Since the inception of Vogue Arabia in March 2017, the magazine has frequently rubbed shoulders with what the French might call l’audace. At its launch, the West still dictated international fashions, and blonde, blue-eyed models ruled the runways; its mere materialization was a statement – unsettling to some but ultimately hailed by many. And yet, for several years following its birth, the region was pigeonholed as consumer-focused, incapable of fostering any creative highbrow offering of its own. Over time, these critiques quieted, as celebrities from Los Angeles to Jaipur donned Gulf designer pieces for red carpets, royal weddings, and world tours. Nevertheless, the highest peak of creativity continued to elude the Gulf – the emergence of a couturier of its own.
That changes this month, as Saudi Arabian Mohammed Ashi is proclaimed the first-ever guest member from the Gulf region invited to the Fédération de la Haute Couture’s official fashion week calendar. Founded in Paris in 1868, the federation is the sole institution confirming the houses that receive the designation of couture maison. It brings together French and international couturiers excelling in creativity and innovative savoir-faire. While the words “haute couture” are used loosely by designers who favor the handmade, this denomination is in fact legally protected under the aegis of France’s Minister of Culture.
“This invitation is the most profound moment to occur in my career,” states Ashi of his historical guest membership. On the phone from his atelier in Paris, he alludes to the great emotion he still feels at having received the news. “The federation called me in mid-April to inform me. I was so stunned that I didn’t speak for three hours. I thought back to my humble beginnings – I had hired one first seamstress to give life to the images in my head.” The couturier seems almost incredulous that this day, so sought after, has arrived.
Launching his couture house Ashi Studio 17 years ago, he maintained the utmost discretion; season after season, he eschewed the limelight, inviting guests to enter into a dialogue with him through his clothes – sculptural, ethereal confections, most likely in white or black hues. An international clientele soon flocked to him: HM Queen Rania of Jordan, Penélope Cruz, Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Diane Kruger, Joan Collins, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga. Photographers like Peter Lindbergh, Luigi and Iango, Txema Yeste, and Satoshi Saikusa captured his work on a diverse range of models including Linda Spierings, Georgina Grenville, Gigi Hadid, and Ugbad Abdi. Throughout, Ashi maintained a diligent focus, shying away from most interviews. He was featured twice in Vogue Arabia – the first in October 2017 in honor of his 10-year anniversary. Then in December 2020 on the cover alongside Cindy Bruna.
A short film, released on Vogue.me in March 2017, saw Ashi speak of his love of Paris, the city where he and his atelier are now based. Elegant and mysterious, while secretly playful and deeply generous, the couturier explained that Paris “has always been a place of inspiration –where I can express myself.” He furthered that fashion is a form of therapy and a way to release his energy. Yet, when possible, he exchanges the city for the countryside, where his long-held love of nature is satisfied. “When I was a boy, I would escape to the garden to dream,” he recalls. “To this day, the natural world is where I regain strength to give the best of myself.” Among abundant, lush flowers, abstract visions took form – leading to the silhouettes found at his couture house today. Throughout, his mother was and continues to be a pillar of love and encouragement. “This moment would simply not be possible without her unwavering support, since the very beginning,” he affirms. Industry titans detected his talent early on as well; among them, the late Franca Sozzani. The former editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia took Ashi under her wing a decade ago. She encouraged him to explore ready-to-wear. The valuable advice would serve him well when, in 2020, galas and all eveningwear outings came to a grinding halt.
Now, following his recent January runway, Ashi is gearing up for his most important show yet. His first couture runway as a guest member will occur next month. Ashi quips that his atelier is a flurry of activity from morning until night. Meanwhile, he has recently opened a standalone, upon-appointment-only boutique in the new, luxurious Via Riyadh mall. His voice is grounded and in control; it carries the assured conviction of a man who is where he is meant to be. A man whose work has now raised the entire regional industry higher, and which has landed firmly on the global stage of creativity’s finest.
Originally published in the June 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia