Saudi street style book ‘Under the Abaya’ celebrates women’s empowerment

Fatima Al-Banawi photographed by Pano Studio. Supplied
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Updated 29 June 2020

Saudi street style book ‘Under the Abaya’ celebrates women’s empowerment

  • Launched on the anniversary of the landmark decision to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia, the book sheds light on the Kingdom’s unique fashion scene

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s first-ever street style book launched by Saudi entrepreneur and industry leader Marriam Mossalli, “Under the Abaya: Street Style from Saudi Arabia,” is groundbreaking in its exposure of the Kingdom’s unique fashion scene, still little-known outside the country. While the first edition offered an introduction to progressive Saudi women, the second sheds light on their challenges and aspirations through the lens of fashion.

The book launched June 24, the same day Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women driving one year prior.

“What better day to launch our book than on the anniversary of this historic move toward gender equality,” said Mossalli. “It is a celebration of female empowerment in its purest form, as it allows the women of Saudi Arabia the opportunity to narrate their own stories through authentic representations of themselves.”

Fatima Al-Bloushi photographed by Essa El-Dobisi. Supplied

Since founding Niche Arabia in 2011, a luxury consultancy firm based in Saudi Arabia, Mossalli has become one of the Kingdom’s most recognized female voices in fashion and luxury.

“What I love most about ‘Under the Abaya’ is that it is the definition of women supporting women,” Mossalli said. “A hundred percent of the proceeds will go toward granting scholarships so that young women can pursue their dreams of higher education.”

LUX, one of Unilever’s largest beauty and personal care brands, is the exclusive sponsor of the book.

“LUX is honored to partner with ‘Under the Abaya’ to shine a spotlight on inspiring Saudi women,” said Severine Vauleon, global brand vice president, LUX. “We believe in the undying spirit of women everywhere who take pride and pleasure in their beauty and never let judgments hold them back; a woman’s beauty is also an expression of her spirit, of who she is, of what she thinks, does and accomplishes.”

Marriam Mossalli and Mariam Zahid. Supplied

Saudia Arabia’s first female Ambassador to the United States, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, authored the forward of the book. Princess Reema has long been dedicated to women’s empowerment in the Kingdom.

In 2013, she founded Alf Khair, a social enterprise dedicated to providing access to opportunities for Saudi women by offering them professional guidance. She also co-founded the Zahra Breast Cancer Awareness Association.

“‘Under the Abaya’ encapsulates a desire to tell stories, and access or create opportunities,” writes Princess Reema in the foreword. “The project’s principles are an example of women supporting women.”

Jory Al-Maimam shot by Ekleel Al Faris courtesy of Hindamme. Supplied

The role of women has become a key feature of Saudi Vision 2030. The plan aims to have women play a greater role in society and seeks to raise female participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent.

“Young women are under a lot of pressure due to social media and expectations,” said Haya Sawan, a Saudi fitness trainer and healthy lifestyle enthusiast who is profiled in the book. “We as women should ensure that we raise our daughters in a way so as to encourage their inner beauty and cultivate their skills. We need to embrace the younger generations and accept them for who they are and not for what is required or expected of them. Be strong and beautiful.”

Saudi actress, director and writer Fatima Al-Banawi, who also features in the "Under the Abaya," spoke about the judgments placed on women: "I believe we need to talk about these things and be aware of them because these experiences shape us, whether we are the ones judging or receiving judgement. Judgments come from incomplete stories and as humans, we love making stories." 


Review: ‘A Suitable Boy’ mirrors political, personal dilemmas on an unwieldy canvas

Updated 26 October 2020

Review: ‘A Suitable Boy’ mirrors political, personal dilemmas on an unwieldy canvas

CHENNAI: One of the biggest traps when adapting a literary novel to screen is the director’s temptation to include just about everything in the text. Mira Nair’s “A Suitable Boy,” based on Vikram Seth’s 1993 1300-page magnum opus, falls precisely into this trap.

Produced by BBC Studios and now streaming on Netflix, the six-episode miniseries has a canvas too big for comfort, and Nair does not seem to be quite in command. Too many characters, some merely flitting in and out of frame, seem like a jigsaw puzzle, and it is difficult to understand how each one is related to one another. What is even more annoying is that they converse in English, perhaps a production ploy to attract a Western audience.

“A Suitable Boy” is a the six-episode series. (YouTube)

Set in the fictional university town of Brahmpur in 1951, four years after the British left the partitioned subcontinent, the series tries exploring the sense of freedom emerging at the political, social and personal levels. Even as new equations are forming among parties professing different ideologies, and the youth are experimenting with newer notions of romantic love, writer Andrew Davies’ core plot to place the life of 19-year-old Lata (Tanya Maniktala) in the context of a bewildering choice of suitors loses its way in the melange of men and women.

Her sweetly domineering mother insists that she, and she alone, must have the right to choose a suitable groom, but Lata falls in and out of love with three men, each affair accentuating her confusion. There is Kabir Durrani (Danesh Razvi), a handsome history undergrad and budding cricketer who Lata is passionately fond of. Poet and British-educated Amit Chatterji (Mikhail Sen) and disciplined, self-made shoemaker Haresh Khanna (Namit Das) also compete for her affections in a story which conveys the dilemma of a girl fighting to free herself from societal shackles. But Nair goes overboard here. Scenes of Lata kissing Kabir in a public place in the extremely conservative 1950s India appear like the director’s desperate attempt to prove a point. I am sure she could have taken the liberty to digress from the novel.

“A Suitable Boy” is set in the fictional university town of Brahmpur in 1951. (YouTube)

“A Suitable Boy” has other tracks, too. A respected politician’s son, Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter), who is infatuated with an older courtesan, Saeeda Bai Firozabadi (Tabu), plays a role in the series. Lata’s arrogant brother and sister Savita (Rasika Dugal) are part of the motley group. It is her marriage that kicks off the series mirroring the political-religious animosities of a new nation and the personal battles of the youth.

Nair’s debut into television (though not her first in literary adaptations) meticulously details the period, with Stephanie Carroll leading production design and Arjun Bhasin dressing up the characters. The street scenes in what was then called Calcutta appear wonderfully authentic, replete with its quaint trams and hand-pulled rickshaws. Refreshing performances — particularly Maniktala’s — pep up the visual appeal. Yet, “A Suitable Boy” is certainly not in the same league as Nair’s 2001 Venice Golden Lion winner “Monsoon Wedding.”