Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present

Abdullah AlOthman - Casino AlRiyadh, 2021 - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Abdullah AlOthman - Casino AlRiyadh, 2021 - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Ahmad Angawi - Proportion of Light, 2021 - Wood and engraved glass  230 x 80 cm - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art 2021.
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Ahmad Angawi - Proportion of Light, 2021 - Wood and engraved glass 230 x 80 cm - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art 2021.
Ahmed Mater - Antenna (Green), 2010 - From the series Antenna 150 x 150 x 50 cm - Courtesy of a private collection - Photo © Riyadh Art 2021.
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Ahmed Mater - Antenna (Green), 2010 - From the series Antenna 150 x 150 x 50 cm - Courtesy of a private collection - Photo © Riyadh Art 2021.
Ahmed Mater - Mitochondria: Powerhouses, 2021 - Tesla coil machine, fulgurite sculptures, sand 1400x1400x200 cm - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Ahmed Mater - Mitochondria: Powerhouses, 2021 - Tesla coil machine, fulgurite sculptures, sand 1400x1400x200 cm - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Aleksandra Stratimirovic - Northern Lights, 2015 - Programmed LED Width 5000 cm - Courtesy the artist and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Aleksandra Stratimirovic - Northern Lights, 2015 - Programmed LED Width 5000 cm - Courtesy the artist and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Aleksandra Stratimirovic - Northern Lights, 2015 - Programmed LED Width 5000 cm - Courtesy the artist and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Aleksandra Stratimirovic - Northern Lights, 2015 - Programmed LED Width 5000 cm - Courtesy the artist and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Ali Alruzaiza - Tribute to Ali Alruzaiza, 2021 - Video projection - Video design by Sara Caliumi and Carlo Camorali - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Ali Alruzaiza - Tribute to Ali Alruzaiza, 2021 - Video projection - Video design by Sara Caliumi and Carlo Camorali - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Amigo&Amigo - Parabolic Lightcloud, 2018 - 1082 light pixels, 800 m recycled rope, 9m diameter - Courtesy the artists and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Amigo&Amigo - Parabolic Lightcloud, 2018 - 1082 light pixels, 800 m recycled rope, 9m diameter - Courtesy the artists and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Amigo&Amigo - Parabolic Lightcloud, 2018 - 1082 light pixels, 800 m recycled rope, 9m diameter - Courtesy the artists and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Amigo&Amigo - Parabolic Lightcloud, 2018 - 1082 light pixels, 800 m recycled rope, 9m diameter - Courtesy the artists and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Angelo Bonello - Run Beyond, 2015 - Iron and LED lights 5300 cm - Courtesy the artist and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Angelo Bonello - Run Beyond, 2015 - Iron and LED lights 5300 cm - Courtesy the artist and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Angelo Bonello - Run Beyond, 2015 - Iron and LED lights 5300 cm - Courtesy the artist and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Angelo Bonello - Run Beyond, 2015 - Iron and LED lights 5300 cm - Courtesy the artist and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Ayman Yossri - Daydban Somewhere beautiful, 2021 - Film stills on TV monitor - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art 2021.
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Ayman Yossri - Daydban Somewhere beautiful, 2021 - Film stills on TV monitor - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art 2021.
Ayman Zedani - Earthseed, 2021 - 3-channel video installation Dimensions variable - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Ayman Zedani - Earthseed, 2021 - 3-channel video installation Dimensions variable - Courtesy the artist - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Carsten Höller - Light Wall (Outdoor Version), 2021 - 1,100 LED bulbs, digital control unit, sound, steel panels, structural elements, wiring, cables 600x400x275 cm. - Unique - Courtesy the artist and MASSIMODECARLO - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Carsten Höller - Light Wall (Outdoor Version), 2021 - 1,100 LED bulbs, digital control unit, sound, steel panels, structural elements, wiring, cables 600x400x275 cm. - Unique - Courtesy the artist and MASSIMODECARLO - Photo © Riyadh Art.
SKALAR, 2021 - Reflections on Light and Sound Light and sound installation - Courtesy the artists - Photo by Christopher Bauder.
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SKALAR, 2021 - Reflections on Light and Sound Light and sound installation - Courtesy the artists - Photo by Christopher Bauder.
SKALAR, 2021 - Reflections on Light and Sound Light and sound installation - Courtesy the artists - Photo by Christopher Bauder.
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SKALAR, 2021 - Reflections on Light and Sound Light and sound installation - Courtesy the artists - Photo by Christopher Bauder.
Company New Heroes - We Light Riyadh, 2021 - 808 lamps, approx. 6000x3000 cm - Courtesy the artists and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
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Company New Heroes - We Light Riyadh, 2021 - 808 lamps, approx. 6000x3000 cm - Courtesy the artists and Light Art Collection - Photo © Riyadh Art.
Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present
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This pivotal creative event aims not only to celebrate the breadth of artistry but also the advent of the Kingdom’s push for a greater creative economy. (SPA/Supplied)
Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present
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This pivotal creative event aims not only to celebrate the breadth of artistry but also the advent of the Kingdom’s push for a greater creative economy. (SPA/Supplied)
Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present
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This pivotal creative event aims not only to celebrate the breadth of artistry but also the advent of the Kingdom’s push for a greater creative economy. (SPA/Supplied)
Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present
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This pivotal creative event aims not only to celebrate the breadth of artistry but also the advent of the Kingdom’s push for a greater creative economy. (SPA/Supplied)
Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present
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This pivotal creative event aims not only to celebrate the breadth of artistry but also the advent of the Kingdom’s push for a greater creative economy. (SPA/Supplied)
Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present
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This pivotal creative event aims not only to celebrate the breadth of artistry but also the advent of the Kingdom’s push for a greater creative economy. (SPA/Supplied)
Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present
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This pivotal creative event aims not only to celebrate the breadth of artistry but also the advent of the Kingdom’s push for a greater creative economy. (SPA/Supplied)
Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present
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This pivotal creative event aims not only to celebrate the breadth of artistry but also the advent of the Kingdom’s push for a greater creative economy. (SPA/Supplied)
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Updated 23 March 2021

Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present

Noor Riyadh references Saudi Arabia’s past and rapidly changing present
  • Undeterred by the pandemic, the festival lights up the capital with over 60 artworks by international and Saudi artists

RIYADH: For 17 days, the city of Riyadh will be transformed into an open-air art gallery with more than 33 light installations across the Kingdom’s capital.

Noor Riyadh, the mammoth festival of lights, inaugurated its first edition on Thursday, March 18, in the midst of the global pandemic. This pivotal creative event aims not only to celebrate the breadth of artistry exemplified through the work of the over 60 participating international and Saudi artists but also the advent of the Kingdom’s push for a greater creative economy.
On the grounds of the Cultural Palace in Riyadh’s prestigious Diplomatic Quarter is a lone pop-up coffee shop — emblematic, one could say, of Saudi Arabia’s popular pastime. Yet there is something different about this particular coffee bar. Poetic Arabic phrases cover the pop-up’s exterior, illuminated in a soft glow. When translated into English, they read: “I am the one coming from the dreamy city. What should I write?”




"Colored Triangles by Myriad, for Riyadh” work in situ: KAFD Conference Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2020-2021
Auto-adhesive colored transparent vinyls
Courtesy the artist and GALLERIACONTINUA
Photo © Riyadh Art.


Titled “Ricochet,” the pop-up is a light artwork by the youngest artist in the first edition of the festival, Nojoud Alsudairi, who addresses public space through Arabic poetry. When visitors grab a cup of coffee, the cup itself is covered with poetic phrases, such as “In your land, generosity, always” or “I have no other place.” Al-Sudairi’s performative architecture installation is very much rooted in the present time and the effects of the pandemic on city life.

During Riyadh’s quarantine, Alsudairi, 26, collected haikus, a Japanese poetic form, and deconstructed phrases from letters written by residents of Riyadh to their city. Additional luminous signs from “Ricochet” can be found around the city, extending the artwork across Riyadh’s eclectic urban landscape.
“My work started during the pandemic as a research project into how Riyadh residents interacted with their city during quarantine,” said Alsudairi. “I began asking people I know to send short phrases on how they were seeing the city through their windows, and this gave me the idea to incorporate literature into the project through signage around the city.




