Traditional & modern: The Saudi man's bisht

Updated 09 November 2012
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Traditional & modern: The Saudi man's bisht

A bisht is a traditional Arabian long cloak men wear over their thobes. This cloak is usually made of wool and ranges in color from white, beige, and cream to the darker shades of brown, grey and black. The word bisht is derived from the Persian — to go on one’s back.
Originally the bisht was worn in winter by Bedouins. Now it’s only worn for special occasions like weddings, festivals, graduations and Eid.
The bisht has been the choice of formal wear for politicians, religious scholars and high-ranking individuals in Arabian Gulf countries, Iraq and countries north of Saudi Arabia. This traditional flowing cloak is meant to distinguish those who wear it. People say no cloth can provide the distinction of a hand-tailored bisht. This is why the art of bisht tailoring is a skill handed down from generation to generation.
Abu Salem, a Saudi tailor from Al-Ahsa, said, “Bishts were first tailored in Persia. Saudis were introduced to them when bisht vendors came here for Haj or Umra.”
Al-Ahsa area in the Eastern Province has been home to the best bisht tailors for over 200 years and leading producers in the Gulf countries since the 1940.
Some families in Al-Ahsa inherited their forefather’s skill and continue to make bishts in their family name. You can find a bisht called the Al-Qattan, Al-Kharas, Al-Mahdi or the Al-Bagli.
Three types of embroidery are used in making the bisht: gold stitch, silver stitch and silk stitch. The thread is called zari and gold and silver are very common. “Black bishts with gold stitching is the most popular, after cream and white,” said Abu Salem. “In the early 90s new colors were introduced to the bisht market. Blue, grey and maroon are mostly worn by the younger generation. The older generation sticks to the traditional black, brown and cream,” he added.
Prices vary from SR 100 all the way up to SR 20,000 depending on the fabric, stitching, color and style. The most expensive, the Royal bisht is specially tailored for princes, politicians and the weathy. “These people usually choose black, honey, beige and cream for their bishts,” said Abu Salem. “They are always handmade and use gold or silver thread and sometimes a combination of both,” he added.
Abu Salem said, “There are two kinds of zari, the genuine which is silk or cotton yarn covered with pure gold or silver, and the imitation where the yarn is covered with silver electroplated copper wire. Each tailor has his own trademark zari design.”
There are three main bisht designs, the Darbeyah, Mekasar and the Tarkeeb.
Darbeyah is handmade with genuine zari embroidery and traditional patterns and the style is square and loose. Mekasar also known as Gasbi, has silk embroidery along the edge of the fabric.
“Tarkeeb means fitting and it comes with a Darbeyah design with gold zari embroidery on tailored bisht fabric,” said Abu Salem.
Until the invention of the sewing machine the original bisht was hand sewn. “These days most bishts are machine-made but some people prefer a handmade one for their finer detail,” he said.
Abu Salem said, “Tailoring Hasawi bishts is an art that requires accuracy and skill. The gold embroidery requires patience and takes many hours. The length of time depends on the style and design. Hand-making one of these bishts could take from 80 to 120 hours and four tailors, each with one specific task.”
The Hasawi, a special of Al-Ahsa, is the most expensive using camel or lama hair or goat wool with gold embroidery on the collar and sleeves.
Traditionally, the bisht has two sleeves but it can be worn with only one arm through the sleeve and the other wrapped around loosely and tucked into the side.

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Fashion Forward Dubai pop-up store returns to Saudi Arabia

Fashion Forward Dubai will present a carefully curated selection of the best apparel and accessory designers from the region. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 23 May 2018
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Fashion Forward Dubai pop-up store returns to Saudi Arabia

  • FFWD will present a carefully curated selection of the best apparel and accessory designers from the region
  • The pop-up is driven by Fashion Forward’s mission to promote, celebrate and develop the region’s leading fashion talents

DUBAI: Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD), the Middle East fashion platform, returns for a second edition of their pop-up store in Saudi Arabia’s Rubaiyat department store in Jeddah from May 25 to June 15.

FFWD will present a carefully curated selection of the best apparel and accessory designers from the region including Anaya, Atelier Zuhra, Arwa Al Banawi, Baruni, Beige, Bint Thani, Hessa Falasi, Lama Jouni, Nasiba Hapiz, Sara Altwaim, Shahad Rehami and Sarah’s Bag. 

The pop-up is driven by Fashion Forward’s mission to promote, celebrate and develop the region’s leading fashion talents. Endorsed by the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) and supported by Dubai Design District (d3), the initiative is dedicated to supporting the evolving regional fashion ecosystem in its pursuit of attaining commercial success and widening reach into new markets.

“Fashion Forward has decided to partner with the prestigious Rubaiyat for its second edition as we firmly believe in the synergy that this partnership brings to all parties involved. We were thrilled with the success of the designers in last year’s pop-up and are enthusiastic about the opportunity to continue nurturing our designers in growing retail markets, such as KSA,” said Bong Guerrero, CEO and co-founder of FFWD.

ANAYA: Named after the designer’s daughter and inspired by her creativity and drive to follow her dream of building a fashion empire for the power women of the new era. In 2010, Chathuri won the International Young Fashion Entrepreneur award from the British Fashion Council at London Fashion Week for her startup company ANAYA. 

ATELIER ZUHRA: Atelier Zuhra was established in 2015 under business entrepreneur Mousa Al-Awfi, who supported her dream to build a couture atelier in Dubai and dress up women with glamor and perfection. Zuhra passed her dream to her daughter Rayan Al-Sulaimani, who raised the bar by scaling up the designs to a more sophisticated and outstanding quality. 

ARWA AL BANAWI: Like her eponymous label, Saudi-born designer Arwa Al-Banawi is an eclectic mix of contrasts. Designed for the subtle woman, her aesthetic is both classically cool and feminine — earning her recognition from Vogue.com and a finalist position at Jeddah Vogue Fashion Experience.

BARUNI: Created by Fadwa Baruni, the Baruni brand is strongly led by regional and local cultural influences as well as the colors and textures of nature, developing a signature style for the Baruni collection. 

BEIGE: Launched in 2017 by Muna Al-Othaiman, contemporary womenswear brand Beige fuses clean silhouettes with impeccable tailoring, evoking timeless modernity. 

BINT THANI: Inspired by art and architecture since its inception in 2012, BINT THANI offers curated collections that amplify the brand’s DNA of feminine and wearable styles for an international, design-orientated customer. 

HESSA FALASI: An Emirati brand established in 2011 in Dubai and inspired by Arabic culture, where traditional abayas are given a modern twist with a variety of high-quality fabrics, a kaleidoscope of colors in on-trend fashion. 

LAMA JOUNI: Lama Jouni is a high-end ready-to-wear label created in November 2013 in Paris. The name of the brand represents the designer and founder of the company. 

NASIBA HAFIZ: The woman who wears Nasiba Hafiz is not afraid to try new things and is not restricted by background, place or time. She has traveled the world and knows how to inject her heritage into a style that is particularly hers. 

SARA ALTWAIM: Born to a family of art lovers, Sara Altwaim has a passion for everything artistic. She took up writing poetry as a hobby and fashion design as her life’s passion. 

SHAHAD REHAIMI: Shahad Rehaimi’s Abaya collection is extravagantly unique and caters to trendy women. She aims to demonstrate every woman’s perfection through different fashionable styles.  

SARAH’S BAG: Dynamic, passionate and determined, with an epicurean’s delight in beauty and art, founder and creative director Sarah Beydoun designs handbags and accessories that are known for their intricate craftsmanship, attention to detail and vibrant, high-spirited appeal.