Emerging Saudi Arabian designers are dreaming up brands that speak to the power of community and ownership of self, building a homegrown industry along the way.
The Saudi Arabian creative landscape has blossomed in recent years from the ground up, thanks to passion, drive, and gumption, along with support from the Kingdom’s leadership. Initiatives led by the Ministry of Culture, such as the establishment of the Fashion Commission (one of 11 cultural commissions created), act as a springboard for Saudi creatives, designers, and entrepreneurs. Through the commission, incu-bators will be launched for fashion education as a wider subject, as well as bringing direct investment for the development of regional designers, fashion manufacturers, and brands.
There has been an emergence of Saudi ready-to- wear fashion designers that defy and challenge the typical notion of what and who a designer can be expected to be, and how a brand may be established. Diverse talent and new perspectives are generating a rich design landscape that is being further empowered by the evolving consumer behaviors and buying habits across the region. Furthermore, with designers having recognized the significant challenges in regional textile sourcing and production, there is a real motivation to tackle these issues head-on.
Fashion so often reflects the changing dynamics of society, and that is most boldly seen with some of Saudi Arabia’s emerging designers. Recognizing the evolving experiences of Saudi women and the changing face of society, the designers offer garments that are embedded with comfort, accessibility, versatility, and attitude. Jeddah-based Nouf Alhazmi is one designer who stands true to this idea.
Having studied fashion design at Woodbury University in California, Alhazmi returned to Saudi Arabia with the aspiration of developing a luxury streetwear brand designed and made in Saudi. She recognized the absence of and demand for quality ready-to-wear for women that was both “chic and comfortable” from a now highly active and mobile female clientele. Alhazmi established a production studio in Jeddah, where her brand Realself was founded in 2019, with design, sampling, and small- scale production being implemented on-site with her team. As she continues to grow with the support of the Saudi community, Alhazmi is helping pioneer the Made in Saudi fashion model, standing true to her brand’s ethos of being your “real self.”
Jeddah-based banker-turned-fashion-designer Nouran Nazer launched her brand Aspect Doré in 2019, with the aim of creating pieces that are versatile and playful. Her journey as a designer began some 10 years ago upon her return to Jeddah as an engineering graduate. When she noticed what she describes as an absence of “creativity and style,” she began to design informally, until 2014, when she moved to London to study fashion styling at the London College of Fashion. There, she found her voice as a designer, learning the fundamentals to create garments true to her vision. Her collections have featured the use of corseting, sheer textiles such as silk tulles and lace, as well as patent leathers, which she curates with the aim of manifesting garments that feel like an armor that “empower and celebrate the femininity of its wearer.”
Designer and entrepreneur Moe Bajbaa is also harnessing the power of fashion as a platform and social tool. Bajbaa founded Proud Angeles in 2014, a fashion and lifestyle brand inspired by “the individuality and dreaminess of LA with the Saudi hunger and drive to shine.” Proud Angeles has evolved into a brand that also stands as a collective hub for some of the region’s most exciting emerging musicians, skaters, and creatives, as is reflected in the often oversized, easy ready-to-wear collections.
With its regional artist collaborations for one-off drops and immersive installations, energy and gusto have become synonymous with the brand. Proud Angeles supports the development of Saudi creative culture through the curation of festivals, basketball academies for both males and females, as well as supporting the Made in Saudi initiative led by Riyadh-based concept store Personage SA. The store’s founder and owner, HRH Princess Deemah Bint Mansour Bin Saud Alsaud, states, “For those who are committed to their vision and strive for the best, we do the utmost to support them in their journey and growth. Saudi Arabia can be a creator.”
Also merging fashion, subculture, and community is Galag Collection, an offshoot from the sporting collective Team Galag. Initially designed as merchandise, the brand was later formalized by design director Sultan Bin Mohammed with designer and manager Quinner Baird in 2017. The brand offers staples including T-shirts, hoodies, accessories, shirting, and soon footwear. High-impact graphics resembling lashings of vivid paint, which are, in fact, over-defined Arabic calligraphy letters spelling the brand’s name, ensure the essence of a Saudi design influence is ever-present while offering a product range that is globally approachable to the streetwear community. Their upcoming collection, described by Al Saud as its most innovative to date, has been worked on by Saudi artisans and tailors. The bolstering of such relationships between Saudi designers with regional craftsmen, artisans, and textile makers is an essential component in the development of an empowered Saudi-specific fashion manufacturing industry.
The hybridization of cultural and global philosophies has long been a means of innovation and creative development. Riyadh-based designer Saud Alajaji’s brand Mazrood took flight in 2018 following his move to New York, where he studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology. As well as learning about pattern making, fabrication, and textile application, Alajaji also formed collaborative relationships with other designers and creatives. From such, he presented a collection of jersey and nylon technical streetwear in collaboration with a New York-based material designer, which catapulted the brand forward regionally. Collaborations with the Al-Ula festival on customized merchandise and the Personage store saw the brand further mobilize across the Kingdom.
With an aspiration to establish one of the first manufacturing plants for fashion in Saudi Arabia, Alajaji has recently begun producing smaller scale drops and pieces regionally, while importing textiles from Europe and Korea.
Lama Albluwi founded her namesake brand after graduating from Dar-Al Hekma University with a BA in fashion design in 2019. Her latest collection draws inspiration from her Bedouin heritage – she grew up in Al-Ula – as well as the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, the acceptance of imperfection. She sourced Bedouin tenting textiles, formulating them into garments with inside-out seams and imperfect raw hemlines, all of which harked back to the collection’s driving theme of celebrating the beauty of imperfection. Having been fully designed and made by Albluwi, larger-scale manufacturing was later mobilized under her guidance as demand expanded, with specific support from Al-Ula festival as a retailer and distributor. As the brand develops, Albluwi aims to continue celebrating the cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia through the sourcing of regional materials that bode the garment authenticity, passion, and a timeless story.
As the industry looks to the future, the landscape is blossoming with designers and entrepreneurs who take pride in their heritage and are conscious of the many changes and social developments around them. Increasingly, the potential, power, and value of collaboration and community are being appreciated and amplified. Platforms, spaces, and stores such as Personage SA exist as vital infrastructure in the long-term grounding and development of Saudi designers. With this, Saudi Arabia is emerging as a stirring pioneer of how to create, experience, and engage with fashion and design – now and in the years ahead.
Originally published in the December 2020 Issue of Vogue Arabia