Dan Firman
Butterfly, 2007
Neon tubes
350 x 635 cm
Courtesy the artist and the Farjam Collection 
Photo © Riyadh Art 2021.

“The result was a visual essay on how signage in Riyadh was becoming the interface of the city. Driving through the streets in Riyadh at night, one can see how the city has become an experience of this electric landscape, of all of these words and sentences forming odd pieces of abstract poetry.”
Until April 3, the city of Riyadh will be transformed into an open-air gallery, illuminated by large-scale light installations. As Raneem Farsi, the Saudi curator of the exhibition, notes, what makes the exhibition dynamic is “that Noor Riyadh has included numerous Saudi artists, many of whom have been commissioned to make pieces especially for the exhibition.”

HIGHLIGHT

On the grounds of the Cultural Palace in Riyadh’s prestigious Diplomatic Quarter is a lone pop-up coffee shop — emblematic, one could say, of Saudi Arabia’s popular pastime. Yet there is something different about this particular coffee bar. Poetic Arabic phrases cover the pop-up’s exterior, illuminated in a soft glow. When translated into English, they read: ‘I am the one coming from the dreamy city. What should I write?’

The artworks, which encompass a range of media, including music, sculpture and performance, can be found in two main areas: The King Abdul Aziz Historical Center and the King Abdullah Financial District, where visitors can also view “Light Upon Light,” an exhibition of light art from the 1960s to the present, which is on view until June 12.
While the global art community will have to view the artworks virtually, Saudis have already been flocking to the venues in record numbers.
“One of the most critical aspects of Vision 2030 is the flourishing of the Saudi creative economy, which we are trying to foster, and this is one of the main highlights of Noor Riyadh as a program,” Anas Najmi, adviser to the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, told Arab News. “Despite all of the challenges of the pandemic, we managed to give the experience to 15,000 visitors in just one day. Secondly, over 1,200 jobs were created as part of the Noor Riyadh festival, half of which are for Saudis.”
One aim of the festival is to attract visitors to sites in Riyadh that are not so often frequented, including the King Fahd National Library, the Diplomatic Quarter and JAX, the industrial zone of Diriyah.




Leo Villareal
Corona, 2018
LED monitors, custom software and electrical hardware
145.1 x 248.6 x 16.5 cm
Courtesy of the artist, Pace Gallery and Superblue
Photo © Riyadh Art 2021.

“Light Upon Light,” the main exhibition, showcases a thorough survey of the history of light art through the display of works by leading international artists from the movement, including Dan Flavin, James Turrell, Lucio Fontana, Julio Le Parc and Robert Irwin, alongside contemporary art world superstars such as Urs Fischer and Yayoi Kusama. Also featured are the works of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent emerging and established artists: Nasser Al-Salem, Manal AlDowayan, Rashed AlShashai, Sultan bin Fahad, Dana Awartani, Maha Malluh, Ayman Yossri Daydban, Ahmed Mater, Ahmad Angawi, Abdullah AlOthman, Sarah Abu Abdallah and Mohammad AlFaraj.
“To my understanding, it is the first time that light art has been shown here in the Kingdom, and for that reason alone it is significant,” curator Susan Davidson told Arab News. “What is also significant is the impact I hope it will have on the people of Saudi Arabia. Art takes many different forms, and it can bring a level of well-being and joy into your life. This works very well with Vision 2030 in terms of making Riyadh in particular a very viable and livable city.”




Daniel Canogar
Bifurcation, 2021
Multi laser projection
Courtesy the artist
Photo © Riyadh Art.


Light works by Saudi artists reference both Saudi’s ancient past and its present through conceptual forms. For example, Sultan bin Fahad’s “Once Was A Ruler” (2019) is a series of composites from his photography of ancient sculptures of monarchs from the ancient Arabian kingdom of Lihyan, merged with his own bodily X-rays. Abdullah Al-Othman’s “Casino AlRiyadh” (2021) takes the form of a neon-colored sign that imitates the unique anatomy of the city of Riyadh and draws inspiration from the lighted signage throughout the city. It also references former places for gathering in Riyadh.
Perhaps the most powerful marriage of old and new Saudi through the medium of light art can be found in Robert Wilson’s piece “PALACE OF LIGHT” (2021).




UxU Studio
Illusion Hole, 2020
Metal, LED Lights, wood
200x200x40cm
Courtesy the artists and Light Art Collection
Photo © Riyadh Art.

The work consists of two parts: Multiple performative light elements that dress the landscape of At-Turaif — the historic district of Diriyah and first capital of the Saudi dynasty dating back to 1766 — and a large copper dish placed in front of the palace that, when the light performance is played, seems to be rising out of the sea as the curved edges of Diriyah’s mudbrick structure is covered with projected images of moving waves.
The emotional performance was quickly consumed and widely shared on social media platforms, giving the world a taste of the brilliance of Noor Riyadh. As Davidson said: “Many things get around in the art world through whispers. Even those who could not attend this monumental show will hear about it.”


Ramadan gift guide: From tea to beauty buys, these six sets will brighten your day

Huda Beauty Ramadan advent calendar. Supplied
Huda Beauty Ramadan advent calendar. Supplied
Updated 11 April 2021

Ramadan gift guide: From tea to beauty buys, these six sets will brighten your day

Huda Beauty Ramadan advent calendar. Supplied

DUBAI: From a fragrant bouquet of flowers to a selection of the world’s finest tea, read on for six gift sets to give (and get) this Ramadan. 

 

Huda Beauty Ramadan Gifting Calendar


Treat your loved ones (or yourself) to a curated advent calendar filled with Huda Beauty’s top 10 products. The calendar has been designed to be opened every evening after breaking one’s fast during the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Lakrids by Bulow Love Selection Box


This gift box features the Danish confectionery’s popular chocolate-coated liquorice and is perfect to end your iftar and suhoor on a sweet note.

Tania’s Teahouse Ramadan advent calendar


Celebrate each day of the Holy Month with a cup of some of the world’s finest tea. From black tea to fruity infusions tucked inside the drawers, this is every tea lover’s dream. 

Kiehl’s Ramadan Set

The curated collection of the brand’s best-selling products delivers intense hydration and skincare benefits that cover all your needs.

Bateel Luna gift set


Filled with Bateel organic gourmet dates, this crescent-adorned box set makes for a healthy and thoughtful gift this Ramadan. 

 

Maison des Fleurs gift set


This tray with a small box of Medjool dates and a faux flowers arrangement is not your typical bouquet.

 


Lebanese influencer, designer Karen Wazen launches mobile game app

The free-to-download game launched today on iOS and Andriod app stores. Supplied
The free-to-download game launched today on iOS and Andriod app stores. Supplied
Updated 11 April 2021

Lebanese influencer, designer Karen Wazen launches mobile game app

The free-to-download game launched today on iOS and Andriod app stores. Supplied

DUBAI: Lebanese-British fashion blogger and eyewear designer Karen Wazen has just launched her very first mobile game app. Available on iOS and Android, the new mobile app is titled “Karen Wazen: My World,” and arrived on all app stores today.

The interactive game is based on the Dubai-based fashionista’s real life and is similar to “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” a highly addictive app that mythologizes Kardashian West’s ladder climb to the A-list. 

The free mobile app is a role-playing game with multiple levels that allows users to re-live Wazen’s journey and most memorable milestones, such as graduating in London, getting married and becoming a mother and an entrepreneur in Dubai. 

The interactive game is based on the Dubai-based fashionista’s real life. Supplied

Wazen reveals that the new game came about during lockdown last year, when playing games with her family was a major source of stress-relief during the uncertain time.

“Like so many people during lockdown, we had to think of creative ways of having fun and stay positive during those uncertain times. What sparked the idea for developing the app was discovering how stress relieving playing games with the family was — both online and offline,” Wazen said in a released statement.

“And with this, we’re so excited to be introducing ‘Karen Wazen: My World,’ a free app where we can connect with our followers beyond Instagram and around the world, where users can get to know my story and be a part of my world through a fun, lighthearted game,” she added.

The story-driven game features characters such as the influencer’s husband, Elias Bakhazi. Supplied

The story-driven game also features characters such as the influencer’s mother and her husband, Elias Bakhazi.

