The permission and promotion of such glossy ventures is the latest addition to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” strategy: a social, cultural and economic overhaul of the kingdom’s conservative rules. “Fashion publishing has the potential to be a strong platform upon which to narrate the story of Saudi’s homegrown fashion talents and encourage cultural exchange,” Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, a leading member of Saudi Arabia’s fashion commission, said in a statement on the launch of the new magazines. The fashion commission is one of the 11 bodies that manage the growing Saudi cultural sector under the Culture Ministry’s auspices.
Only last week, the ministry appointed Burak Cakmak as head of the kingdom’s Fashion Commission. Cakmak, a former dean of fashion at the Parsons School of Design in New York, promised to promote “Made in KSA” (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) as a key player in the global fashion industry. But he also said he was aware that at the moment there is not enough information internationally about the creativity coming out of the kingdom.
Saudis want to see local content
Before March 2021, the Saudi magazine market had been catered for by Arab editions, such as Harper’s Bazaar Arabia or Vogue Arabia. However, the new Saudi editions will feature domestic content by Saudi writers. “This edition is specifically for the Saudi market. It is only distributed there print-wise, curated for the particular tastes and aesthetic of the Saudi consumer and also showcases the up and coming Saudi talent and landscapes, many of which have never been seen before,” Olivia Phillipps, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, told DW. The bilingual English and Arabic magazines will be published biannually (Esquire Saudi) and four times a year (Harper’s Bazaar Saudi), with 100,000 copies in 2021.
One of the country’s fashion beacons and the contributing fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar Saudi, Marriam Mossalli, has been fighting “stereotypes surrounding Saudi women” on Instagram, with her blog and as head of Saudi Arabia’s only luxury consultancy firm. She was the first Arab fashion expert to be invited to the White House by former first lady Michelle Obama.
“I founded my own company 10 years ago and have been witnessing how the country is progressing,” Mossalli told DW. “For so long, we’ve been learning and using fashion terminology in a different language,” Mossalli said and names the Greek-style dress “peplum” or “jumpsuit” as examples for words that lack Arabic counterparts. “Now, we can start putting a glossary together, in Arabic.” For Mossalli, this means harnessing the new freedom to shed more light on the local fashion market, getting more women in the workforce, and exporting Saudi fashion and culture. Individual events suggest that change is already taking place. In January 2021, an haute couture fashion catwalk showcased modernised, open abayas (normally fully-closed black robes that are generally worn by women) that allowed seeing the ankles, and loose veils in front of a mixed-gender audience at a private event in Riyadh. Both open abayas and a mixed-gender audience would have been unthinkable in the past.
However, only last February, Loujain al-Hathloul, one of the group of women’s activists who drove before the ban was lifted, was set free after more than 1,000 days in prison. Other female activists who protested against the ban are still detained. “While Saudi officials heavily promote the former, they staunchly deny Saudi people the latter. That is unacceptable,” Ahmed Benchemsi, HRW’s Communications and Advocacy Director Middle East and North Africa, said.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle