Saudi fashion industry seen as a catalyst for economic diversification as it eyes global recognition

Special Saudi fashion industry seen as a catalyst for economic diversification as it eyes global recognition
Brimming with diversity, Saudi Arabia’s topography offers picture-perfect backdrops for local and international fashion designers. (Photo: Saudi Style Council/NEOM)
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Updated 12 September 2023

Saudi fashion industry seen as a catalyst for economic diversification as it eyes global recognition

Saudi fashion industry seen as a catalyst for economic diversification as it eyes global recognition
  • Vision 2030 reforms have laid the ground for talented young Saudi designers to flourish in the industry
  • Acclaimed Saudi designer Yousef Akbar says the Kingdom recognizes fashion is a “serious business”

DUBAI: Move over, Milan. Not today, New York. It’s Riyadh’s turn to shine on the global catwalk as social reforms and economic diversification across the gamut of sectors propel Saudi Arabia toward the ranks of international capitals of the fashion industry.

In July, Mohammed Ashi became the first Saudi designer to show at Paris Haute Couture Week — a leading event in the global fashion calendar — by invitation of the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.

Models present creations by Ashi Studio during the Women's Haute-Couture Fall/Winter 2023/2024 Fashion Week in Paris n July 6, 2023. (AFP)

This September, a hundred Saudi brands will head to Italy’s style capital Milan to present their designs in WHITE Milano, one of the most anticipated events during Milan Fashion Week. 

The rise of Saudi fashion designers is a relatively recent development, owing in part to a host of government-sponsored initiatives, including the Ministry of Culture’s Fashion Commission, established in 2020 to lead the sector’s expansion.

Saudi fashion emerged as an important catalyst for economic growth and diversification in line with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda, launched in 2016 to help the Kingdom branch out beyond hydrocarbons.

The Since 2087 gallery in Jeddah. Since 2087 is a brand founded by Saudi creative director Abduljalil Abduljawad. (Supplied)

The Fashion Commission recently published a report, “The State of Fashion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2023,” to help local and international stakeholders understand the scale of the opportunity offered by the country’s emerging fashion industry.

“It holds the largest projected growth rate of any other large, high-income market,” Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Fashion Commission, told Arab News.

“Fashion is now very much a key economic driver of Saudi Arabia’s growth with the report showing retail demand for fashion products in the Kingdom is forecast to increase by 48 percent to $32 billion in 2025, with luxury retail set to enjoy 19 percent growth.

“We’re taking Saudi fashion from a predominantly domestic-focused market to the international stage and our home-grown brands, some established and some emerging, attend major fashion weeks and are building customer bases around the world.”

Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Saudi Fashion Commission. (Supplied)

Among the initiatives spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture through the Fashion Commission is the first-ever Riyadh Fashion Week, scheduled to take place from Oct. 20-23. The aim is “to sit among the most popular fashion weeks in the world,” Cakmak said. 

“We look forward to giving a warm welcome to visitors from across the globe and showcasing what Saudi fashion and luxury has to offer.”

While fashion shows have been held in private settings in Saudi Arabia for many years, it is only since the social reforms implemented after 2016, including the suspension of laws requiring women to wear head coverings, that such events moved into the public domain.

Dolce & Gabbana staged its first fashion show in the historic desert region of AlUla in 2022, while other prominent fashion and jewelry brands such as Chaumet and Van Cleef & Arpels, among others, have also staged events in the Kingdom. 


Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture established the Fashion Commission in 2020 to lead the sector’s expansion.

Demand for fashion products in the Kingdom is forecast to increase by 48 percent to $32 billion in 2025.

Above all, the Vision 2030 reforms have cleared the way for talented young Saudi designers to flourish in the industry, establishing their careers and showcasing their work on the domestic, regional and global stage.

“The world has its eye on Saudi Arabia — whether it’s through our participation in global sports, promoting the Kingdom as a new tourism destination, or a global player in the start-up economy,” Marriam Mossalli, a Saudi lifestyle editor, journalist and founder of communications agency Niche Arabia, told Arab News.

“There are so many sectors that utilize fashion, whether it’s the staff uniforms of a new resort by the Red Sea Development Company, or costumes for a new play produced by the General Entertainment Authority. There are so many opportunities for young Saudi talent to get involved and have their homegrown aesthetic celebrated.” 

Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, top left, wearing designs by Mona Alshebil. Alshebil, Niche Arabia founder Marriam Mossalli (top, right) and Mohammed Ashi (above, left) are among the Saudi creative talents who have entered the international fashion scene. (Photos: Mona Alshebil/Lina Qummosani/Saudi Fashion Commission/AFP)


In 2021, the Fashion Commission launched the “100 Saudi Brands” initiative, aimed at supporting and empowering Saudi designers by providing them with mentorship, guidance and resources to help them achieve international success in the fashion industry. 

The initiative has demonstrated the Saudi government’s commitment to promoting and developing the country’s fashion industry while supporting its designers to reach their full potential. 

“Being part of the 100 Saudi Brands for the last two years, I have greatly benefited from all the experts we worked with,” Saudi designer Mona Alshebil told Arab News. 

“Moreover, we participated in Milan Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week, with the support of the Fashion Commission.”

Others, such as the acclaimed designer Yousef Akbar, whose designs were featured on the cover of Vogue Arabia’s June edition celebrating new Saudi talent, say that until a few years ago there was no fashion industry to speak of in the Kingdom. Now that has all changed.

Saudi fashion designer Yousef Akbar. (Instagram)

“The fashion industry is now recognized as serious business for the government,” Akbar told Arab News. “Whereas before nothing was done about it. There was no fashion industry. Now there is the recognition that fashion is important, and it plays a key cultural and economic role. 

“Secondly, the Saudi government’s investment in establishing the industry is crucial and thirdly, which in my opinion is the most important, are the designers themselves, because there is a lot of talent in the Kingdom and without the designers, there is no industry.”

Now, people around the world “can finally see that there are talented designers in the region and they’re just as good as anyone international.”

At the end of 2023, the Fashion Commission will also launch a first-of-its-kind product development studio in Riyadh. The production space will enable designers to create prototypes and samples to hasten market entry.

Brimming with diversity, Saudi Arabia’s topography offers picture-perfect backdrops for local and international fashion designers. (Photo: Saudi Style Council/NEOM)

The studio will be outfitted with cutting-edge technology, including 3D knitting and laser-cutting machines, with a view to being on par with the best factories in the world. Still, there is a lot of work to be done to forge a prosperous future for the fashion sector.

“We need to lay the foundation for an authentic fashion ecosystem that can evolve with the country, as well as complement the global fashion industry,” Mossalli said. 

“From manufacturing and sales to marketing and media, Saudi Arabia can adopt best practices and find its niche among its international counterparts.”

This will involve continued investment in human talent.

“We will continue to be guided by the data as we build the foundations for an internationally networked value chain and invest in Saudi Arabia’s talent pipeline through educational programs to produce world-class designers, ensuring the Kingdom continues to grow as an integral part of the global fashion scene,” said Fashion Commission CEO Cakmak.

Mona Alshebil designs. Mona Alshebil is a Saudi fashion designer and part of the 100 Saudi Brands Organization. (Photo Courtesy of Mona Alshebil)

Many of the Kingdom’s up-and-coming designers are striving not only to grow their own brands but also showcase their country’s heritage and identity on the regional and international stage. 

Fashion, therefore, has the potential to contribute both economic growth and enhance a sense of national pride. 

“As an emerging designer in Saudi Arabia, my goal is to contribute to the growth and development of the fashion industry in the Kingdom,” said Saudi designer Alshebil. 

“I am passionate about showcasing the unique beauty and creativity of Saudi fashion to the world, while also creating opportunities for local talent and celebrating the cultural diversity of Saudi Arabia.”


‘Dubai Bling’ releases trailer for season 2

‘Dubai Bling’ releases trailer for season 2
Updated 30 November 2023

‘Dubai Bling’ releases trailer for season 2

‘Dubai Bling’ releases trailer for season 2

DUBAI: Netflix this week dropped the trailer for the second season of the reality show “Dubai Bling,” due for release on Dec. 13.

The returning cast will include Zeina Khoury, Farhana Bodi, Lojain Omran, Kris Fade, Ebraheem Al-Samadi, Loujain Adada, Safa Siddiqui, and DJ Bliss.

US Iraqi beauty mogul Mona Kattan has joined the new season.

Kattan shared the trailer with her 3 million Instagram followers and in a caption to her post, she said: “Season two of ‘Dubai Bling’ is almost here. Can you spot anyone new?”

The trailer shows scenes shot at AlUla.

According to Netflix, the first season was the platform’s third most-watched non-English TV show on the week of its release.

The program has been praised by critics for its ability to attract a multicultural audience due to its diverse cast, as well as merging English and Arabic dialogue, often in the same sentence.