In order to advance, users are tasked with decorating Wazen’s home, playing wedding planner and styling her looks.

The new mobile game app, which was developed with NiM Games, is available in both Arabic and English.

It marks the mother-of-three’s first foray into the technology industry.

She follows in the footsteps of regional It-girls, who go by The Real Fouz, Model Roz and Noha Style Icon on Instagram, who featured in the free mobile app “StyleCity,” an iOS and Android role-playing game made by Dubai-based tech company Dubzplay, that launched in Jan 2020.


Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic

Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic
Both Essence and Sun Pharmacy are registered at Maroof, a platform launched by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment for online stores. (Supplied)
Updated 11 April 2021

Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic

Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic
  • Homegrown businesses meet growing demand for natural self-care products

JEDDAH: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise in health awareness worldwide as consumers question their pre-virus lifestyle, and adopt more hygienic, healthy and environmentally friendly behaviors.

Saudis are no exception. Many are embracing healthier lifestyles and practices, seeking natural products to improve their health and prevent diseases, resulting in a growing demand for local eco-friendly, natural and organic beauty products.
According to a recent Mordor Intelligence forecast on the Saudi beauty market from 2021 to 2026, there is a growing demand for natural, organic, herbal and halal products, along with innovative and eco-friendly packaging and designs.
Homegrown young businesses offering naturally made self-care and cosmetic products are noticing increased interest by consumers in their products.
“There had been a growing demand for our products with the pandemic because people are becoming more aware of their wellbeing and they want a healthier lifestyle,” Amani Daghriri, owner of Sun Pharmacy, told Arab News.
Sun Pharmacy (@sun_pharmacy) is the first of its kind in the Kingdom to specialize in fully organic daily skin and personal care products made in Saudi Arabia.
“Every crisis has its bright side, and the pandemic has definitely helped us grow, especially with the shift toward e-commerce, which allowed more people to learn about our store and to try our products,” she added.
Daghriri said that more people are now prioritizing the safety of ingredients and formulas on their skin, which is a message she is keen to communicate.

HIGHLIGHT

According to a recent Mordor Intelligence forecast on the Saudi beauty market from 2021 to 2026, there is a growing demand for natural, organic, herbal and halal products, along with innovative and eco-friendly packaging and designs.

