Putting female empowerment on the runway in Saudi Arabia

Designer Hatem Alakeel is based between Saudi Arabia and Dubai and set up the brand Toby by Hatem Alakeel. (Photos supplied)
Updated 26 March 2018

Putting female empowerment on the runway in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: For Saudi fashion designer Mohammed Khoja, creating clothes is an act of self-expression that is as much about liberty as about art and style.
“There’s a lot of freedom and empowerment in the concept of being able to translate your ideas into reality and create something out of nothing… that’s why I enjoy it so much,” he said.
This scope for creativity has never felt more palpable than now in Saudi Arabia as the country prepares to host its inaugural Arab Fashion Week next month, giving local designers a chance to showcase collections to a global audience.
Arwa Al-Banawi, a Saudi designer who regularly exhibits at fashion weeks overseas, said she can’t wait to see her work on a Saudi catwalk.
“Saudi Arabia is becoming more and more developed and I’m seeing a lot of Saudi designers following their dreams. It’s a very special time for female empowerment and also for the world to see the beautiful creative talent in our country.”
Speaking to Arab News in London last month, Princess Noura Bint Faisal, honorary president of the Arab Fashion Council (AFC), said the event would be a chance for many Saudi designers to “showcase their world to the world.”
“Arwa Al-Banawi is one of those designers who has so much potential. I can’t wait for her to show her work in Riyadh… I want all Saudi designers to be able to do that.”
Princess Noura added the event would be “truly international”. “Of course we have a lot of Arab designers but the doors are open for anyone to come.”
With the market for luxury brands well established in the Kingdom, some of the biggest names in international fashion have RSVP’d. Italian fashion house Roberto Cavalli, French couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier, British brand Ralph & Russo and Russian designer Yulia Yanina, have all confirmed attendance, as has Harvey Nichols, which is hosting the trunk shows with the Arab Fashion Council (AFC).
Attendees can look forward to an eclectic array of designs reflecting the cosmopolitan character of Arab style.
“The mentality of the Kingdom as a whole, is opening up to more public platforms; and vice versa: we are seeing modest wear on mainstream catwalks and an increased interest in Arab designers, especially on the red carpet,” said Marriam Mossalli, Saudi fashion editor and founder of luxury consulting firm Niche Arabia.
Modest fashion, a trend that that hovered at the edges of international catwalks for several seasons before bursting into designer collections over the last year, will certainly have a presence, but while global fashion houses from Mango to Gucci are embracing loose lines and lower hems, the AFC is cultivating a more diverse outlook.
“Fashion is about freedom. It’s a choice,” Princess Noura said. “Women can wear whatever they want, there are no boundaries.”
Jacob Abrian, AFC founder and chief executive, who has led five Arab Fashion Weeks in Dubai, said there is a lot more to Middle East fashions than modest attire. “I don’t believe modest fashion is the right branding for the Arab world as a land of opportunities and investment.
“It’s a choice for a lady if she wants to dress modestly or not,” he added.
While the curators of Saudi Arabia’s emerging fashion industry are keen to avoid sartorial stereotypes, next week’s shows will be a chance to dispel some of the myths surrounding female fashions in the Kingdom.
“With the exposure of the Saudi market and this event, I think people will start to understand (modest fashion) better,” Princess Noura said.
Describing modest attire as “truly liberating,” Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council, said that fashion “has always been a soft way to break down socio-political issues and barriers.”
The Saudi fashion sector is entering an exciting period of evolution, she continued. “It’s a very important market and I don’t think we’ve even begun to understand the level of talent that comes from the Kingdom.”
“Whereas before there were more restrictions and guidelines, now they are going to start showing you a little more of the vast talent and range of skill they have, while staying within the bounds of what’s culturally acceptable.”
For Hatem Alakeel, a designer based between Saudi Arabia and Dubai who set up the brand Toby by Hatem Alakeel: “Fashion is a great example of where we are and of the times.”
Emphasizing the value of nurturing the arts and supporting young talent, he said: “Not everyone is academic but many people are creative. It’s important that the creative can turn their talent into an industry creating opportunity, jobs and recognition.”

