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With fashion events debuting across the kingdom, Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a design revival – and these are the people are spearheading the movement.
The launch of the Saudi Fashion Council and the kingdom’s first-ever fashion week in early 2018 saw a shift in the direction of the Saudi fashion industry. Young, fresh faces are being encouraged to enter the industry, and established designers now have a platform that is larger than ever before on which to showcase their work.
Arwa Al Banawi is a Jeddah-based designer who launched her fashion brand, ‘A Suitable Woman’, in 2015. Her label, which specialises in suits, is Arab-influenced in its designs – something she felt was missing from international brands on the market.
In 2017, she launched a capsule collection with Adidas Originals for young Saudis. Some of her most iconic designs include T-shirts with slogans such as ‘We are a Kingdom’ (in both English and Arabic), trouser suits in red, white and black and collars with the ghutrah trim (the red-checked pattern on the headdress that is worn by many Saudi men).
Arwa says that she takes her inspiration from the rich history of Saudi Arabia and aims to make it more contemporary, to reflect the mood of the society right now.
Hatem Alakeel is a leading menswear designer in Saudi Arabia who is known for adding a Western twist to traditional designs and attires. His designs include traditional Saudi Arabian thawbs revamped into more contemporary designs, as well as luxury sportswear. Alakeel uses bold prints and sleek finishings in his trademark colours of black, white, navy blue and grey. And it’s not just thawbs he designs; Alakeel’s line also includes shirts, trousers and bomber jackets.
“My design ethos has always been about embracing and celebrating cultures,” he says. “My goal is to demonstrate that our culture can hold its own and can also be appreciated on the international platform.”
Alakeel’s designs have been worn by the likes of The Duke of Cambridge HRH Prince William, Snoop Dogg, Aqua Zouras and Edgardo Osorio.
Deenah Al Faris’s journey in fashion has hardly been straightforward: the entrepreneur began her career as the co-founder of Saudi Arabia’s first caviar farm. With no prior experience in design or fashion, she spontaneously decided that she would spend some time in Milan, Italy, to learn the art of Italian cutting and sewing. Upon her return, she launched her first brand, Qamrah World, which creates clothing for working Saudi women.
The venture has been a great success, particularly as more and more women enter the workforce in Saudi Arabia. The brand is known for its semi-formal and casual attire and draws inspiration from the kingdom’s changing culture.
Mohammed Khoja combines bold patterns with minimalistic aesthetics to create ready-to-wear, contemporary luxury fashion for men and women.
His brand name, Hindamme, was inspired by an Arabic term meaning ‘possessing perfect harmony and aesthetics’. The brand was launched in 2016 and has released three collections so far, to much acclaim in the industry and on social media.
One of Khoja’s most eyecatching creations is a bomber jacket engraved with the words ’24 June 2018′ – the date the ban on Saudi women driving was lifted.
Mashael AlRajhi launched her label in 2013 in Riyadh and, three years later, became the first Saudi designer to be selected to take part in the International Fashion Showcase at London Fashion Week.
She designs men and women’s collections and, unlike many other Saudi designers, who eventually take their businesses to Dubai or Beirut, has maintained her base and manufacturing centre exclusively in Riyadh.
Last year, she launched a collection for Nike that included sports hijabs, jackets, trainers and skirts. She was also the first designer to put a Nike hijab on the runway.
Alia Al-Sawwaf is known for her extravagant haute couture label, SWAF designs, which creates luxurious, maximalist attire.
Al-Sawwaf is based in Jeddah and considers herself an artist as much as a designer. Her brand is known for its ball gowns with glittered finishings, larger-than-life tiered skirts, ruffled capes and trouser suits with dramatic trains.
She states that, despite some misconceptions about Saudi women, there is a strong customer base buying her larger-than-life designs, and that women in the country appreciate haute couture – and she is convinced that demand will continue to grow.
Reem Al Khanal is a graduate from the Art and Skills Institute in Riyadh and is one of the most established designers in Saudi Arabia. Her designs have been worn by local royalties including Princess Deena Al Juhani Abdulaziz.
She won Best Female Designer of the Year at the KSA Arab Woman Awards in 2015, and was also an International Woolmark Prize finalist for the Middle East in 2016.
Al Khanal has also recently launched a more affordable second line, Reem by Reem Al Khanal, for young and working women.
She is known for taking inspiration from traditional interior designs, such as wall paintings and windows, from rural areas in Saudi Arabia.
Razan Al Azzouni is an artist and fashion designer who is known for combining feminine hues with bold designs. Her designs are known for their free-flowing fabrics, and the use of gold and silver in embroidery, silk and elegant layerings.
Al Azzouni says she gets her inspiration from herself and her heritage, and is particularly fascinated by the Arabic language because of its depth and elegance.