Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh: Saudi debut for UAE’s Aiisha Ramadan

Arab Fashion Week kicked off in Riyadh. (Arab Fashion Council)
Updated 14 April 2018

Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh: Saudi debut for UAE’s Aiisha Ramadan

DUBAI: Aiisha Ramadan is having a chaotic week. The UAE-based Lebanese designer – considered one of the region’s most prominent names in fashion – only had her visa come through at the beginning of the week ahead of her trip to Saudi Arabia. Ahead of her runway show at the Kingdom’s first Arab Fashion Week on Thursday night, she was busy prepping for what was set to become one of her biggest public appearances.
Ramadan was one of the regional designers to be showcased alongside international names such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Roberto Cavalli at Riyadh’s Arab Fashion Week, which runs until Saturday. Since it is organized by the Arab Fashion Council – which, according to organizers is the largest fashion authority representing the 22 Arab countries – it is now recognized as one of the world’s five most important fashion weeks, alongside New York, London, Milan and Paris.
“This is my first show ever in Saudi Arabia,” Ramadan said on the phone as we caught her rushing around Dubai to finalize some details of her collection before catching her flight. “It’s going to be exciting to put the faces to the names of so many people who have supported me. Saudi Arabian women are [some of the most] beautiful women in the world. They’re fashion-savvy, so it’s exciting to now get an insight into this beautiful, mysterious market.”
“I’ll be showcasing a collection, which I’m calling the Golden Age of Aiisha; it comprises the best of Aiisha Ramadan from the past year,” she said, adding that she won’t be showing her brand new collection until next month.
“Most of my clients are from Saudi Arabia and therefore this show is going to be a tribute to them.”
Ramadan – who has been dressing Saudi customers since 2009 – has been a couturier since 2007, working from the UAE, which has been her base for more than 30 years. In 2013, she changed direction by reviving the art of couture in a contemporary manner, creating two collections per year for all of her lines, including ready-to-wear, couture and bridal.
For her show, Ramadan showcased ready couture – she takes pride in her cuts, embroidery and technique – with her stating that each piece “has a story behind them in the embroidery.”
She continued: “For this show I have picked pieces that are timeless.”
Ramadan believes that an event such as Arab Fashion Week is much more than just a series of runway shows, however, presenting an opportunity to support local and regional designers.
“I’d like to see more identity in the region, along with finding production solutions for regional designers,” she says. “We do not produce large quantities, and therefore the right support is required. We need buyers to become [more generous] with their budgets toward Arab designers.
“Designers coming from abroad almost always get paid, whereas Arab designers get left on consignment. It’s important to support local talent. In fact, out of all of the individuals I have dressed, all the [non-Arab] celebrities have liked my pieces so much that they have offered to buy them, and the same applies to Arab celebs.”
In the past, Ramadan hasn’t focused on regional celebrity clientele, instead working with stars from the West, including dressing Jennifer Lopez, Ariana Grande and Christina Aguilera. But she was ecstatic to dress Yemeni singer Balqees Fathi this past year.
“A major highlight for me this past year was dressing Balqees. I’d love to dress Cate Blanchett; she’s beautiful.”
One more thing Ramadan would like to see change is the concept of blagging by many social media influencers. The designer believes it impacts brands and business.
“They usually want to wear something no one has worn before, yet they won’t pay for it. I don’t see how a dress costing between 8,000 dirhams ($2,178) to 15,000 dirhams ($4,084) worn by an influencer will help my brand,” she states. “I have no problem dressing my friends – because they are my friends and I love them.”
Looking ahead, Ramadan is “opening our first ever outlet” this October, although she declined to disclose the location.
“It’s going to be a very big surprise,” she said.
In the meantime, she’s focusing on her time at Arab Fashion Week.
“This is a wonderful step for the GCC in terms of fashion… it’s a way of moving us forward to become a leader and establishing identity. I am very exciting about what’s to come.”

Beirut Art Fair: For artists faced with the unfair

Rana Samara "Intimate Space".(Image supplied)
Updated 20 September 2018

Beirut Art Fair: For artists faced with the unfair

  • The annual Beirut Art fair runs from Sept 20 to 23
  • The fair offers a platform for Arab artists to present their work to the outside world

ABU DHABI: Arab artists from countries across the Middle East and North Africa, including Palestine, Syria, Egypt and Morocco, shared visions of their homelands and experiences this week at the Beirut Art Fair.
The Samer Kozah Art Gallery in Damascus, the only Syrian gallery at this year’s event, displayed works by 12 Syrian painters and sculptors.
“Most of them are now based in Vienna, Paris, Denmark, Dubai, Beirut, and a few in Syria,” said Samer Kozah, the gallery’s founder and manager for the past 24 years. “It’s safer and easier for them to work from outside. I don’t know when they will come back but I hope they do — you can feel the country in their artwork.”
The annual fair, which runs from Sept. 20 to 23, offers a platform for Arab artists to present their work to the outside world, something that is much needed by those from areas embroiled in conflict and turmoil.
“Nobody comes to Damascus to see art anymore,” Kozah said. “They can see it online, send emails or view on Instagram but they used to come a lot more. The main market for Syrian art in the past was Lebanese and Gulf collectors.”

