Focused on human experience and sustainable innovation, a cohort of designers is affirming the strength of Saudi Arabia to grow into a leading power of great design.
The scene is set: stylist Jawaher Aldokeel rushes in for final adjustments, pinning into place the lapel of RealSelf founder, Nouf Alhazmi. Makeup artist Nourah Osamah reaches forward, strategically placing her powder brush on the cheek of designer Dania Shinkar.
With the camera in position, photographer Naif Alquba, bright-eyed, tells Aldokeel, “Yes, stay there, it looks amazing!” and flashes fill the studio with a rush of electric light. As the cast is arranged into their final positions, designer Hadeel AlHussain perfects her eponymous brand’s meticulously cut ivory overcoat, worn with an unexpected androgynous edge by model AlAnoud Osamah – an embodiment of the merging of tastes, energies, and ideas on set. As the shoot comes to a close, the talents and team furl around the screen presenting the shoot’s hero images. The air is filled with affirming repetitions of “Marra helo!” The cast and crew smile with excitement – and relief.
The most inspired designers reclaim the notion of what a designer is defined to be. Existing at the interface of ideas, feelings, and knowledge, in a world that demands of us to be engaged, emerging designers in Saudi Arabia celebrate longevity, sustainability, and intercultural experience. What had felt like a rush to create and exist some years ago by emerging talents in the region, now enjoys a considered pace. Designers are finding deeper value in creating with a clarity of their brands’ market value, as well as their role in building the Kingdom’s fashion industry, buoyed by initiatives like Made in Saudi, spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture.
Shinkar, founder of her namesake accessories brand, considered entering the ready-to-wear market after completing her education at the London College of Fashion. However, upon recognizing the absence of a Saudi brand specializing in bags, she pursued it further, describing the experience as her calling and her brand mission – to design “ethically crafted, eco-friendly products, adopting an explorative and experimental design approach,” she says. “It’s my responsibility to be kind to our planet and to promote mindful consumerism. There’s no point in creating something that already exists.”
Emerging from a visual arts background, AlHussein pursued a more technical education in the engineering of fashion, which is ever present in the framework of her pieces. Inspired by the body’s silhouette, her design process begins with AlHussein “working with her hands,” drawing and sculpting textiles and materials, forming a narrative for each collective centered around the human experience and her ideas of femininity. Aesthetically, her approach to design sees her merge the sophistication of the Middle East with Danish minimalism, where she undertook much of her fashion education. Having grown up in Beirut, AlHussein found a great fascination for “the fashion scene, the glamour, and the amazing couture” and aspired to add that to the market in Saudi Arabia, diversifying the region’s offering. In merging these touchpoints, AlHussein’s collections are formulated with a consistent design language, “leaving the shapes and details to speak for themselves,” she posits.
When examining the work of such designers, what grants their objects strength is their consistency in form, narrative, and intention. This comes from a set sense of values and missions driving a desire to create. It is this sense of understanding that offers brands a stronghold, and what also invites the consumer to build a conscious relationship with the brand. Having lived in Tokyo for more than six years, Yazeed, founder of UNASTokyo, recalls how every aspect of the city was designed with purpose, consideration, and relevance to the environment. He launched his brand in Japan, with these informal schools of thinking directing his approach to design. The slow fashion brand produces “timeless” collections of up to four pieces, manufactured in Japan. It fuses the design aesthetics and sensibilities native to Tokyo with the innate cultural aesthetics that stem from being Saudi. It enters the Saudi market with a pop-up presentation at Personage Concept store this month. The necessity of unique perspectives and products driven by narrative and values is a clear factor in the legitimacy, longevity, and impact of a brand, especially in the context of an emerging and rapidly expanding fashion industry, as is the case for Saudi Arabia.
In fulfilling their respective goals to create sustainably informed Saudi brands, each designer faces their respective challenges in finding new solutions. These challenges range from advancing supply chains for developing and applying upcycled materials, to educating regional audiences and clients about the importance of engaging in mindful fashion consumerism. A consistent hurdle is the difficulty in finding suitable locations to stock and present their collections regionally, given the importance of their product story.
Alhazmi speaks with conviction on the subject, sharing how even in the context of a streetwear brand, “material choices and clear messaging are what lead a collection.” A designer engaging with the rapid process of streetwear fashion, constant drops, and generating new pieces every few weeks, she has found that simplicity and consistency in details are what help her maintain a sense of identity. RealSelf is now stocked across the Middle East, including Personage in Riyadh and the Uncommon Flagship store in Kuwait City. Her consideration for good design being synonymous with sustainability and accessibility, she, along Shinkar, Yazeed, and AlHussain add value and global relevance to the Saudi fashion industry. This loud and clear declaration of conscious design engages craftsmen and makers but also consumers who are invited to experience fashion from a more sustainable approach.
Originally published in the June 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Jawaher Aldokeel
Creative direction: K Dasoar
Makeup: Nourah Osamah
Production: The Playground KSA
Style assistant: Nouf Malawi
Production coordinator: Wiam AbdulJabbar
Model: Alanoud Osamah