“The skin is the biggest organ in the body, and the first defender of our immunity. Applying chemicals weakens it, but feeding your skin with natural products that are similar to the structure of our cells and bodies helps preserve its glow and health, and therefore the health of the entire body,” she said.
At Sun Pharmacy, Daghriri targets consumers looking for daily use self-care products such as toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo. However, women between 20 and 60 make up most of her clients.
The fast growth of the natural products market reflects the rise in public awareness, said Daghriri. “This market is growing very quickly. When I started five years ago, there were hardly 10 people working in the field, but now it is very difficult to count.”
Although handmade natural products are seen as cost-effective, easy to make and consumer attractive, Daghriri insists that it is a knowledge-based craft that can be expensive, but is also good value.
She believes that business owners in the natural products industry must obtain the necessary knowledge not only to support their business and expand their products line, but also to better serve consumers, gain their trust and eliminate mistakes.
As the home became the new spa during the pandemic, DIY and natural self-care recipes saw significant growth worldwide. “I see many DIY recipes everywhere,” said Daghriri, “but these recipes are prone to fail, rot quickly or interact in an unpleasant way.”
She said that investment in this field requires knowledge about how to produce products properly to gain confidence in your abilities and earn the consumers’ trust.
Sun Pharmacy is permitted by the Saudi Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) to establish its own lab and manufacture its own products.
“The FDA procedures are much easier today than in the past for those who work in our field,” said Daghriri. “In the past, the permit was conditional to factories, but they later made an exception for those who work from home or their own private places to produce their products until they become a factory.”
She also highlighted that products registration is made accessible online, so any registered business can submit its products for approval and release in the market.
Sun Pharmacy closely follows Daghriri’s own lifestyle, beliefs and principles, a fact that she believes is essential for these types of businesses.
“This is not a profit-driven business; passion and faith are necessary to grow,” she said. “I believe the more effort I give, the better the results.”
Daghriri has confidence in the effectiveness of her products, and hopes to expand in the wider MENA region as a leading Saudi brand in the “clean beauty” industry.
Essence (@essence__sa) is another young Saudi startup that offers natural handmade self-care products to Saudi consumers.
The Instagram-based store is run by a mother, Rhonda Howard, and her daughter Lujain Malibari.
“We have always been passionate about using natural skincare, and we want to share our favorites with our customers and people who have the same passion as we do,” Malibari told Arab News.
Essense offers homemade natural essential oil skincare to women customers, but is planning to expand with a product line for men.
Malibari said: “More people are becoming interested in natural remedies for their skin and want to know what’s in their products. We see this trend in Saudi Arabia as well.”
The pandemic has led to an increase in sales for young brands such as Essence.
However, Malibari said: “Our loyal customers have stayed loyal, but it has made it difficult to attract new customers.”
With the safety of products a major concern for potential users of handmade products, Daghriri advises people to refrain from buying products that fail to list ingredients since not all natural components will suit everyone.
Packaging and the right storage for natural products is also important for safety.
“We take pride in using the best of ingredients and in our hygiene practices in the preparation of the products. We make sure that our products are packaged in safe containers that support essential oils, too,” said Malibari.
Regardless of how big or small the business is, those working in the natural beauty industry bear the responsibility of educating customers about ways to adopt a healthy lifestyle and achieve healthy beauty. Both Sun Pharmacy and Essence make knowledge not only a message but also an essential marketing factor.
“We educate ourselves to provide the best quality for our customers,” said Daghriri.
Both Essence and Sun Pharmacy are proud local Saudi brands based in Jeddah that were launched from home. The two businesses are registered at Maroof, a platform launched by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment for online stores.
“What was really exciting when I first started was the ‘Made in Saudi’ label — it brings me joy and pride every time I stick that label on my boxes,” said Daghriri.


Introducing Renaissance Renaissance, the Lebanese label shortlisted for the LVMH Prize 2021

Cynthia Merhej founded her Lebanese label in 2016 alongside her mother. Supplied
Cynthia Merhej founded her Lebanese label in 2016 alongside her mother. Supplied
Updated 11 April 2021

Introducing Renaissance Renaissance, the Lebanese label shortlisted for the LVMH Prize 2021

Cynthia Merhej founded her Lebanese label in 2016 alongside her mother. Supplied

DUBAI: “I’m doing femininity on my own terms,” says Cynthia Merhej, a LVMH Prize 2021 semi-finalist — the first-ever Arab woman to be selected as a semi-finalist for the prestigious accolade — when asked to describe her womenswear label Renaissance Renaissance.

Merhej, the 31-year-old Lebanese designer, who studied graphic design and illustration at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins art school, was always destined to be involved in the fashion industry. She hails from multiple generations of designers — her great-grandmother and mother both ran their own ateliers in Palestine and Lebanon.

The 31-year-old creative hails from a family of fashion designers. Supplied

Her focus and determination to push the envelope can be traced back to her family history. “She was an anomaly,” said Merhej of her great-grandmother. “To have this really strong woman who decided to start her own fashion business and run it herself was pretty unique at the time.”

Merhej grew up in a tiny suburb in Beirut. Her earliest childhood memories are of her mother’s bustling atelier, watching seamstresses at work and seeing her mother carefully drape clothing on clients all day.

Portrait of Cynthia Merhej. Supplied

“I didn’t have the typical story where I’m looking at fashion as an outsider and thinking ‘wow, it looks so glamorous, beautiful and fantastical.’ Fashion was something very real. I was exposed to the whole other side of it, which you usually don’t hear about or see in magazines or fashion shows and things like that,” she said.

At 17, the third generation tailor left Lebanon to pursue an education in London, before moving back aged 24 and launching her own sustainable label alongside her mother in 2016.

Merhej launched her own sustainable label alongside her mother in 2016. Supplied

But although her mother was already a successful fashion designer with over 30-years of experience back home, Merhej revealed that her own foray into the industry began with self-learning. “My mom was too busy. She wasn’t like ‘oh, I’m going to sit and teach her how to sew and teach her how to do this,’” said Merhej. “And I really appreciate that, because fashion is a really tough business.”

