In April, Saudi Arabia hosted its first-ever Arab Fashion Week, showcasing international names such as Roberto Cavalli and Jean Paul Gaultier alongside local designers – a powerful metaphor for a country that is in the midst of deep change. Saudi is currently caught between two worlds seeking to find balance between tradition and modernity – an exciting change for all in the Middle East.
However, Saudi women have been fluent in fashion for some time, having proved themselves to be passionate trend followers who aren’t afraid to experiment with different looks. Saudi designers have taken note, so we're flagging four who are changing the look and future of the nation, incorporating the recent reforms into Saudi style, putting them on the fashion map for good.
ARWA AL BANAWI
Dubai-based designer Arwa Al Banawi, known for her matching elaborate printed suiting, was visibly moved by her most recent experience of finally being able to show her collection in her home country. Explaining, “It’s a new era right now for Saudi Arabia, especially for women. The whole world should come and see what we’re made of.” Showing her passion as young designer from Jeddah, her recent collection is inspired by her Saudi heritage, reinterpreted in oversized tees and hoodies emblazoned with the slogans, “WE ARE A KNGDM” and “REBIRTH.” Taking her inspiration from the Arabian Desert, pieces were paired with traditionally woven Bedouin fabric draped over the shoulders and in the form of skirts. “I wanted to take the rich history of our Kingdom and make it feel contemporary,” Arwa continues. “I wanted to reflect the mood of our society right now: that we are proud of what came before us, but even more excited about what could come next.”
“I want people to see what’s under the abaya!” declares designer Mashael Alrajhi, who debuted the first Nike hijab at Fashion Forward in Dubai last year. “Saudi women love everything new, they love luxury and trying things. It’s not like they stick to one style forever.” Mashael’s aesthetic can be described as a mixture between couture and streetwear. Frou-frou tulle dress are juxtaposed with deconstructed shirting and oversized tailored jackets, all dressed down with Nike Air Force Ones. With not a traditional abaya in sight, Mashael puts her own contemporary spin on conventional Saudi dressing, combining the elegance of an abaya’s silhouette with Western ideas of cinched-in waistlines and structured tailoring, while staying true to her conservative roots.
Looking at fashion from an artistic eye, designer Arwa AlAmmari first started off her journey as a painter and sculpture, bringing her artistic approach to the fashion scene in 2013 with her brand ArAm Designs. Known for representing Saudi Arabia in the international reality show Fashion Star and winning the title in 2016, Arwa’s style has been compared to that of John Galliano’s, showcasing an avant-garde feminine elegance, beautifully blended in with tradition. Staying true to her roots, Arwa’s determination for wanting to put Saudi females on the map has got her where she is today. “I was going to represent Saudi Arabia on such a big platform, not just as a designer but as a woman. It was a great opportunity and I had a lot to prove,” she explains about her time on Fashion Star.
Designer Mohammed Khoja launched his Saudi streetwear brand known for its neoprene bomber jackets in 2016 and has been cleverly merging East meets West into his collections ever since. Now incorporating the social change in his home country of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed has marked the lifting of the ban on women driving with a capsule collection. Speaking exclusively to Grazia, he tells us, “The jackets can be worn by both men and women who want to celebrate the Kingdom’s social progress. The decision is not only important to Saudi women and men, but also a step forward in our global quest to achieve more equality, balance and peace.”
Photos: Photography by Ekleel Al Fares featuring Jory Al Maiman and supplied