Ludovico Einaudi, James Blunt, Swiss Orchestra to perform at Saudi Arabia’s AlUla 

Ludovico Einaudi, James Blunt, Swiss Orchestra to perform at Saudi Arabia’s AlUla 
Updated 30 November 2023

Ludovico Einaudi, James Blunt, Swiss Orchestra to perform at Saudi Arabia’s AlUla 

Ludovico Einaudi, James Blunt, Swiss Orchestra to perform at Saudi Arabia’s AlUla 

DUBAI: The “Hegra Candlelit Classics” concert series — headed by renowned pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi, the world-famous Swiss Orchestra, and award-winning singer-songwriter James Blunt — is returning to AlUla in January.

The cherished candlelight concerts will take place at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra, coinciding with the Winter at Tantora festival. 

The concert will feature a repertoire of live classical music performed by Einaudi on Jan. 18 alongside a talented mix of Saudi musicians.

Einaudi’s breakthrough came with “Le Onde” (1996), followed by a series of influential albums blending classical and minimalist elements.

His ambitious project “Seven Days Walking” and recent solo piano album “Underwater” showcase his evolving artistry, earning him the prestigious Opus Klassik award in 2022. 

Blunt, renowned for hit singles such as “You’re Beautiful” and “Goodbye My Lover,” will perform at AlUla’s Maraya Concert Hall on Feb. 9. 

The British musician’s 2004 debut album “Back to Bedlam” was the UK’s best-selling album of the 2000s, and set the scene for his popularity ever since. 

The Swiss Orchestra will headline on Jan. 19 during Winter at Tantora. The orchestra has dazzled global audiences with renditions of famous Swiss composers and legendary figures including Beethoven and Mozart.

Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF

Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF
Updated 30 November 2023

Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF

Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF
  • The film heads to Saudi Arabia after screening at the Venice Film Festival this year
  • The director has won multiple awards at the Berlin International Film Festival and has been nominated for prizes in Venice and Chicago, among other festivals

DUBAI: Years ago, Tunisian filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia was struck by an image he couldn’t get out of his head. It was a man running towards a cliff, and when he reached the edge, he started to fly. He knew there was greatness in it — a perfect image of freedom. He felt it could perhaps be the basis for his greatest film. But as he wrote and he wrote, nothing came of it. The emotions felt flat. It wasn’t that the idea wasn’t ready — he wasn’t ready himself.   

“I was maybe 20 years old at the time. I was childish and immature. Everything I wrote made little sense to me,” Ben Attia tells Arab News. “But when I finished my film ‘Hedi’ in 2016, the idea returned. Suddenly this idea of a man flying started appearing in my mind beside my own emotions — the rage I was feeling deep within myself. And then these feelings and that image started to blend.” 

At the start of December, “Behind the Mountains,” the result of that renewed inspiration, will screen in competition at the 2023 Red Sea International Film Festival, after receiving support from the Red Sea Fund while in production. The film made its acclaimed debut at the Venice International Film Festival in September, and as much as Ben Attia put his all into the making of the film, seeing audiences react to such a deeply personal and multifaceted movie can sometimes be painful.  

Ben Attia on set with Walid Bouchhioua, who stars as Yassine in “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied)

“I hate this at times, to be honest. I know I’m supposed to love it, but it can be difficult when people get so confused by watching it, trying to figure out what it’s trying to tell them,” Ben Attia says. “This is part of doing cinema — a film cannot be loved by everyone. But it’s a very strange feeling with this film particularly, because it’s hard even for me to explain the meaning of the film, as well as for many to understand what drives this character to begin with.”  

“Behind the Mountains” begins simply enough, at least. Rafik is released from a Tunisian prison, four years after his mental health issues manifested as a violent outburst in his former workplace. He now believes he can fly, and kidnaps his young son to take him to a special place behind the mountains to show him that his vision is real.  

There are many potential interpretations of this tale, but it’s hard not to draw parallels to the story of Tunisia itself, even for Ben Attia. Almost exactly 13 years ago, the Tunisian Revolution began, culminating in the ousting of the Ben Ali government and the start of a still-ongoing redrawing of the Tunisian political landscape and a reorganization of the country’s society at large.  

Ben Attia on set with Majd Mastoura, who stars as Rafik in “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied)

In a time of great upheaval, a world of possibility emerges. Suddenly, the future feels free — enough to make a man feel that he could fly, because perhaps he can. But is the anarchy of freedom a blessing? A curse? Both? And can anything truly change if people continue to impose the same mental shackles on themselves as they did before? It’s a complicated subject that has caused more than a few headaches, to put it lightly.  

