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Meet the Saudi Millennials Driving Their Country Through to the Next Creative Forefront

This month’s Hai Vogue event unveils a celebration centered around the youth of Saudi Arabia. Meet the millennials who are driving their country through to the next creative forefront.

Ziyad Almaayouf wears shirt, pants, Kenzo; Husein Alireza wears jacket, pants, Balenciaga; Nojoud Al Rumaihi wears jacket, shirt, pants, Saint Lauent; Fay Fouad wears jacket, pants, Les Benjamins; shirt, CDLP. Photo: Amer Mohamad

This month, Jeddah’s historic Al Balad district will come alive with the launch of the first-ever Hai Vogue, a two-day celebratory event that spotlights the youth of Saudi Arabia. With a tastefully curated program, a plethora of fun and festive activations await the already bustling city. Locals will have ample chances to mingle with visitors in an intimate and interactive space, while sampling mouthwatering food and enjoying the lineup of live music. The space will transform itself into an embodiment of what the new Saudi is and can be.

As a westernized Saudi millennial, I know firsthand how it is to live between two worlds – not just east and west, but offline to online. In my teenage years, I saw my generation pivot and adapt to the latest gadgets that got smaller and smarter, while still vividly remembering the humbling sound of the dial-up tone crackling out of the communal computer in the family room. We went from manually searching for things by flipping through a physical book to rapidly scrolling through endless digital pages on our phones.

Nojoud Al Rumaihi wears dress Valentino; gloves, Atelier Hekayat, shoes, Max Mara; Fay Fouad wears blazer, Uscita; dress, Balenciaga; Husein Alireza wears thobe, shemagh, legal, Husein’s own; Sarah Taibah wears shirt, Prada; shoes with tights, Balenciaga; Ziyad Almaayouf wears blazer, pants, shoes, Valentino. Photo: Amer Mohamad

For the February issue of Vogue Arabia, we speak with 11 Saudi millennials who are both youthful and old enough to have the wisdom to help mentor others. Each individual’s journey represents a sliver that, together, helps us tell the collective story of a morphing Saudi Arabia. The country’s new generation represents a significant portion of this relatively young nation; at just 94 years old, the Kingdom has lived many lives already. According to the 2022 census from the General Authority for Statistics, its population is at just over 32 million; of which youth make up 63%. The celebration at Hai Vogue on February 8 and 9 will bring together the burgeoning talent that represents that segment of society. The Kingdom today is a juxtaposition of old and new; we proudly hold onto our rich heritage and traditions while also being open to new technology, embracing innovation, and being experimental every step of the way.

Alia Oraif wears scarf, abaya, Atelier Hekayat; Abeer Oraif wears dress, Atelier Hekayat. Photo: Amer Mohamad

The host city, Jeddah, which is derived from the word “grandmother” in Arabic, will be the perfect cradle to celebrate Hai Vogue, alongside the voices of these 11 individuals that are helping to shape the community, both nationally and globally. February is also significant in Saudi Arabia for another reason. On the 22nd of the month, we celebrate our third-ever Founding Day. It is a date we recently started to rejoice in and one that focuses on the day the Kingdom truly came together to unite all tribes, city dwellers, and nomads alike. Hai Vogue will join the fun by starting the party early. Here’s to new traditions.

Aisha Almamy wears dress, Mona Alshebil; Lina Malaika wears blazer, pants, Michael Kors; Fay Fouad wears dress, Del Core; Abeer Oraif wears dress, Atelier Hekayat; Alia Oraif wears dress, scarf, Atelier Hekayat; Sarah Taibah wears shirt, pants, Max Mara; shoes, Christian Louboutin; Nojoud Al Rumaihi wears shirt, skirt, shoes, Dior; Arwa Al Banawi wears dress, Arwa Al Banawi; shoes, Arwa’s own. Photo: Amer Mohamad

Arwa Al Banawi

When Arwa Al Banawi was about 10, she recalls going into her bedroom in Jeddah and flipping through issues of Vogue. She would sit in awe at the artistry and daydream about one day joining that creative conversation. Her mother, who always had an eye for style, had been collecting issues of the magazine before her. Al Banawi couldn’t wait for the day when she would open up a glossy magazine and find Saudis like her represented.

At age 12, she decided to become a designer – but she had nowhere to look to at first. “Saudi Arabia did not offer it as a major in college and it wasn’t proposed as an option anywhere in the region at that point,” reflects Al Banawi. With an eclectic taste that blended traditional and urban, she became a fastidious designer who combined luxury with city chic. In 2015, she launched her own brand.

Al Banawi spent part of her upbringing in Germany and Switzerland, places that were ripe with inspiration and helped her incorporate different elements from the European underground style to the Saudi sophisticated look. In 2021, she designed a shoe with sportswear giant Adidas that incorporated Saudi patterns.

