MARBELLA: In honor of Saudi Arabia’s National Day on Sept. 23, designer and entrepreneur Hala Abdullah has created a new fine jewelry collection, “Foug,” highlighting her country’s cultural heritage. Abdullah, who divides her time between the UAE and Saudi, founded her brand, Ofa, in 2017.
“I am 100-percent driven by where I come from and the symbolism of Saudi, which I feel wasn’t as present in the world as it is right now,” Abdullah told Arab News. “This is my responsibility: I am from this country and I am representing it with my medium.”
The collection’s green tones reference the Saudi flag, and “foug,” while it has several meanings to Abdullah, symbolizes optimism. The name is partially inspired by an old song by Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu, who, in a grand manner, begins one of his songs with this hopeful Arabic word.
“He says ‘foug’ for so long. It’s a flashback from my childhood,” Abdullah said. “The meaning of it also resonates with the change happening in Saudi right now and the spirit of everyone there.”
Studded with green onyx gemstones and diamonds, the designs that comprise “Foug” are simple, elegant, and geometrical. Abdullah was particularly influenced by the traditional, repetitive diamond- and triangle-shaped weaving patterns (‘Al-Sadu’ and ‘Al-Qatt Al-Asiri’ respectively) that have been embroidered in textiles in the northern and southern parts of the Kingdom. The compact collection contains rings, statement necklaces, and earrings, and are named after Saudi’s varying landscapes.
“We’re not trying to play it safe,” said Abdullah. “We’re trying to make a statement with pieces that anyone can wear, not just Saudis.”
While Abdullah’s pieces are delicate, it’s clear that she is a young woman with a strong personality. She’s something of her father’s daughter, and spent many years in Jeddah with an interest in architecture. “When I was a teenager, I was actually renovating my family’s house,” she said. “My dad was in real estate and I used to go with the workers and work with the cement. I would give them ideas, which they listened to. I gained confidence early on.”
One of her inspirations is the legendary Chinese folk heroine Hua Mulan (whose story was made famous through the 1998 Disney film), who courageously joined the army in her aged father’s stead by dressing as a male warrior, and ended up saving the emperor’s life.
“It was never ‘Cinderella’ for me. I watched ‘Mulan’ more than 70 times,” Abdullah said. “Mulan was a powerful girl. Although she was pretty and delicate, she felt a sense of responsibility and duty for her country. She was strong and fearless and I related to that story more.”
This partly inspired one of the earliest motifs for her brand: the Arabic sword, specifically its middle, cross-like intersecting part.
Abdullah studied architecture at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. The city proved to be an eye-opening experience compared to her life in Saudi to that point. “Everyone around me was very creative and looked very unique — blue hair, tattoos... it was a bit of a shock for me sometimes. But I was pushed to think outside the box and it was a really inspiring experience,” she said.
Ultimately, though, she decided against pursuing architecture as a career. “When you do architecture in the real world, there’s a lot of limitations,” she explained. “I found that jewelry was the same as architecture — the software, the process, the 3D printing — but minus the limitations.”
She added that she felt something was missing when it came to jewelry design in the region. “It was either the big brands that everyone was wearing or the very traditional, gold souk-type of brands,” she explained. “I didn’t feel like there was a brand that I could relate to. That was what was lacking in the Arab world.”
“Ofa” stands for the famous saying: ‘One for all, all for one.’ Unlike many homegrown Middle Eastern enterprises, Abdullah refrained from using her own name for her brand, instead adopting a more collective identity.
“I wanted it be about community,” she said. “I think about it as a legacy and I see myself handing over to my kids one day. I’m really in it for the long run.”