‘New Codes of Luxury in Saudi Arabia’ shows concept of luxury is shifting

‘New Codes of Luxury in Saudi Arabia’ shows concept of luxury is shifting
A new generation of Saudi consumers is dispelling stereotypes associated with luxury, moving away from outdated concepts of what ‘luxury’ entails. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 21 February 2024
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‘New Codes of Luxury in Saudi Arabia’ shows concept of luxury is shifting

‘New Codes of Luxury in Saudi Arabia’ shows concept of luxury is shifting

LONDON: A new report from The Future Laboratory and Together Group not only demonstrates the emergence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a cultural epicenter for luxury consumers, but also showcases ways in which the people and businesses of the region are redefining traditional understandings of how and why such luxury is experienced.

“New Codes of Luxury in Saudi Arabia” presents a detailed analysis of key trends in the market, exploring how the notion of luxury is shifting with the emergence of a new generation of consumers – who are leaving behind outdated tropes and playing a vital, active role in defining new standards of luxury.

For one, a new generation of Saudi consumers is dispelling stereotypes associated with luxury, moving away from outdated concepts of what ‘luxury’ entails, and contributing to a far more nuanced landscape – where the very nature of luxury is determined by factors such as authenticity, locality, exclusivity, sustainability, innovation and accessibility.

Helping to define such a paradigm shift, the new report includes insights from a wide range of expert voices, who explain how the priorities of this new generation of high-net-worth Saudis have evolved in recent years – and how these evolving values look set to influence the luxury market in KSA in the future.

“Saudis expect something that looks like them, that acts like them, that relates to them, as opposed to something that is entirely imported,” says Rae Joseph, creative consultant and founder of fashion house 1954. This desire for culturally relevant luxury doesn’t mean that established, international brands no longer hold any appeal – but it does point to a more dynamic consumer landscape featuring luxury products and experiences that resonate with Saudis on a more personal level. 

And these modern Saudi consumers are interested in more than just high-value products from well-known brand names. In fact, the report details how the changing luxury landscape now includes a plethora of new sectors, from technology and wellbeing, to exciting advances in personalized experiences and ecotourism.

And it’s more than just a passive shift – the emerging skillsets of Saudi Arabia’s next generation sees them ideally placed to define and create these new concepts of luxury, paving the way for a new wave of technologically nimble, global creatives who also place great value in luxury experiences and products that are specific to Saudi Arabia itself.

The youthful population of KSA is another key factor in the country’s evolving concept of luxury. As outlined in “New Codes of Luxury in Saudi Arabia”, that young generation prioritizes luxury experiences, digital engagement and a blend of local and global cultural identity. Such demographic patterns influence how young Saudis want to spend their money – and also need to be keenly observed by those wanting to build exciting, regional brands that connect with these local audiences, as well as developing and growing on an international platform.

“Young Saudis want to respect their culture and live their culture, but they want to be global,” explains Skye Fisher, chief experience officer, Mohammed Bin Salman Nonprofit City, who is featured in the report. “They want to assimilate with the rest of the world.”

Appreciating the subtleties of this balance between local and global is key to understanding how this youthful generation is impacting on the luxury consumer landscape.

“These are Millennials and Gen Z with spending power,” Rachel Ingram (co-CEO of creative agency Folk) tells the report. “And they’re highly engaged on social media. That’s where they’re chatting to their friends. That’s where they’re browsing and that’s where they’re shopping.”

And these young, influential spenders place great value on supporting and championing Saudi businesses. As the report lays out, 95% of affluent 18-34-year-old Saudis regard it as important to support and engage with Saudi-first enterprises. While there remains a place for the existing, well-known brands familiar to many, KSA’s new generation also places value in localized offerings – products and services from names everybody knows, but tailored to a specific Saudi population which is well travelled, well educated, and proud of its history.

It makes for a fascinating landscape – KSA’s new generation wants more than just the same products from the same brands. Instead, this new notion of luxury has expanded to include more than just ‘things’, and now ascribes value to experiences and personalization. And brands – both new and existing – must connect with consumers on a deeper, more personal level in order to secure engagement with this young, affluent population. Because these consumers are not just responsible for defining what is understood by luxury today – they also look sure to play a key role in building what we understand by luxury tomorrow.


Sonia Al-Sowaiegh on making music and ‘relatable Khaleeji’ humor

Sonia Al-Sowaiegh on making music and ‘relatable Khaleeji’ humor
Updated 19 June 2024
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Sonia Al-Sowaiegh on making music and ‘relatable Khaleeji’ humor

Sonia Al-Sowaiegh on making music and ‘relatable Khaleeji’ humor

DUBAI: From starring in a campaign for US label Calvin Klein to singing and amassing a loyal following on TikTok, Saudi Bahraini talent Sonia Al-Sowaiegh is working to conquer the entertainment space.

Better known by her online persona, “Shessonia,” Al-Sowaiegh says she wanted to be a singer from the age of eight. Her discography, she told Arab News, is geared towards evoking emotions.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia (@shessonia)

“I don't care if my music goes viral or not, I just want to make one person laugh or make someone’s day,” she said. “Obviously I have goals … but those don’t equate to my goals of making people feel something and resonate with something.”

Her first EP, “Adulting and Adapting,” which was released in 2020, was inspired by the anxiety of transitioning into adulthood.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia (@shessonia)

“I didn't know how to maneuver and act like an adult when I felt like such a child inside,” she said. “That inspired so much of the album because I wanted people to relate to the feeling of being lonely when you are forced to go out there in the world and experience heartbreak and being broke all by yourself.”

She added: “Sadness really is motivation for me to write. Every time I am sad, I write.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia (@shessonia)

But behind the emotional music, Al-Sowaiegh shows her bubbly side on social media, more specifically on TikTok. With videos gaining millions of views, she describes her content as “relatable Khaleeji” humor.

Like many others, her TikTok journey started in 2020 during the Covid lockdown.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia (@shessonia)

“I started posting on TikTok, making fun of other people as a joke, and then my videos went viral. So I started making lifestyle-ish story time (videos) just putting my makeup on and telling extreme stories that happened in my life,” she said.

Al-Sowaiegh is keen to encourage young Arab creatives to put themselves out there and follow their passions.

“Be yourself. If you have a drive inside you that makes you feel like you want to do something, do it. Don't get advice from someone who tells you not to do it,” she said.


Ithra launches literary initiative in East Asia

Ithra launches literary initiative in East Asia
Updated 13 June 2024
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Ithra launches literary initiative in East Asia

Ithra launches literary initiative in East Asia
  • Ithra will be present at the Beijing International Book Fair, which will be held from June 19-23, and the Seoul International Book Fair, which will be held from June 26-30
  • Participation is part of Ithra’s wider mission to promote cross-cultural exchange, raise awareness and foster understanding through knowledge-sharing

DHAHRAN: King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra, will be present at two of the most prominent cultural events in Asia this summer.

The events are the Beijing International Book Fair, which will be held from June 19-23, and the Seoul International Book Fair, which will be held from June 26-30. 

This participation is part of Ithra’s wider mission to promote cross-cultural exchange, raise awareness and foster understanding through knowledge-sharing.

This book tour will also launch the Mandarin and Korean versions of “Al-Mu’allaqat for Millennials,” a collection of 10 pre-Islamic Arabic qasidahs, or odes, each considered among the most important pieces penned by Arab poets of the 6th century.

The selection represents a shining example of early Arabic poetry. The book is intended to educate new generations about the social and philosophical values of those ancient poems.

Ithra Library will showcase its status as one of the largest and most technologically advanced in the Middle East and solidify itself as a world-class destination for readers from around the globe, offering a variety of resources and tools.

“Ithra is a cultural landmark not just in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but across the Arab World and the globe as well,” Tariq Khawaji, cultural advisor to Ithra, said.

“Our goal at BIBF and SIBF is to expand our reach and encourage greater collaboration, cultural exchange and knowledge sharing. Our presence here serves as a window into our offering, our country and our culture. We are excited to share and start conversations that lead to deeper understanding and continued positive cultural exchange.

“Last year, the Ithra Library had over 700,000 visitors. We successfully conducted more than 100 reading club sessions, 15 programs, and around 175 cultural sessions,” added Khawaji.

“Our library’s programs are not exclusive to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he continued. “Some of our initiatives now take place in seven cities across the globe and we are hoping to expand that further.”

The Beijing fair, now the second largest book fair in the world, attracts more than 2,600 exhibitors from more than 100 countries and regions every year. 

The Seoul fair has been South Korea’s largest book fair for around 70 years and is considered an important platform in the publishing industry.

Ithra Library, housed within the headquarters of Ithra in Dhahran, is a four-story structure, covering more than 6,000 square meters, and is home to over 340,000 books in English and Arabic.

The library applies the latest technologies and tools, including RFID technology that streamlines book borrowing, as well as a smart book returning and sorting system. The library offers free internet, and supplies interested parties with computers for research and study purposes.

The first digitally integrated library in the Kingdom, Ithra’s Digital Library serves as a digital haven of over 50,000 free e-books and audiobooks available to book lovers from across the globe, as well as over 7,000 newspapers and magazines available in 60 languages.


