It was a mad dash from the Chatelet Theater—where Jean Paul Gaultier had taken his final bow—to the Georges V Hotel where Saudi couturier Tima Abid was preparing to give her first show at Paris Haute Couture. In what was a highly-anticipated career move, no less than 16 years in the making, Abid received her guests, notably superstar singer Assala Nasri, members of the Al Saud royal family, and Vogue Arabia editor-in-chief Manuel Arnaut in high style. Produced by Basamat Arabia, the brainchild of Vogue Arabia it girl and entrepreneur Aisha Almamy, the show’s atmosphere offered a candlelit, luxury-laden salon. Dining tables, named after the couturiere’s closest family and friends, were set for a diner of foie gras, sea bass, and caviar, and overflowed with tumbling hydrangeas, courtesy of the hotel’s star floral artistic director, Jeff Leatham.
The show opened with the lyrical voice of Tunisian talent Omayma Taleb, who serenaded the first looks with her crystalline voice. The Spring 2020 couture show featured an impressive 50-some dresses, representing nearly a year’s work, with Abid sharing that some pieces involved 400 hours of craftsmanship, most of it done in Saudi Arabia, at her atelier in Jeddah.
Tima Abid couture comes across as the type of dress a woman will want to don when she is poised to showcase a certain inner ferocity, an unbridled fearlessness. Save for a few exceptions—take the ballgown replete with butterfly accouterments or the lavender hoop dress—this is not couture for the young ingenue. These are dresses for an assured woman whose esteem comes from within, which she will proudly flaunt with the work of petites mains translating this confidence into structured boning, seductive transparencies, and some of the most coveted boleros seen in years.
At times, however, Abid’s storytelling enters unknown territories, with the collection missing a certain focus that would allow us to better understand her real take on the season. With time, it will be beneficial to see her aesthetic honed to offer an even more impacting narrative. To wit, a metallic skirt appears to continue up a shoulder like Rapunzel’s braid; necklines are regal, decorated with plumes, that sometimes continue down the length of the body to create the sight of an exotic creature. Almost always the waists are cinched, often by a strict boned corset.
If there’s something that we learned from this show, it’s that Tima Abid is here to make us rethink the image of the Arab woman overall, and the fashion that comes from the Gulf. With body-hugging silhouettes, transparencies, and skin on display, the collection shattered the conservative stereotypes associated with Saudi women and her dress code. Perhaps it is a change in line with the new positioning of the country, that now hosts music festivals with the biggest stars in the world, along with mega sporting events, and other cultural summits.
Flanked by her daughter and daughter-in-law, Abid pronounced, “I want to be the Chanel of Saudi Arabia. I want to show that the Saudi woman can do it,” she said after the show, stressing the juxtaposing duality of her couture. Her feline eyes narrowed as she continued. “I’m Arab and I’m a strong woman. When any woman wears Tima Abid, I want her to feel strong, elegant, and delicate. I want women to feel free, liberated like a butterfly.”
Driving home her ethos, her closing look, an ivory wedding dress looked nothing like the heavy bridal looks that have become de rigeur at Paris Couture. With a sheath silhouette and embroidered and bejeweled silk panels, the gown appeared fresh, and positively surprising, not forgetting a bravura showcase of craft. “The last dress; it’s my dream. I wanted to show something different,” nodded Abid with a certain irreverence that reminded of the ghost of Coco. Syrian star Assala offered, “The wedding dress was one of the most beautiful I have seen; it was gorgeous.”
“I wanted to come to Paris because I want to be an international name,” she added Abid, flanked by two of her five, adoring children. “It’s late, but it’s OK. Actually, it’s never too late. This is only the beginning.”