A handful of fashion journalists are seated at a press conference at the Twitter headquarters in Dubai, awaiting an announcement about what is rumoured to be a global first for the social media platform. Two women, sitting on a bench, stand out from the crowd. Dressed in a powder-blue power suit with hot-pink-capped Louboutin heels and aviator eyeglasses, Rafeea Al Hajsi is an Emirati runway model and television host; seated beside her is Saudi image consultant and personal stylist Dareen Al Yawar, who wears a white midiskirt and beige wrap-blouse, paired with leopard-print heels.
It is soon revealed that these are the two hosts of #FrontRow – the first live fashion news series to launch on Twitter, produced with weekly Arabic women's magazine Sayidaty.
During the big fashion weeks taking place in New York, London, Milan and Paris over the next couple of months, Al Hajsi and Al Yawar will host a series of eight-to-10-minute live episodes that will be streamed on Twitter, and will provide Arabic commentary about the major trends and standout spring/summer 2019 collections (with an emphasis on modest wear for Middle Eastern viewers).
#FrontRow is the first of its kind, and while live videos can be produced through Facebook and Instagram in today’s digital age, the decision to make this a Twitter production was calculated.
Instagram may be perceived as a leading social media platform when it comes to browsing and sharing fashion images, but Al Yawar says that in Saudi Arabia, millennials are more likely to turn to Twitter. “Twitter in Saudi Arabia is very important – it’s the first app we open in the morning,” she says.
Nour Al Masri, regional digital director of Sayidaty, says that English speakers generally use more diversified social media channels, but Twitter is the most popular for Arabic speakers – particularly in Saudi Arabia. She explains that while Instagram accounts may appear to have larger followings, Twitter has more substance, and is taken more seriously by social media users.
“On Instagram @sayidatynet has 1.4 million followers and on Twitter, it’s 400,000 followers, but the people interact on Twitter – they follow, they share Tweets and they save Tweets a lot more than they do on Instagram,” she says. “The people on Twitter are more serious. When they tweet something, they want to make a point. Instagram is more about the photograph – the beauty and the quality. Twitter is more about society, politics and commentary.”
Kinda Ibrahim, director of regional media partnerships at Twitter, points out that it is the only platform where content and conversations can share a screen.
“Since 2017, video views on Twitter have nearly doubled,” she says. “And in the first quarter of 2018, there were more than 1,300 live events on Twitter.”
#FrontRow episodes will appear in the form of promoted tweets from @Sayidatynet on a user's Twitter feeds, even if the user doesn't already follow Sayidaty, and whether or not the user is logged in. The show's sponsors, Unilever beauty brands TreSemmé and Lux, will help select a tailored audience of Arabic users who are interested in fashion, to target the tweets to.
Since the social media platform is most commonly associated with sharing political opinions, the question remains: will fashion enthusiasts take to Twitter to watch curated coverage from fashion weeks? Ibrahim explains that studies by Nielsen show that 63 per cent of Saudi, Emirati and Egyptian women list fashion as their top passion, and that 86 per cent of female Twitter users in Saudi Arabia are interested in watching a fashion series on Twitter.
Past live-Twitter shows in Arabic include Yalla Feed, which discussed sport, entertainment and current events during Ramadan, and Yalla Goal, which streamed during the 2018 Fifa World Cup.
Yalla Feed reportedly had an average of 500,000 views per episode, and Al Masri is confident that #FrontRow can top this.
The Middle East is, after all, well known for its fascination with fashion, proven by the sheer number of fashion-week-style productions that take place regionally, and the hoard of Middle East fashion bloggers who are finding fame through social media. And while the number of regional designers here has also increased, Arab women remain passionate about sourcing the latest trends and products from international labels.
“In the past two years, we thought people on Twitter wouldn’t want fashion shows, but we were wrong; there’s a huge interest,” says Al Masri. “Arab women are interested in fashion, but they trust what’s relevant to them.”