Saudi artist Nada Halabi explores dreams through artwork

Saudi artist Nada Halabi explores dreams through artwork
Updated 13 June 2024
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Saudi artist Nada Halabi explores dreams through artwork

Saudi artist Nada Halabi explores dreams through artwork
  • Nada Halabi: I get a lot of inspiration from travel, so when I go to Europe, I love to visit old and contemporary museums to get ideas
  • Halabi: I lose myself while painting, and sometimes I paint something, then paint something over the top of it if I’m not content, until I’m happy with the end result

RIYADH: Contemporary Saudi artist, Nada Halabi, is exhibiting her “Dreams Unveiled” collection at Ahlam Gallery in Riyadh from June 4-15.  

“There’s a lot of dreams in these paintings,” Halabi told Arab News. “So, it’s like all the years accumulated with time and all my dreams, like sometimes I wake up at 5:00 a.m. and write down what I see, and when I wake up again, I paint.” 

Some of her works are inspired by the Renaissance era, a period of European cultural, artistic, political and economic “rebirth” after the Middle Ages.  

“I enjoy combining Renaissance art with a contemporary touch of flair, and I chose Renaissance characters because I believe their style at that era was exceptional, and they were the true artists, so I transformed some of them into contemporary art,” said Halabi, who enjoys experimenting with different styles, colors and sizes.  

Many things have influenced Halabi’s work as an artist. She enjoys traveling to different museums and finds inspiration in historic places and things. 

“I get a lot of inspiration from travel, so when I go to Europe, I love to visit old and contemporary museums to get ideas. Then, when I return to Saudi Arabia, I just paint nonstop because everything is so new on my mind,” she said. 

Halabi’s works reflect her time-consuming process.  

“I lose myself while painting, and sometimes I paint something, then paint something over the top of it if I’m not content, until I’m happy with the end result,” she said.  

The artist has clients of all ages. Some of her clients are art collectors, while others own museums.  

She studied fine art at the Academie Libanaise de Beaux Arts in Lebanon before relocating to London and then Los Angeles, where she received more guidance from a well-known American artist. She has trained at schools of art in the UK and the US, and exhibited her work in exhibitions and galleries in the Middle East.

In her current exhibition, there is a section dedicated to Lebanon — featuring newspapers and the neon words “Disconnected Roots.”

Halabi said: “I lived in Saudi Arabia longer than I did in Lebanon, even though I was born and raised there, and this artwork shows how many countries are connected yet at the same time are disconnected due to political conflicts.” 


Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 

Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 
Nadine Dorries, who at the time was the British secertary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, visits Gharem Stud
Updated 19 June 2024
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Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 

Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 
  • Founder Abdulnasser Gharem discusses the sweeping changes he has witnessed over his career as an artist in the Kingdom

DUBAI: There is perhaps no better person to ask about the magnitude of Saudi Arabia’s current cultural boom than Abdulnasser Gharem. Gharem has been creating art for decades, and has established himself as one of the Kingdom’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, despite the many obstacles he faced starting out at a time when there was really no pathway to becoming a professional artist from Saudi Arabia and most of those with a creative bent in the country were left with little choice but to pursue other careers. 

“I was in the army for 23 years,” Gharem, 51, who comes from the south of the Kingdom, tells Arab News. “There was no way you were going to be an artist with an income in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Most of my friends and relatives were in the army, so it was a popular thing. I became an officer, just to make sure that I could earn (money), and art would be something I’d do on the side.” 

Gharem also remembers how he discovered that two of his best friends from high school, raised in a strict environment, were part of the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001. “After high school, they just disappeared. We thought that maybe their parents moved to another city,” he says. “And suddenly I found their names in the list of the 19 hijackers. I was really shocked, because I was asking myself: ‘Why wasn’t it me?’ We were in the same neighborhood, the same school, the same environment, and had the same education. I think that’s why I became an artist: I was insisting that I wasn’t going to just rely on others. I just needed to create my own path.” 

And that is exactly what Gharem has done over the past two decades. In 2003, he co-founded Edge of Arabia in London. The arts platform, which highlighted Saudi artists through touring exhibitions, became hugely influential.  

A decade later, Gharem decided to set up his “own space” in Riyadh, which made him realize that there was a huge lack of support for the country’s up-and-coming generation of artists. 

“I had the experience of establishing a studio, dealing with challenges, bringing in sponsors, and setting up programs,” he says. “I was shocked to see how young Saudi talents — boys and girls who were interested in fashion, art, photography, filming — didn’t have their own space.” 

In Gharem Studio, young creatives from a variety of fields are invited to use Gharem’s library, art, filming equipment, the space itself, and — most importantly — to share ideas among themselves. He is much more than simply the founder of the studio, and has become a mentor to several young artists. He hopes that his non-profit arts organization can inspire self-expression and freedom of thought.  

Abdulnasser Gharem, founder of Gharem Studio. (Supplied)
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“It’s really fascinating for me. We have artists like photographer Haitham Alsharif who discusses gender issues, and the artist Halla Bint Khalid (the studio’s co-owner), who is looking into family and children,” he says. “So, it’s all related to society. It’s nice when you listen to issues from different aspects, ages and slices of society. The studio became a think tank.” 

When Gharem Studio was launched, its artists flew abroad to experience art fairs in Europe and exhibited their own works in the UK and the US, traveling across 15 states. Gharem admits that in the beginning there were some hurdles to overcome, not just at home but overseas too.  

“We were doing international shows, because contemporary art wasn’t accepted yet in Saudi Arabia,” he says. “It was honestly tough to sell Saudi art. Of course, now it’s different. Now the government is putting us on the cultural map of the world. We are living in what I call ‘a grant narrative,’ and that’s what we have been looking for since we were young. I can’t believe our dreams became true. Suddenly everything changed. We have two biennales in this country. We have Desert X and Noor Riyadh Festival. These kinds of cultural events have become part of people’s daily lives. They can spend time at the movies, in a restaurant or at a concert, or a biennale. The public sphere has become totally different.” 

In early May, a selection of predominantly photographic works from Gharem Studio were displayed in an exhibition at Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery in Dubai. This month, the studio will be moving to its new home in the cultural hub of JAX District in Riyadh. According to Gharem, there are also plans to establish a bio-art lab in the studio, where artists can explore environmental issues.  

“Our mission,” he says, “is to bring something new to the artist and society.”  


Jeddah university alumna’s film selected for Tribeca festival

Jeddah university alumna’s film selected for Tribeca festival
Updated 11 June 2024
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Jeddah university alumna’s film selected for Tribeca festival

Jeddah university alumna’s film selected for Tribeca festival
  • ‘Kum Kum,’ directed by Dur Jamjoom, has been chosen for the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York
  • Jamjoom completed the film as her graduation project at Effat University in 2022

JEDDAH: Dur Jamjoom’s graduation film from Effat University, “Kum Kum,” has been chosen for the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Founded by actor Robert De Niro, Tribeca is one of North America’s most important festivals. This year’s event began on June 5 and runs until June 16.

Jamjoom completed the film as her graduation project at Effat University in 2022. She said: “I’m incredibly honored and blessed to be the first Saudi female as part of the shorts program at the Tribeca Festival. This opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without my incredible team.”

The autobiographical film is deeply personal, centering on the untimely passing of Jamjoom’s best friend in 2012. Just 12 years old at the time, the tragic event introduced her to a range of unfamiliar emotions.

As the story unfolds, each person recounts the event from their own perspective. Jamjoom brings these diverse narratives together to form a cohesive story, highlighting the profound impact of one person’s suffering on the lives of others.

She said: “I was hesitant to delve into the memory of my friend who is no longer with us, fearing disrespect. But I realized I’m actually honoring my friend, who made me into the person I am today.”

During production, Jamjoom faced numerous challenges. “We shot the movie in the sea, but the waves were uncooperative, and many people were getting seasick,” she said.

“The underwater housing case for the camera posed unique challenges I had never encountered before. I had to trust my team and stay focused on directing.”

She hopes the film inspires audiences to see the light after darkness, emphasizing that “where there is grief, there can also be healing, and the transformative power of overcoming life’s challenges.”

Speaking about the film’s deeper meanings, she said: “In the movie, ‘Kum Kum’ serves as a traditional Saudi game that holds symbolic significance. The game metaphorically represents how life presents unexpected moments, and individuals must adapt to the changes. ‘Kum Kum’ explores the intricate connections between faith, suffering, resilience, and personal growth.”

Mohamed Ghazala, chair of the Cinematic Arts School at Effat University, expressed his pride and joy in celebrating this incredible achievement. He said: “Jamjoom, one of our finest graduates, has dedicated countless hours to honing her craft at our campus, passionately writing, filming, animating, directing, and documenting real stories.

“The selection of her graduation film for the esteemed Tribeca Film Festival is a tremendous honor for us and for Saudi Arabia as a whole. To be shortlisted from a pool of 8,000 submissions is a remarkable feat that showcases the incredible talent being nurtured within our institution. We are filled with optimism and enthusiasm as we look forward to witnessing more groundbreaking achievements from our talented students in the future.”

He added: “This remarkable accomplishment is a true testament to the impactful teaching at Effat University, empowering students with the strong tools necessary to bring their stories to life, captivating not only local audiences but also international viewers.”