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." 


In Lebanon, single-concert festival serenades empty ruins

Updated 05 July 2020

In Lebanon, single-concert festival serenades empty ruins

  • The Baalbek International Festival was streamed live on television and social media
  • The night kicked off with the Lebanese philharmonic orchestra and choir performing the national anthem

BEIRUT: A philharmonic orchestra performed to spectator-free Roman ruins in east Lebanon Sunday, after a top summer festival downsized to a single concert in a year of economic meltdown and pandemic.
The Baalbek International Festival was instead streamed live on television and social media, in what its director called a message of “hope and resilience” amid ever-worsening daily woes.
The night kicked off with the Lebanese philharmonic orchestra and choir performing the national anthem, followed by Carmina Burana’s “O Fortuna,” a 13th century poem set to music.

The program, which ran for just over an hour, included a mix of classical music and rock and folk tunes by composers ranging from Beethoven to Lebanon’s Rahbani brothers.
Held in the open air and conducted by Harout Fazlian, the 150 musicians and chorists were scattered inside the illuminated Temple of Bacchus, as drones filmed them among the enormous ruins and Greco-Roman temples of Baalbek.
Festival director Nayla de Freige told AFP most artists performed for free at the designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
The concert aimed to represent “a way of saying that Lebanon does not want to die. We have an extremely productive and creative art and culture sector,” she said.
“We want to send a message of civilization, hope and resilience.”
Baalbek itself became a militia stronghold during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, but conservation and tourism have revived the ruins over the past three decades.
Lebanon is known for its summer music festivals, which have in past years drawn large crowds every night and attracted performers like Shakira, Sting and Andrea Bocelli.
Other festivals have not yet announced their plans for this year.
Lebanon has recorded just 1,873 cases of COVID-19, including 36 deaths.
But measures to stem the spread of the virus have exacerbated the country’s worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Since economic woes in the autumn sparked mass protests against a political class deemed irretrievably corrupt, tens of thousands have lost their jobs or part of their income, and prices have skyrocketed.
Banks have prevented depositors from withdrawing their dollar savings, while the local currency has lost more than 80 percent of its value to the greenback on the black market.