Mohamed Ablaon . (Image supplied)

Most galleries in Syria struggled during the civil war and were forced to close between 2013 and 2017, though there are signs of a slow recovery.
“It really affected the art industry here but most of them are now open, although it’s a bit quiet,” he said. “Everything can be shipped from here, but the Beirut Art Fair can always help.”
Palestinian artists face similar challenges, as many of them are unable to travel to showcase their work.
“The majority are based in Ramallah, others in Jerusalem, the Occupied Territories, Gaza and in the diaspora,” said Ziad Anani, director of the Zawyeh Gallery in Ramallah. “Their work is mainly political — even if it’s a landscape or a Palestinian family, many show the wall, the prisons, the construction and how we are losing the land.
“Palestinian artists are describing their emotions through their work and the surroundings they live in, from the checkpoints and occupation to the distances traveled.”
Many, however, are unable to travel to the fair to see their work on display due to passport issues.
“Some hold Palestinian papers and it’s even harder to get out of Palestine, so it’s not comfortable for them,” said Anani. “It’s not fair that all the other artists from around the world can see their work but Palestinian artists cannot. It seems like they are in prison; they cannot travel and cannot see the world, when they should be hearing other people’s opinions about their work, hear curators and see other artwork, so it’s a struggle.”
He said the only way people can learn about and understand this struggle the artists face is by seeing their work.
“It is through the art that we exhibit and the messages they send from that art,” he added. “We work with about 25 artists that work with paint, oil or acrylic, video, photography and cultural installations, and the event will be an opportunity to reach out to those who are interested in Palestinian art.”
He described Beirut as the cultural hub of the Middle East.

Hicham Benohoud. (Image supplied)

“It’s always focused on art and culture, and they also have a good number of Palestinians who live in Lebanon,” he said. “We know Palestinian art collectors living there and new initiatives, such as Dar El-Nimer (in Beirut, an interactive space dedicated to the culture of Palestine and the wider Arab world), are interested in collecting Palestinian art so, for us, Beirut is a good spot where we can reach out to those people and try to promote the work.”
Lama Koubrously, head of collections at Dar El-Nimer, said the art scene in Lebanon has been growing thanks to new art spaces, especially in Beirut.
“As an art foundation dedicated to showcasing cultural and artistic productions from the Arab world and the region, we believe it is a necessity to have a platform to raise awareness of art practices, including film screenings, debates, exhibitions, workshops and auctions,” she said. “Moreover, Dar El-Nimer is a place that invites both professionals and amateurs to exchange dialogue with regard to the current art scene shaping the region. Over the years the Beirut Art Fair has been bringing an influx of people from the art world, which is putting Lebanon on the art map.”
Karim Francis, owner of the Karim Francis Art Gallery in Egypt, agrees.
“If you look at the Middle East, what is left are the Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon,” he said. “Lebanon is a small country but it’s quite active and there is a lot of interest in art. Each country usually looks to his own artists, but Lebanon looks to its own and also around – in the end it’s all linked in one area.”
Francis, who is participating at the fair for the first time, is part of the Egyptian pavilion, where he will showcase pieces inspired by Coptic, Islamic, folkloric and Egyptian art.
“It gives a small panorama into what’s going on in Egypt,” he said. “The art scene across the region is growing and becoming more active.”
Gallery Misr, also from Egypt, works with seven artists and presented their work at the fair.

Hosni Radwan"Out of Place". (Image supplied)

“Beirut has more of a personality than other places where you find art fairs,” said gallery founder Mohamed Talaat, who worked for 12 years at the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. “Dubai is more global but Beirut has something different about it. It has great culture and a good connection with Paris.”
The fair this year featured more than 50 art galleries from 20 countries, exhibiting more than 1,600 works by 250 artists. It includes 18 first-time exhibitors, alongside 33 returning galleries, with two sections dedicated to galleries that focus on modern and contemporary art from the region.
“To me, the fair is an interesting place to exhibit, as a local and international artistic platform with many collectors, galleries and foundations, not only from Lebanon but also Europe, Africa and Asia,” said Jacques-Antoine Gannat, international development director at the Loft Art Gallery in Morocco, which exhibited Moroccan photographer Hicham Benohoud’s new series, “Landscaping.”
“For us, it’s also the link between the Maghreb and the Middle East, with its similarities and differences.
The fair is ‘human-size,’ which allows collectors and galleries to meet more easily than at some bigger fairs.”