London: Saudi Arabia will host its first fashion week from April 10 which will take place at the Ritz Cartlon in Riyadh.
The four-day event will feature local Arab designers and European brand names including Roberto Cavalli and Jean Paul Gaultier.
“Since the initial announcement made in February, Arab Fashion Week Riyadh has garnered significant interest from international guests wanting to attend,” said Layla Issa Abuzaid, the country director for Saudi Arabia at the Arab Fashion Council, the Dubai nonprofit responsible for the event.
Originally supposed to be held in February the event was postponed “to accommodate all the international guests who had applied to attend,” said Jacob Abrian, the chief executive of the Arab Fashion Council. “We are extremely thankful for all the trust and support that we have received to make it happen.”
The high-profile, high-stakes plan for a first fashion week in Saudi Arabia, unthinkable even two years ago, comes at a time of groundbreaking reform in the country, led by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia is trying to shift away from a reliance on oil and gas revenues and is repositioning itself as a dynamic place for business, hospitality and leisure.
Saudi officials have gone to great lengths of late to spotlight promises by the crown prince to let women drive and play a greater role in the country’s work force; to expand entertainment opportunities; and to encourage foreign investment.
Change, they say, is in the air.
Arab Fashion Week Riyadh, at which shows will be held in the evening for women-only audiences, will come at a time when women have more access than ever to public arts and entertainment: In January, female fans were welcomed into soccer stadiums for the first time, and a decades-long ban on cinemas was lifted in December.
Now the Arab Fashion Council, which opened its regional office in Riyadh in December, plans to position Saudi Arabia as a hub for an emerging regional fashion industry, appointing Princess Noura Bint Faisal al-Saud as its honorary president.
Recently it also forged an alliance with the British Fashion Council to provide support in establishing a sustainable infrastructure for the fashion industry in the Middle East and the 22 countries of the Arab League.
“The first Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh will be more than a world-class event,” Ms. Issa Abuzaid said when the project was announced.
“It is a catalyst through which we believe the fashion sector will lead other economic sectors such as tourism, hospitality, travel and trade. Our retail sector is among the fastest growing in the world.”
Fashion shows in Riyadh will come at a time when Saudi Arabia’s rules constraining the attire of women outside their homes are showing signs of relaxing.
In an interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS this month, the crown prince said that women should be able to choose what they wear and the traditional black abaya—loose-fitting garment—was “not necessary”.
“The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Shariah (Islamic law): that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men,” Prince Mohammad said.
“This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover,” he added.
“The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.”