Merhej had to take pattern-making classes for a year and a half before she felt she was on “her mother’s level,” as she put it. The mother and daughter duo went on to develop pieces for the brand of clothing known for its bulbous silhouettes, corset-style detailing and flouncy, feminine ruffles.

Renaissance Renaissance is known for its bulbous silhouettes, corset-style detailing and flouncy, feminine ruffles. Supplied

“The brand aims to challenge perceptions of femininity, but in a beautiful way,” said the designer. “When people look at the clothes, they might think that they’re not very radical due to our perception of what radical is. But when you take my clothes and display them in shops in Beirut, they’re really the opposite of everything that is found there,” she added.

Merhej has a point. When one thinks of classic Lebanese designs, one cannot help but think of the glamorous red carpet gowns and gorgeous couture creations that come out of Beirut season after season.

Cynthia Merhej photographed by Lily Merhebian. Supplied

“It was actually really hard to get recognition in the Middle East,” said Merhej. “I had to really go outside the region to find people that would understand what I’m doing,” she added, noting her relocation to Paris following the tragic Beirut explosion on Aug. 4.

As a result of her hard work, Merhej’s designs are now being recognized. Last week, she made fashion history after being announced as one of 20 semi-finalists for the LVMH Prize 2021, making her the first-ever Arab woman to be shortlisted as a semi-finalist for the award.

Merhej is the first Arab woman to be shortlisted for the prestigious LVMH Prize. Supplied

“It’s already incredible we even got to the semi-finals,” said Merhej. “It will be even more incredible if we get to the finals, but I think even just to get to this point is pretty amazing.”

Her Lebanese label has also elicited a positive response for its strong commitment to sustainability.

Merhej’s most recent fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection, for example, features fewer looks, ethical production and a complete absence of buttons and zippers, which often end up in the trash even after a garment is recycled.

The fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection features fewer looks, ethical production and a complete absence of fastenings. Supplied

“I was raised to approach fashion ethically since before I even knew that sustainability was a term,” said Merhej. Her sustainable approach to fashion was further encouraged by her father, an engineer, whose lessons taught her the importance of producing something to the highest quality so that it lasts over time.

“I think the most sustainable thing you can do is design things with a lot of consideration. You have to make sure that what you’re designing actually has a purpose, that it’s beautiful, and it’s something people want to keep and desire — and that you’re using ethical conditions to produce it,” Merhej said.

“Everything around me is constantly being destroyed in this country,” she added. “I am trying to make something that’s going to be really beautiful and that stands the test of time for the women that inspire me.”


Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city
Updated 10 April 2021

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city
  • Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city”
  • Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks

LUXOR: Archaeologists near Luxor have unearthed just a portion of the “largest” ancient city ever found in Egypt and dating to a golden pharaonic age 3,000 years ago, officials said Saturday.
Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city,” saying the site was uncovered near Luxor, home of the legendary Valley of the Kings.
“We found one portion of the city only. But the city extends to the west and the north,” Hawass told AFP Saturday ahead of a press conference in the archaeologically rich area.
Betsy Bryan, professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, had said the find was the “second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun” nearly a century ago, according to the excavation team’s statement on Thursday.
Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks bearing seals of Amenhotep III.
The team began excavations in September between the temples of Ramses III and Amenhotep III near Luxor, some 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Cairo.
Amenhotep III inherited an empire that stretched from the Euphrates River in modern Iraq and Syria to Sudan and died around 1354 BC, ancient historians say.
He ruled for nearly four decades, a reign known for its opulence and the grandeur of its monuments, including the Colossi of Memnon — two massive stone statues near Luxor that represent him and his wife.
“It’s not only a city — we can see... economic activity, workshops and ovens,” Mostafa Waziri, head of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said Saturday.
Since the announcement, some scholars have disputed that Hawass and his team have succeeded where others had failed by locating the city.
Egyptologist Tarek Farag posted Friday on Facebook that the area was first excavated more than a century ago by a team from New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
But Waziri dismissed these concerns, saying previous digs had taken place further afield to the south the site.