Happy National day #اليوم_الوطني #saudinationalday #tobyfemme

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The AFC, which launched its regional office in Riyadh last December, plans to position Saudi Arabia as a hub for an emerging regional fashion industry. It recently forged an alliance with the British Fashion Council to provide support in establishing a sustainable infrastructure for the industry in the Middle East.
Key to this is catering to a “more diversified market,” Princess Noura said. “We are welcoming any brands, whether it’s high-end couture, ready-to-wear... we want to create a hub for all these people to come to Saudi Arabia.”
In the past, Arab fashion output has been characterised by couture, with the glittering gowns of Elie Saab, Reem Acra and Zuhair Murad familiar features on the catwalks of London, Paris and Milan.
More recently, a push to promote upcoming talent has opened the way for a more varied Middle East style set, bringing smaller brands to the fore. Regional platforms such as Dubai Design District and Fashion Forward provide an outlet for local designers to launch their careers and gain global recognition.
Saudi designers have been gaining momentum on regional and international catwalks but many hope this month’s Arab Fashion Week will pioneer more opportunities to display their designs and build their brands on home soil.
“There’s an ever-growing appreciation in Saudi society for fashion,” Khoja said, describing the “Creativity and depth within the Saudi aesthetic as well as complexity when you look at the various regions.
“I’m happy that I’m starting to see more efforts toward building up this industry and its infrastructure, the focus so far in Saudi has mainly been on art and film and I feel fashion will be next.”
Arab Fashion Week, organized by the Arab Fashion Council, begins on April 10 at The Ritz Carlton, in Riyadh.

Mariah Idrissi spotted at ‘The Lion King’ London premiere

Updated 15 July 2019

Mariah Idrissi spotted at ‘The Lion King’ London premiere

DUBAI: British-Moroccan model and influencer Mariah Idrissi walked the red carpet at the European premiere of “The Lion King” in London on Sunday, and took to Instagram to share her excitement.

The model wore a simple white, button-down dress and a black turban — her signature hijab style. She took to social media to share photographs from the premiere, including a snap of the star-studded cast on stage.  

“Anyone who spends five minutes with me is witness to how much I love @disney lol. This movie is part of so many childhoods, so need I say more about going to see it when it’s out! Huge thank you to @asos and @disneystudiosukfor having me tonight (sic),” Idrissi captioned the trio of shots on Instagram.

Born and raised in London, Idrissi is of Moroccan-Pakistani descent and made headlines in 2015 when she became the first model to wear a hijab in a major international fashion campaign, starring in H&M’s “Close the Loop” adverts.
Since then, the 26-year-old has been at the forefront of the modest fashion movement, stylishly representing contemporary Muslim women and working with major retailers including MAC cosmetics and ASOS. She also featured in Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty campaign.

She was one of a number of influencers to attend the European premiere of the highly anticipated Disney flick and was joined on the red carpet by stars such as Beyonce and Jay-Z, as well as Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

With a star-studded voice cast including Beyonce and estimated $250 million budget, Hollywood’s reigning hitmaker has spared no expense bringing arguably its most beloved source material roaring to photo-realistic life in “The Lion King,” the AFP reported.


Expectations are sky-high for the film about young lion cub Simba avenging his father’s death to emulate the commercial success of “The Jungle Book” (2016), “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) and “Aladdin” (2019).

A trailer for the new “Lion King” was watched by 225 million people in its first 24 hours in November, shattering Disney’s record.

But while the film — set for release Friday — is being billed as the Mouse House’s latest “live-action” movie, it is in fact a different beast altogether.

With no human characters in sight, almost every shot — from the pixel-perfect hairs of Mufasa’s glistening mane to the eerily realistic hyena eyes piercing through the Elephant Graveyard gloom — was conjured from scratch using computer-generated imagery.

And yet “The Lion King” is not strictly a 3D animation either, in any conventional sense.

It is instead something totally new, said director Jon Favreau — a film shot by a traditional camera crew, but entirely inside a virtual reality 3D world.

Filmmakers and actors at the studio were able to don digital headsets and “step into” a video game-style African savannah to film — or simply watch — rough computer-generated versions of Simba and his pals cavorting through the Pride Lands.

“The crew would be able to put on the headsets, go in and scout and actually set cameras within VR,” Favreau told journalists in Beverly Hills this week.