Fashion is not just something we wear – it has greater significance, as Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, explained this week at the announcement of the first Arab Fashion Week to be held next month in Riyadh. She highlighted the Arab Fashion Council's plan of "using fashion as cultural diplomacy, to really bring together the Arab nations, and the opportunity to open the region to international business".
The Arabian council, founded in 2014, is planning an exciting line-up of designers for the inaugural event, which will be held at the ultra-modern Apex Convention Centre – designed by the late London-based architect Zaha Hadid – from March 26 to 31.
They will include Jean-Paul Gaultier, who will present his latest haute couture collection, and a showing of Roberto Cavalli’s summer ready-to-wear line. There will also be a Russian designer, yet to be announced, and discussions are under way with leading names from this region. A partnership with Harvey Nichols in Riyadh will add to the show schedule of summer fashion collections. There will also be exhibition space for showcases and cultural events, including a ballet portraying the story of Saudi Arabia.
Jacob Abrian, founder and chief executive of the Arab Fashion Council, which represents 22 countries in the region and stages a fashion week in Dubai, explains that there has been a 13 per cent growth in high-end fashion in Saudi Arabia, but social media has changed the way people are buying.
While some in the country enjoy very high disposable incomes, which can quickly be swallowed up by a few haute couture dresses, the spread of social media among young consumer requires a larger wardrobe. Therefore, the catwalk shows will be offering fashion for those with budgets of anything between $3,000 and $30,000. Given the median age in the kingdom is 29, there is plenty of opportunity for fashion businesses to develop the market.
However, says Layla Issa Abuzaid, Saudi Arabia country director of the council: “We are aiming at more than creating a world-class event, we are confident that we are on the right track to transform the fashion industry of the kingdom into one of the leading economic sectors of Saudi Arabia.”
The involvement of the British Fashion Council and its vast experience in the education, mentoring and promotion of young talent, as well as its expertise in e-commerce development, brings this ambition into perspective. The British Fashion Council will help the AFC to create a strategy to support young Saudis that want to be involved in the fashion business – to open doors and create a sustainable fashion system for them. The long-term vision is for the kingdom to be regarded as a cultural and creative hub.
Fashion week, the AFC hopes, will attract international visitors who will throw the spotlight on craftspeople in the region, explains Princess Noura bint Faisal Al Saud, the organisation's honorary president, who announced Arab Fashion Week and British Fashion Council partnership. "It is an opportunity to come and see the potential our country has to offer."
She is enthusiastic about the connectivity that fashion week will generate. “It’s our vision to transform the fashion retail industry in Saudi Arabia into a global market,” she says.