“I would say that, since our revolution happened, the busiest people in our society have been the psychiatrists. Because it wasn’t just that things changed politically — it was also a revolution of the individual; a revolution of feeling,” Ben Attia explains. 

“The idea that this regime could change was impossible for us to imagine. So it gave us the feeling that anything could happen, even in our own lives. That’s why people started changing professions, getting divorced… That’s exactly where this film finds its characters — in moments where they come to their own realizations of possibility, their own understandings of how things can be different, for better or for worse.”  

A still from “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied) 

Ben Attia has changed a lot, too. Over the last decade, his work has captured the attention of the film community cross the world. 2016’s “Hedi” won the Best First Feature award at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival and was co-produced by the renowned Dardenne brothers. His next film, “Dear Son,” was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and was the Tunisian entry for the Best International Film category of that year’s Academy Awards.   

Part of what has kept him grounded as his star rises is his second career, the one he rarely talks about.  

“I have a strange life, to be frank. While I’m doing all of this, I’m also a chef in my family’s Italian restaurants in Tunis. I get my ideas for films when I’m working in my kitchen. It gives me balance in my own life when I have these dual identities. It takes the pressure off. When I was just doing nothing, no ideas came. I have to work in the restaurant — I have to be making pasta fresca to get a little bit inspired. It allows me to see things I couldn’t have in any other circumstance,” says Ben Attia.  

But while the kitchen is where the ideas start to flow, art is still an act of self-therapy, especially as it can often contain complex and contradictory ideas that everyday linear thought often can’t. 

A still from “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied)

“We are living in strange times, especially with what’s happening in Gaza and everywhere else,” Ben Attia says. “It’s not just our region of the world, it’s also about the identity of the Arab people and our relation to the Occident. As an artist, that fills us with contradictions — today I think something and tomorrow I think something very different. But thankfully, we are not making science, we are making cinema. We’re still discovering what the truth could be, and what our future could be.”  

At each screening of “Behind the Mountains,” Ben Attia gets different interpretations from the audience of all the things it may be saying. And with every question, he has more time to consider what he thinks about both the work and the world he’s living in — and he hasn’t quite worked it out. But that’s the beauty of cinema, as he says, and when his next film idea comes to the boil back in his kitchen, he’s ready to see where his inspiration takes him next.  

“I’m giving myself boundaries: first, just follow the promotion of this film just to understand better what I did and how, and why I did it. Even if that hurts, it’s good to do, and it’s good to react to what happened with this film,” he says. “Even now, I have a vague idea — I have another image I’m getting ready to pursue. But I’m in no rush. I want to take my time and see if it’s still there in a few months, and if that’s the case, then I’m ready to start for sure on the right foot.” 

Director Yasir Al-Yasiri talks ‘surreal’ opportunity to open Red Sea International Film Festival with ‘HWJN’

Director Yasir Al-Yasiri talks ‘surreal’ opportunity to open Red Sea International Film Festival with ‘HWJN’
Updated 30 November 2023

Director Yasir Al-Yasiri talks ‘surreal’ opportunity to open Red Sea International Film Festival with ‘HWJN’

Director Yasir Al-Yasiri talks ‘surreal’ opportunity to open Red Sea International Film Festival with ‘HWJN’
  • Fantasy film based on hit novel ‘about the journey of discovery,’ director says
  • Baraa Alem stars as kindhearted jinn who falls for mortal woman

DUBAI: Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri said he was delighted that his new film, “HWJN,” had been chosen to open this year’s Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah.

Speaking to Arab News before the big night on Thursday, the Dubai-based filmmaker said: “I feel really surreal. Getting to open the festival in Jeddah about a story set in Jeddah itself is pretty fantastic.”

The fantasy film is based on the hit young adult novel of the same name by Saudi Ibraheem Abbas, which was praised for combining Western sci-fi and fantasy tropes with Arab culture and folklore.

Al-Yasiri said he was drawn to the challenge of making a fantasy film in Saudi Arabia as the genre was still new in Arab cinema.

A poster for opening film 'HWJN.' (Supplied) 

“And to actually have Image Nation Abu Dhabi, MBC and Vox excited to bring this to life was very fortunate. For me, it was an ideal opportunity to bring such a story to life.”

Set in modern-day Jeddah, “HWJN” follows the story of Hwjn, a kindhearted jinn (genie), played by Baraa Alem, as he discovers the truth about his royal lineage and falls in love with Sawsan, a mortal woman played by Nour Al-Khadra.

“‘Hwjn’ is a story about the jinn world. Of course, jinn is deep-rooted in our culture and religion and it’s a familiar subject to our audience. Yet, there is no visual representation of jinns. So, I wanted to make a movie about them and at the same time make it relatable to the audience, so they feel what they have in their minds — as a legacy and from a cultural standpoint — can be relatable visually,” Al-Yasiri said.

“The story is about the journey of discovery that one of the jinns takes and a forbidden relationship that he has with someone from the other realm, which is the human realm.”

Al-Yasiri, whose previous films include “Murk Light” and “On Borrowed Time,” spent five years making “HWJN” and said its cast were as obsessed with the novel as its many fans.

“When it comes to casting, I always follow my instant gut feeling,” he said. “Most of my previous films, I cast my actors upon first viewing, like I get butterflies when I see their performance. And when I see that both performance and looks really match with what I have in mind for the character, it clicks.

“Noura Al-Kadra really was one of those actors who really clicked right away as soon as I saw her audition tape. And I said, ‘That’s it, this is Sawsan.’ And it was the same with the others, like Baraa and Naif (Al-Daferi),” he said.

“Their hunger and appetite to the story itself and how aware they were to the success of the novel I think added an additional layer to how excited they were about it and that was really showing in their auditions.”

The Red Sea International Film Festival runs from Thursday to Dec. 9.

Paul Chowdhry set to bring ‘family-friendly’ comedy to Riyadh  

Paul Chowdhry set to bring ‘family-friendly’ comedy to Riyadh  
Updated 30 November 2023

Paul Chowdhry set to bring ‘family-friendly’ comedy to Riyadh  

Paul Chowdhry set to bring ‘family-friendly’ comedy to Riyadh  

DUBAI: Paul Chowdhry — the first British Asian standup comedian to sell out London’s Wembley Arena — will perform his first show in the Kingdom as part of the comedy festival Riyadh Laughs, which began Nov. 23 and ends Dec. 2 in Boulevard Riyadh City.   

Chowdhry will be performing his hit show, “Family Friendly Comedian,” in which he lays out the plan for his transition into a happy-go-lucky “guy next door” persona that will turn him into a national TV treasure to Muvi Cinemas on Dec 1. 

“It’s a show that plays on topics that are considered family-friendly to some, but maybe not to others,” he says. “It’s a show about political correctness. I talk about my life, I talk about families, as well as the UK government and English people a lot. So, it’ll be interesting if we get a mix of British people and locals (in the audience), because we talk about both sides of it, as well as traditional upbringings in comparison to Western upbringings and all that.”  

In August 2019, Chowdhry’s record-breaking stand-up show, “Live Innit,” was released as an Amazon Prime original special in 200 countries worldwide. The tour received two nationwide extensions, including five nights at Hammersmith Apollo and that sold-out show at the 10,000-seater Wembley Arena. His performance there was voted one of the venue’s top ten shows of 2017.  

Apart from his current tour, Chowdhry is also excited about audiences soon getting to watch him in a Christmas episode of Sky’s “The Unofficial Science Of…” — a format in which comedians investigate the science behind the stunts of famous films. Alongside fellow comedian Chris Ramsey, Chowdhry will “reenact the stunts from ‘Die Hard’ and then the show goes to America to interview the cast of ‘Die Hard.’ This has never been done before. We’re going to be jumping off buildings and jumping through fire.”  

Chowdhry, who is of Indian Sikh descent, is no stranger to the Middle East, having performed multiple times in the UAE. “I’ve always loved performing in the Middle East, because the crowds are always so great,” he said, adding that he was looking forward to his first show in Saudi Arabia. 

Chowdhry, 49, said he grew up loving comedy, “but you never know you can do it until you stand in front of an audience.” He actually quit university in order to give stand-up a go.  

“I’ve been addicted ever since,” he said. “From my first ever show, I immediately got a real buzz from it. It felt like I was flying.”  

Chowhdhry credits his family with being supportive of his decision to give up on higher education to pursue his dream.  

“They’ve supported me throughout my career so far. Some of my extended family may have had some issues, but that’s not really my concern,” he said. “You have to live your own life. As long as everything you do is legal, then follow your own dreams and live your own life — you’re not living somebody else’s.”