who showed a polished contemporary collection of tailored staples infused with Bedouin references at the delayed opening night on Thursday, said she believed a Saudi fashion week could be another step on the road to female empowerment in her country,” NY Times reported.
“It is so important for us that we have our own fashion week — historically I have always shown in Dubai or Paris but as a Saudi woman I really wanted to be a part of this moment,” she said. “Yes it has been the most challenging event I have ever been a part of, but the only way to look is forwards not backward. Next time will be better.”
The event acted as an avenue for designers from Saudi itself to showcase their work as well. The platform provided them with ample opportunities to put their ideas into motion.
Nimisha is an intern with SheThePeople.TV