Celebrity Post: The Saudi Fashion Scene
I am often asked by foreigners to define what the current fashion scene is like in the enigmatic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Perhaps it’s the media images of head-to-hand-to-toe cloaked women in black, or the tales of opulent bathrooms with golden faucets and haute couture outfitted harams; but I always get asked.
Depending on who is asking, I may give my superficial response of describing the Gulf States in relation to one another: “compared to the rest of the Gulf, Saudi’s fashion is sophisticated and safe. Kuwait’s fashion sense is way more adventurous and Avant Garde, while Qatar has a penchant for opulence; the Emiratis are hardcore trend followers.
It’s an intentionally distracting answer that requires minimal effort on my part. People are often sidetracked with the new knowledge that Saudi does not comprise the entire Middle East, and that other Gulf States do exist. It’s vague enough to be politically correct, yet comprehensive enough to appear valid. But this post is not intended to insult your intelligence.
If you want me to be technical rather than diplomatic, I would say Saudi has a prominent fashion scene, but lacks a fashion industry. I would say that despite the abundance of fashion entrepreneurs, we possess a shortage of fashion designers. I would say these things, if only you insisted on a definition that wasn’t superficial.
Saudis prefer their fashion refined and modest, despite a conflicting reputation for loving anything shiny and drowned in Swarovski crystals.
Much like the rest of the world we have our instagram peacocks, who take selfies and applaud their own ability to follow a trend. The difference though between their people and our people is that we package and sell it as if they’re something more than just a mere fashion curators with a good eye and an iPhone. True fashion experts are always one season ahead. True fashion geniuses often have an era over us. We have fashion entrepreneurs, who claim the title of designer based on their own made-up guidelines and lack of technical knowledge. We have this confusion because of our lack of actual professionals to reclaim their titles.
In Saudi, we do not have ateliers, nor do we have production capabilities of any kind. Tailors who make “same-same” cuts from store-bought samples, with fabrics purchased from the Balad do not constitute a manufacturing industry. Here, we lack proper PR for brands and publicists for “celebrity” designers. We don’t have models or catwalks and even if we did, we don’t have experienced event planners, who know about runway lightening, choreographing models, or any other integral component of show production. Our photographers are decades behind—and not in the good Jürgen-Teller-retro kind of way.
We don’t have a local platform to showcase or talent, nor do we possess celebrities to be used as walking product placements. Personal shoppers and shopaholics with “image consultant” scrolled on a business card do not constitute stylists. Fashion journalism is another void of our already punctured industry. It’s so bad that a few years ago, one of the leading English newspapers in the Middle East hired a 23-year old with minimal experience to cover international fashion weeks and lead the entire Life & Style section!?
But there is a horizon of hope for the Kingdom. People will rise to the occasion. Opportunity will force us to get our acts together. As I sat front row at PFW, a fresh 23-years old, I knew I had to know everything about every designer, every brand, and every iconic look. I was representing my country and it deserved—and still deserves—the proper representation.
This June, we will congratulate the first graduates with fashion degrees from a local four-year college. Saudization and gender quotas will force a new army of young talent to become part of the retail and fashion machinery—teaching them the various spokes required to have a well-oiled industry. Exponential growth of online engagement and the uninterrupted exchange of ideas will continue to fuel a nurturing fire of creativity and technical expertise.
Sure, we’ll have to outsource some technical aspects for now and foster the growth internally. But when people ask me to define what the Saudi fashion scene is like today, I can say, without an ounce of superficial crap; I don’t care what it’s like today… but I’m excited to see what it’ll be like tomorrow.