While she used to look to the west for inspiration, the designer soon realized that she also loved the Ramadan thobes for women, which felt like works of art. “The men’s bisht is perhaps my favorite garment, combining meticulous craftsmanship with a timeless aesthetic,” she states. Today, the designer focuses on bridging together the various cultural influences and honoring the younger version of herself by making the designs she wished to see in the world.

Aisha Almamy wears blazer, Fendi; dress, Huda Bamarouf; Mohammed Khoja wears shirt, pants, Saint Lauren; belts, Mohammed’s own. Photo: Amer Mohamad

Aisha Almamy

Elegant and soft-spoken, Aisha Almamy lets her outfits do the talking. After residing in fashionable cities such as Paris and London for many years, the CEO and founder of Basamat Arabia – a consultancy that focuses on fashion brand development, image consultation, and event management and says it is “from Arabia to the world, and from the world to Arabia,” – still always comes back to Saudi in a big way.

In 2022, Basamat Arabia hosted a three-day bazaar in Jeddah’s Al Balad and, in the spirit of being more inclusive, showcased young models with disabilities in the show – including girls with Down syndrome. “This was my testament to my commitment to making the fashion and design industry in the Kingdom a welcoming space, whereby creativity can blossom and where Saudi talents can be celebrated in various ways,” says Almamy.

The Makkah native has aspired to always give youth a chance to shine, while reminding herself why shedding light on various causes is beneficial, not only to her – but to her community and country.

Alia and Abeer Oraif

Alia Oraif wears coat, dress, scarf, Atelier Hekayat; Abeer Oraif wears dress, Atelier Hekayat. Photo: Amer Mohamad

The dynamic duo, lively and charming sisters Alia and Abeer Oraif of Atelier Hekayat wear their hearts on their well-tailored sleeves. Always on the go and often finishing each other’s’ sentences, the sisters are a true collaboration where form and function come out to play. Hailing from Makkah but raised mostly in Jeddah, they are soft and elegant while also being tough as nails.

The brand’s motto is: “A world so full of love and stories.” Their designs are like walking sculptures made of folds of fabric. With clever use of materials and patterns, they are in the business of making garments that make a statement. “We draw strength from the past generations – mainly our mother – and from the current one,” they share.

Alia often converses with her tech-savvy 15-year-old son and three-year-old daughter to discover what the trends are and what is new. “As I am raising the youth in my own household, I am seeing the new generation actively form options and feelings in real-time,” she adds.

The sisters love how advanced the country has become when it comes to customer service and say it went from zero to a million in almost no time. “We are lucky to have lived through an era whereby we are expected to figure things out ourselves but admit it is perhaps easier in some ways today, with everything at our fingertips,” they further. Either way, they continue to tell stories through fabric while looking forward to the future.

Ziyad Almaayouf wears jacket, pants, Loewe; Husein Alireza wears shirt, pants, Ralph Lauen; Mohammed Khoja wears blazer, shirt, pants, Louis Vuitton. Photo: Amer Mohamad

Husein Alireza

Anyone who tuned into the 2020 Tokyo games likely saw the towering athlete proudly raising the Saudi flag during the opening Olympic ceremony. Husein Alireza, Saudi’s first-ever Olympic rower, was handpicked to take on the honor. But it almost never happened.

The Jeddah native was finishing university in the UK and about to graduate in his early 20s. He decided to take a leap of faith, clear his schedule, and continue rowing, something he did for fun on the side. Upon choosing rowing as a profession, which was unusual for a Saudi, he emailed the best clubs in London and got a response. He trained non-stop, going through a rigorous schedule and pushing his body to the brink of collapse, sacrificing all semblance of a social life to keep himself fully committed to qualifying for the Olympics, which was only three years away at that point.

Everything changed when his beloved mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After her death, he was engulfed with pain. “I took solace in learning from the lessons she instilled in me as a young boy and I continued to train,” he shares.

With calluses and blisters covering both of his hands from rowing, Alireza was steadily recovering from lung surgery and a nasty bout of Covid right before competing for the Tokyo games. He claimed he was in the worst shape of his life at the time, but he still pushed himself and managed to compete – a dream come true for him. And also a dream come true for any child looking up to him.

Lina Malaika

Lina Malaika wears blazer, pants, Michael Kors. Photo: Amer Mohamad

Lina Malaika is the ultimate all-encompassing modern woman – who happens to also be a pioneer. The proud Jeddah-native has been in the creative industry for well over a decade, as a photographer, stylist, filmmaker, designer, and entrepreneur. She has literally climbed mountains under harsh conditions, walked red carpets in pretty gowns, been part of beauty campaigns, and is a fierce protector and advocate for animals and humanitarian causes. She has lived in various countries over the years, picking up creative skills along her path and incorporating them into the fabric of the Saudi art she would produce. About four years ago, she partnered with her friend Farah Hammad to launch a model scouting startup called Clay Models to bridge the gap and to offer opportunities and ample options for Saudi models and ones residing within the Kingdom. She is well-educated, artistic, articulate, patriotic, adventurous, and full of youthful energy.

