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Saudi Arabia conducts 'historic' first swimwear fashion show

"It is true that this country is very conservative, but we tried to show elegant swimsuits which represent the Arab world," Qanzal said

Saudi Arabia conducts historic first swimwear fashion show

Saudi Arabia's first swimwear fashion show (AFP)

SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Arabia held its first fashion show featuring swimsuit models on Friday, an envelope-pushing step in a country where less than a decade ago women were required to wear body-covering abaya robes.

The poolside show featuring the work of Moroccan designer Yasmina Qanzal included mostly one-piece suits in shades of red, beige and blue.

"It is true that this country is very conservative, but we tried to show elegant swimsuits which represent the Arab world," Qanzal said.

She added that it was "an honour" to be involved and that the show could be considered a historic moment as it was the first time to have such an event in a country like Saudi Arabia.

The feature took place at the St Regis Red Sea Resort which is situated off Saudi Arabia's western coast, on the second day of the inaugural Red Sea Fashion Week.

The resort is part of Red Sea Global, considered to be a giga-project at the heart of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 social and economic reform programme overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Prince Mohammed, who became first in line to the throne in 2017, had initiated a series of dramatic social reforms in a bid to soften Saudi Arabia's austere image stemming from its historical championing of a purist form of Islam known as Wahhabism.

Those changes have included sidelining stick-wielding religious police who chase men out of malls to pray, re-introducing cinemas and organising mixed-gender music festivals.

They have coincided with ramped-up repression targeting dissent, including from conservative clerics who might protest such moves.

Shouq Mohammed, a Syrian fashion influencer who attended Friday's show, said it was not surprising given Saudi Arabia's attempt to open up to the world and grow its fashion and tourism sectors.

The fashion industry in 2022 accounted for $12.5 billion, or 1.4 per cent of the national GDP, and employed 230,000 people, according to a report published last year by the official Saudi Fashion Commission.

"It is the first time to have a swimsuit fashion show in Saudi Arabia, but why not? It is possible and we have it here." Mohammed said.

Raphael Simacourbe, a French influencer who also attended on Friday, said there was nothing "indecent" but in the context of Saudi Arabia it was a major achievement.

"That is very brave of them to do that today, so I am very happy to be part of it," he said.

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