Saudi actress Mila Al Zahrani, supermodel Helena Christensen and top London designer Roksanda Ilincic were among the guests at a fashion showcase by two female Saudi designers, organised by the Royal Commission for AlUla during London Fashion Week.
Arwa Alammari of ArAm Designs, and sisters Alia and Abeer Oraif of Atelier Hekayat brought their glamorous collections to London at the invitation of the British Fashion Council, which has forged a partnership with AlUla Creates.
The platform is an offshoot of Film AlUla, which encourages female creativity in film, fashion and the arts, and is one of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiatives.
'Presenting a Saudi woman is the easiest way to dispel preconceptions'
“The film phase has already started,” says Charlene Deleon-Jones, executive director of the Royal Commission of AlUla, who is developing the infrastructure that includes new film studios opening next month.
“Film is a virgin market in Saudi and fashion is a close cousin to that industry. We are working with two senior female filmmakers in Los Angeles, Haifaa Al Mansour and Katie Holmes, who are mentors for our film programme.”
The fashion element, she envisages, will be the designers working as consultants with the filmmakers and becoming part of the output.
Deleon-Jones also makes the point that fashion and clothes “are part of the dialogue when people [in the West] think about Saudi women. Presenting a Saudi woman in the room in real time and real life is the easiest way to dispel preconceptions,” she says.
While models presented her ArAm collection of silk tailoring and evening wear inspired by the gardens of the Alhambra, to press and retailers in London, designer Alammari says of the programme: “It brings together talents from Saudi Arabia in both fashion and film on a creative platform to give them a voice at the international level and to express their art to the world.
“Saudi women are very fashionable and know the latest trends, but what is exciting now is having a voice to express ourselves and show what we like.”
'The Saudi woman has a very special story'
As part of the cultural fashion exchange, ArAm and Atelier Hekayat worked with London designer Emilia Wickstead in a project to create bespoke looks to be worn by celebrities at the Oscars earlier this year. Wickstead is also one of the regular designers of choice for Kate, Princess of Wales.
“Emilia has done a lot of red carpet and gave us advice on the construction and materials to use,” says Alammari. She believes Wickstead also benefited from their sharing of knowledge. As the London designer has many clients in the Middle East, “she wanted to explore opportunities as well”.
ArAm and Atelier Hekayat have previously presented their collections in Moscow, Milan, New York and now London. They will be participating in the inaugural Riyadh Fashion Week next month as part of a line-up of 30 brands.
“The Saudi woman has a very special story, and we want to share that with the whole world,” says Abeer Oraif, co-designer of Atelier Hekayat, a glamorous evening wear label that nods to the traditions of Saudi dress but with added decorative flamboyance.
“We are a community showcasing our talent and we feel empowered by that,” says her sister Alia.
'They are strong, independent and proud of their country and culture'
Film AlUla’s partnership with the British Fashion Council began with a dialogue around what the council does in the UK to support young businesses to grow and reach new markets.
Caroline Rush, chief executive of the BFC, says: “We co-created this fabulous programme as a way of celebrating and mentoring female-founded businesses within the creative industries, thinking very much of fashion and film, which are so intertwined – obviously we are involved in the fashion part of it.
“It is also a great opportunity to introduce these designers to our market and our fashion week.”
The Saudi designers were shown how British designers approach the domestic market in terms of wholesale, direct-to-consumer or private couture clients. “So this event is really the first time for them to get a response to what resonates here and whether to focus on wholesale or private clients,” explains Rush.
“What has resonated with us is how strong, independent and proud they are of their country and culture and equally proud to tell their narrative, along with the opportunities they’ve had within Saudi Arabia and opportunities they see coming their way.”