Marriam Mossalli, [email protected]
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2010-10-13 21:04

The venue couldn’t have fit the ambiance more perfectly. With a sense of elitism in the air and one of bestowed privilege to keep them grounded, the audience sat restlessly for the show to begin.
They were intrigued. Why shouldn’t they be? This, for many, marked a novel opportunity to witness first-hand the fashion from that mysterious desert land, which has gotten extensive media coverage ever since those tragic events of 9/11 and whose ninth year anniversary was celebrated just the day before.
In fact, the entire day of Sept. 11 was filled with ceremonies to honor and give remembrance to those affected by the infamous act of terrorism. These events appeared to reopen wounds not yet fully healed. Albeit a city of multiethnicities, there is no doubt that the sentiments of 9/11 from New York City dwellers are of pure patriotism to the tenth degree. That same sentiment often incorrectly transformed into blind acceptance of hatred and intolerance toward the nationalities of those responsible, more specifically toward Saudis.
And, yet, in one of the most American buildings in one of the most American cities, there it was: the act of overcoming bias — fashion transcending political views and ideologies. Fashion bridging together two extremely diverse cultures and perhaps, even contributing to the alleviation of such embedded anguish.
No one understood this better than the award-winning Saudi designer, Siraj Sanad, whose collection was the reason all these people were sitting there. All of them wanting to get a glimpse, wanting to forgive and wanting to move on.
From the first look to the last, every aspect of Sanad’s fashion show was deliberate. Not a pause nor wave of the hand was improvised. He had a specific message; and delivery was everything.
The first look that came out was shocking. From head to toe, it was Saudi — to the tenth degree. The headscarf had gold Arabic embroidery written on it that translates to “Safah, Daughter of the Nation,” (Safah, being a very Saudi cartoon character that has become an icon for locals).
The garment itself, was a customary woman’s thobe made of (Bedouin fabric) from Abha decorated with the typical “Bedouin Bride” daylilies. Even the model’s make-up was Bedouin, with the traditional tribal marks on her chin drawn in kohl.
Sanad had set the mood. The Arab oud music only further developed this ethnic ambiance. “It was very important for me to show that my country has art,” said the designer in an interview after the show. “Many people on the outside don’t think of Saudi Arabia as a creative nation and we are — very much so.”
The subsequent looks followed suit, becoming less traditional and more contemporary with each model walking down the runway. From his camel colored taffeta thobe to his bold print silk kaftan, the designs showed off his mastery over a variety of materials and silhouettes.
Each model lingered on the catwalk, either in choreographed ethereal movements, or suspenseful pauses. It was just long enough for us to carefully study every fold and sparkle, but not too long to the extent of boredom.
A favorite among many was his bright animal print dress-thobe. A fusion of traditional aesthetic with today’s trends, the creation had bejeweled sleeves and cuffs, making it ideal for the glitterati looking for something unique, yet referential.
“I create my clothes with a client in mind — a lot of these looks were for celebrities looking for something unusual, something that will make them stand out,” explained Sanad.
The show had some surprises, but again, not for Sanad who had orchestrated the entire presentation as an ode to both cultures and their shared love of fashion. This became more apparent with a beautiful crimson silk gown. With a very deep V-neck and an exposed open front that shockingly revealed the model’s undergarment as she walked by, the gown stood as a direct contradiction to his previous looks. And, just like that, Sanad was able to disrupt the settling comfort within his audience just as they were becoming compliant with the expected conservatism of his line.
Then again, another curve ball was thrown by the designer whose country only knows of football: a newsprint abaya. The mandatory outer garment was unfamiliar to most, making the signature Galliano print the only point of reference. Flustered, yet not lost, Sanad kept his audience connected and excited with intrigue.
Next, he surprised us with the introduction of his men’s line through a matching his-and-her (outer jacket) and thobe. The raw silk cuts were basic, but intricately decorated with a hand-painted vista of an Arab village complete with green domes and mud square houses.
Sanad played puppeteer and directed the perceptions of his viewers with such exactness that there was no question that each look was dissected and analyzed again and again.
“I was very aware during the creative process of where and who I would be presenting to,” confessed the designer. “I wanted to do something special for the city of New York.”
He was referring to his most surprising look of the evening: a black abaya. Now, most of you familiar with the abaya are probably thinking, “a black abaya is anything but surprising.” Furthermore, most of us at the show who know of Saudi Arabia would agree, especially when the abaya first came out and the front had that trendy mishla-inspired detailing. However, after a long pause at the beginning of the runway, the model began to walk forward as the music suddenly changed.
Jay-Z and Alicia Key’s hit song, “Empire State of Mind”  —  often informally referred to as the “New York song”  —  resonated loudly in the Grand Ballroom. It seemed like another complete contradiction. Again, the audience was thrown off.
As the model progressed down the runway, the back of her abaya was revealed. It had been hand-painted with a motif of the Statue of Liberty! She twirled mid-catwalk to guarantee maximum impact. The audience stared in awe, maybe even in reverence.
And, when her male counterpart stepped out — a rich red deglah in raw silk with the letters of “New York” embroidered in gold thread — the audience began to clap. Sanad had done it. He had symbolized the fusion of these two very different nations through his passion and through his art.
“I wanted to create a balance of the two cultures,” explained the Saudi native who spent most of his higher education in the United States.
In the Middle East, Sanad is a renowned name. A two-month waiting list is required for an order, attesting to just how high in demand the designer truly is. He is considered to be one of the most influential fashion designers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf with top businessmen, politicians, dignitaries and major names in the entertainment and sports arenas as his loyal clients.
His famous clientele also includes Middle Eastern singers, Yuri Marqadi, Rabeh Saqr, Rashed Al-Majed, Abbas Ibrahim, Mohammad Khalawi, Abdul Majeed Abdullah, Mohammed Abdu, as well as Cameroonian soccer star, Samuel Eto. It’s only a matter of time before the international scene sees his worth too. This was Sanad’s first time to showcase his designs in the United States, and by the reception of his collection, it will definitely not be his last.
“Be highly innovative and don’t look back… success requires courage and overcoming the unfamiliar,” he said.
On Sept. 12, at the Wardolf-Astoria on Park Avenue in New York City, Sanad didn’t just overcome diversity. He conquered it.

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