Rain doesn’t dampen Riyadh’s Arab Fash­ion Week pa­rade

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Francesca Fearon

Ator­ren­tial rain­storm in Riyadh forced a 24-hour post­pone­ment and a hasty re­arrange­ment of the sched­ule for the first of­fi­cial Arab Fash­ion Week to be staged in Saudi Ara­bia last week­end. Fi­nally, on Thurs­day evening, the first mod­els stepped on to the run­way on this land­mark oc­ca­sion wear­ing Le­banese de­signer Tony Ward’s spring/sum­mer 2018 cou­ture evening wear.

This high-pro­file, high-stakes event would have been un­think­able just two years ago, but strict so­cial re­stric­tions have eased dra­mat­i­cally un­der Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man. Fash­ion week or­gan­iser’s have gone to great lengths to high­light the changes he is mak­ing in the king­dom, which has led the way for this am­bi­tious and glam­orous new de­vel­op­ment.

Re­stric­tions per­sist, how­ever. Arab Fash­ion Week, held in a tented venue at the Ritz-Carl­ton in Riyadh, was a women-only event. Men and cam­eras were per­mit­ted at the re­cep­tion on the open­ing evening, but only women were al­lowed at the cat­walk shows. This meant that af­ter a pa­rade of hand-beaded gowns in black and cos­metic colours that was first pre­sented in Paris in Jan­uary, there was no In­sta­gram­ming from the front row, and Tony Ward could not come on stage to take his cus­tom­ary bow. How­ever, the coun­try is evolv­ing, and this may change in fu­ture.

The rain was not the first de­lay to Arab Fash­ion Week, which was ini­tially an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary by Princess Noura bint Faisal Al Saud, the honorary pres­i­dent of the Arab Fash­ion Coun­cil. It was orig­i­nally sched­uled for the end of March, but was de­layed three days be­fore the open­ing night. Jean Paul Gaultier, Roberto Cavalli and a host of well-known de­sign­ers from this re­gion were con­firmed, but or­gan­is­ing a fash­ion week does not come with­out prob­lems, such is the me­dia scru­tiny of such a sig­nif­i­cant event.

The de­ci­sion to de­lay was taken be­cause or­gan­is­ers were over­whelmed by the in­ter­na­tional sup­port and buzz for the event, plus visas were an is­sue. Even al­low­ing for a two-week post­pone­ment, some press did not re­ceive their per­mits in time; the visa for Ai­isha Ra­madan, a Le­banese de­signer from Dubai, was con­firmed only a few days ahead of her trip to Saudi Ara­bia, forc­ing a last-minute rush to get ev­ery­thing prepped for her show. Many of her clients live in Saudi Ara­bia, yet the place was ini­tially as much a mys­tery to her as it was to the in­ter­na­tional press and de­sign­ers who made it to Riyadh.

Black beaded gowns over cat­suits, capes and jump­suits, pearl-beaded creamy gowns and a cou­ple of stand­out long red dresses fea­tured in this seenow, buy-now ready-cou­ture pre­sen­ta­tion drawn from this year’s col­lec­tions, which Ra­madan de­scribed as the “Golden Age of Ai­isha”. The mod­els were Euro­pean, Rus­sian and from the UAE, and Make Up For­ever re­cruited a team of fe­male Saudi make-up artists for the event.

The first fash­ion shows to be held in Saudi Ara­bia were greeted lo­cally with great ex­cite­ment and, nat­u­rally, they were glam­orous af­fairs. Sched­uled for the evenings so guests could dress in their fin­ery, the or­gan­is­ers went all out to make this as pol­ished and so­phis­ti­cated as pos­si­ble. BMW cars de­liv­ered guests from the ho­tel to the venue, al­though it was only a few min­utes’ walk from the ho­tel lobby. Fash­ion week part­ner Har­vey Ni­chols hosted a large pop-up shop and some trunk shows. Cus­tomers could nib­ble on Fau­chon choco­lates and Ladurée mac­arons, and mill about the spon­sor’s Huawei mo­biles be­fore set­tling on vel­vet so­fas (for the VIPs) lining the cat­walk to watch six de­signer col­lec­tions back-to-back each evening.

From the out­set, the Arab Fash­ion Coun­cil wanted to show­case de­sign­ers from the re­gion, in­clud­ing those from the king­dom such as Arwa Al Banawi (now based in Dubai), Mashael Al Ra­jhi, SWAF and Arwa Al Am­mari of ArAm De­signs. It is a his­toric mo­ment in Saudi Ara­bia, says Ja­cob Abrian, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Arab Fash­ion Coun­cil, “with a wealth in re­sources far be­yond oil, the king­dom is rich in its peo­ple and their am­bi­tions for the fu­ture”.

“It is the Arab Fash­ion Coun­cil’s aim to make the fash­ion in­dus­try “a key pil­lar for the cre­ative economies in the Arab world,” he says. The tal­ented Arwa Al Banawi is a strong ex­am­ple. From Jed­dah and ed­u­cated in Europe, she has a clear han­dle on tailor­ing with strong-shoul­dered pantsuits, fringed leather jack­ets and dresses that splice checks with plain fab­rics or vel­vet with satin. But her Bedouin sweat­shirts and T-shirt em­bla­zoned with “We Are a King­dom” teamed with a tra­di­tion­ally wo­ven wrap skirt re­ally caught the eye. Mashael Al Ra­jhi, from Riyadh, sim­i­larly mixed west­ern tailor­ing with an Arab aes­thetic, com­bin­ing pin­stripe pants and pen­cil skirts with loose lay­ered tops. Mod­est wear, but the type you would wear for busi­ness any­where

The fash­ion week came to a close with a glit­ter­ing gala fea­tur­ing the Jean Paul Gaultier show and a per­for­mance by Bal­let Rus­sia. Gaultier pre­sented a se­lec­tion of pantsuits and long dresses drawn from the lat­est cou­ture show pre­sented in Jan­uary.

“By launch­ing the first Arab Fash­ion Week in Riyadh, we are af­firm­ing the po­si­tion of Saudi Ara­bia not only as an eco­nomic force, but also as a cul­tural and cre­ative hub,” Princess Noura says. “Fash­ion is a form of a univer­sal lan­guage. It is some­thing that is dy­namic and in con­stant change, but it’s not all about trends and de­sign. The fash­ion sec­tor em­ploys a large group of peo­ple,” she says, list­ing de­sign, pro­duc­tion, mar­ket­ing and tourism in a coun­try where the me­dian age is 29. “We be­lieve in the po­ten­tial of the fash­ion in­dus­try, and we be­lieve in the fu­ture of this coun­try.”

Arab Fash­ion Week came to a close with a gala fea­tur­ing the Jean Paul Gaultier show and a Bal­let Rus­sia per­for­mance

Kristy Sparow

Jean Paul Gaultier closed the show

An Arwa Al Banawi out­fit at Arab Fash­ion Week

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