The news that Her Highness Princess Noura bint Faisal Al Saud would be joining the Arab Fashion Council started to make the rounds on Instagram. Mid-February, during a London fashion week breakfast for journalists, Caroline Rush, chief executive officer of the British Fashion Council, announced the formal partnership between the British and Arab fashion councils. Its purpose, she said, would be to tap into the Arab Fashion Council’s regional knowledge to support British fashion businesses. Rush then motioned to a woman sitting across from her. “We’re honored to have Her Highness Princess Noura here today,” she stated. The princess nodded to the delighted journalists seated at her table. On that rainy morning in London, it was something of a spring promise of progressive change to come.
The Saudi princess tells Vogue Arabia, “My appointment as honorary president to the Arab Fashion Council came after deep analysis and studies.” In fact, her position was quietly announced in December last year, at the same time the Arab Fashion Council declared that it would open an office in Riyadh. “I plan to commit for as long as I am able to add value in serving the vision of both Saudi Arabia and the Arab Fashion Council.” Her commitment has no set terms, only to “urge for acceleration in realizing our goals.” The princess continues, “Arab fashion week is just the beginning for successive achievements to come.” Her Highness stresses the council’s position in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 – a plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service industries. “The Arab fashion week in Riyadh will be more than a world-class event, it is a catalyst through which we believe the fashion industry will lead other economic sectors, such as tourism, hospitality, travel, and trade.”
The Arab Fashion Council launched in 2014. Introduced as “the world’s largest not-for-profit organization,” it holds the license of an international extraterritorial authority to represent the fashion industry in 22 Arab countries. Its biannual fashion weeks – until recently, held in Dubai – exclusively showcase ready-couture and pre-collections by both regional and international fashion brands. The debut fashion week in Riyadh, from April 10 to 14 at the Ritz Carlton, will open with Roberto Cavalli, followed by regional brands like Arwa Al-Ammari, Basil Soda, and Arwa Al Banawi. The week will also feature shows by Jean Paul Gaultier and Reem Acra.
The Saudi edition represents a breakaway from Dubai, where previous fashion weeks organized by the council have been showcased. It doesn’t mean the emirate is off the map entirely; on the contrary, the council is simply expanding its outreach. Dubai’s fashion week is scheduled for May and a second showcase in Riyadh is on the books for October.
Behind the perceived glamour of fashion events, however, Jacob Abrian, founder and CEO of the Arab Fashion Council, is seeking to establish a fully self-sufficient industry. The council urges designers to navigate a “Made in Arabia” infrastructure. This involves benefitting from the Arab world’s resources and talents in clusters: North African Arab countries can supply textiles and raw material; Levant countries can offer garment manufacturing and finishing expertise; and the Gulf countries are positioned as the go-to for retail and marketing. Abrian says, “New York fashion week began 75 years ago, during the second world war. When we speak about the war zones in the Arab world, or the Arab Spring, the image perceived in the West is not a good interpretation. But in those conflict zones we have some of the wealthiest human resources.”
Her Highness Princess Noura understands that fashion can also encourage promoting a woman’s point of view. She considers fashion an extension of oneself. “It can be very diverse, just like every woman – each one is different,” she says. “A woman can be beautiful and strong, and all these values can be expressed through a personal sense of fashion and style.” She recalls how her own interest in fashion blossomed during her days studying towards a master’s degree in international business at the Rikkyo University in Tokyo. “The street fashion in Tokyo was intense; it was there that I was inspired to find my own style,” says the princess, who is fluent in Arabic, English, French, and Japanese. Managing a daily agenda of meetings, she enjoys dressing “comfortably, but still chic.” When she does attend formal events, she will wear something “feminine, elegant, and understated.”
Her Highness anticipates that the upcoming fashion week will inspire Saudi’s fashion-inclined citizens to experiment with fashion even further. “With more women traveling and becoming more exposed, I see Saudi women finding their own fashion sense. They are becoming more confident and bold in their fashion choices; and giving their own personal touch that is very Saudi – and I love that.”
Arab Fashion Week will take place on April 10-15 in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton.
Originally printed in the April 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.