One year after her disruptive Vogue Arabia Saudi issue cover, HRH Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah Al Saud reflects on the impact of the powerful image that made headlines worldwide.
As told to Manuel Arnaut
“People often ask me what made me want to be on the cover of Vogue. There were two significant reasons that compelled me to accept the invitation. Firstly, I am a Saudi female artist, and Vogue Arabia is a prominent, well-established media brand with a wide reach. I am excited about the work I’m doing, and I saw it as a great opportunity to celebrate and share my paintings with an audience that is already familiar with me as a public figure within my country. Secondly, the specific edition of the magazine was exclusively focused on Saudi Arabia. Given my strong sense of patriotism and allegiance to my homeland, I felt that the timing was right to be involved in an exciting publication celebrating the Kingdom.
Although this was my first large photo shoot, to be honest, I was not deeply concerned. Going to the set, I was already well acquainted with editor-in-chief Manuel Arnaut. I trusted his judgment and was not nervous that he would misrepresent me. Since I knew I was in good hands, I was not worried. Had I been, I likely would not have participated.
When I accepted to be photographed behind the wheel of a car, I did not predict the big impact it would have. The issue of women driving is a major talking point for people outside of Saudi Arabia. But for me – and I think for a large percentage of our local population – allowing women to drive is a natural event that simply makes sense in the 21st century. To this end, when women were granted the right to drive in the Kingdom, it was a fairly smooth and natural integration into the societal fabric.
Nations outside of Saudi reacted strongly to the cover, but within the Kingdom it felt more like an inevitability and something that local citizens were ready to embrace. Naturally, like anything put out there by media, you get both supportive and negative responses. I respect both points of view – I do feel like most of the responses I received were positive – and understand where people are coming from. But with all due respect, I am more concerned with the local Arab world. I am who I am, and I’m going to appear the way I feel most comfortable. I have to be able to live with myself and my decisions, and I don’t have any personal issues with how I came across during the shoot.
Sometimes I’m asked how I managed the overnight exposure that the cover received. Growing up as the daughter of the custodian of the two holy mosques, King Abdullah, I learned so much from watching how he dealt with the media, praise, criticism, and exposure. Since I had that rare advantage of learning from him on a daily basis, I think I was probably more prepared to handle the attention that came with the magazine’s publication.
When I think of my Vogue Arabia shoot, I still remember it with happiness and excitement. The entire team did an amazing job of making me feel comfortable and supported throughout. On that particular day, there was a significant sandstorm that swept across the desert. Everyone kept their cool and did their best to make sure that I felt supported and taken care of. I am grateful to both the Vogue team and my personal team for their hard work and support throughout the day. It was a new, fantastic experience, and I was pleased with the exposure that came with the publication. I don’t regret it at all. I count it as a blessing.”
Originally published in the June 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
HRH Princess Haifa bin Abdullah Al Saud cover shoot credits:
Photography: Boo George
Fashion director: Katie Trotter
Hair: Talal Tabbara
Makeup: Petros Petrohilos at Streeters using MAC Cosmetics
Photography assistant: Mark Lincoln
Fashion coordinator: Aram Kabbani
Fashion assistants: Mohammad Hazem Rezq, Danica Zivkovic
Production coordinator Jumana Zahid
Digital tech: Bror Ivefeldt
Retouching: Studio RM
Shot on location at Deeratna