As a curly-haired, wide-eyed child, Malaika loved to perform in home videos with her siblings, making up stories and acting them out to the camera. She was a child with a voice – a director from the start. Armed with an MA in filmmaking from the New York Film Academy in NYC, she made her directorial debut film in 2021 with her psychological thriller Maskoon, which premiered in her hometown at the International Red Sea Film Festival and was shot in Al Balad. The film was also screened at the 2022 Saudi Film Festival in Dhahran’s Ithra, among other spaces.

“I want the youth of today to know that it is all possible, you can do it all,” she states. The country has now provided us with resources, support, and plenty of opportunities to explore our interests. The only limit is the one you might set for yourself.”

Alia and Abeer Oraif wear shirts, pants, scarves, sunglasses, shoes, Atelier Hekayat; Mohammed Khoja wears jacket, pants, Louis Vuitton. Photo: Amer Mohamad

Mohammed “Moe” Khoja

Designer Mohammed “Moe” Khoja is iridescent – both as a person and as a designer. Upon meeting him, one cannot help but fall into a friendly trance as he passionately pieces together each garment with meticulous detail without losing his trail of thought, or your attention. He seems to have struck a balance of stitching together vibrant and subtle elements derived from Saudi heritage and pop culture without being contrived or detached from the community. His pieces are wearable works of art, each showcasing his thoughtfulness in incorporating color theory and injecting joyful details that are boosters for the mood and the closet.

He launched his brand in 2016 and took the time to learn how to do all parts of design, mainly in Paris. Khoja credits his childhood, and living in his hometown of Khobar, for his more laid-back mannerism and flexibility. “My mother owned a shoe shop at the time in Khobar and I learned the importance of putting your best foot forward from observing her and her work ethic,” he recalls. He grew up in a constantly changing world, not only geographically – his family moved to different cities and countries – but also when it came to technology. He kept a curious sensibility and innovative mindset throughout. He also set out to carve a niche space that he felt was missing from the design world at the time. First, with a T-shirt design company, then with his newer brand, aptly named Hindamme, which translates to perfect harmony.

During the pandemic, he returned to work in Khobar and has emerged as a thoughtful designer who is in tune with the youth of today. He understands the gaps in the market and has attempted to fill in those spaces with garments for his customers. But he constantly keeps the spirit of his inner child alive in all of his designs, because it gives him joy and he hopes it gives his buyers joy, too. No matter what, he always takes fun seriously. He works hard but also reminds himself to never let younger Moe leave the building.

Nojoud Al Rumaihi

Nojoud Al Rumaihi dress, Valentino; gloves, Atelier Hekayat; shoes, Max Mara. Photo: Amer Mohamad

Nojoud Al Rumaihi is both vivacious and laser-focused. With eight years of experience steeped in fashion and luxury consultation, she is a woman who wears many hats on her styled head: she is an entrepreneur, a boss, a mother, a wife, and a person passionate about communicating to the world about Saudi Arabia. She understands branding and how to use social media to elevate and amplify.

Born and raised in Riyadh, Al Rumaihi grew up in a tight-knit family that valued a strong work ethic, “Nobody was allowed to ever skip school – but we also always made time for fun,” she remembers. “My parents were education-oriented and often merged the creative with the practical.” She recalls how her banker father used to play oud after hours.

Al Rumaihi earned her master’s degree in international marketing from King’s Business School in the UK, a goal she set for herself and fought hard to earn, moving continents and through her first pregnancy. She credits wanting to make the younger version of herself proud to helping her continue to strive for excellence. She also credits the Al Rumaihi clan for being her anchor and helping her remember where she came from whenever she saw herself drifting away.

Each of the five Al Rumaihi siblings took very different paths in life, but always found ways to come together. Two years ago, her brothers and sister even opened up an eatery together in Riyadh, a place where she often brings her daughters to show them what it means to work hard. She has an insatiable appetite to feed the new generation and continue to fuel her passions, aided by her family and support system.

As a mother to two young girls, she sees the future in their eyes, but her gaze is also transfixed to the past with a youthful focus on what’s to come. She is an ever evolving and hyphenated millennial, with an eye for fashion, head for business, and a heart that beats for Saudi.

Sarah Taibah

Sarah Taibah wears shirt, pants, Max Mara; blazer, Valentino. Photo: Amer Mohamad

Sarah Taibah is an artist’s artist. Every sentence she utters is melodic; as if she is painting with words. She is attentive and curious – but is also a daydreamer. As the youngest sibling in her family, Taibah had a knack for carving her own path and for trusting her instincts. Without a roadmap, she found her way. Even before the film industry began blooming in the Kingdom, she was adamant on becoming part of that world. Growing up in Jeddah, she was able to somehow convince her more reserved parents to let her become an actor.

In her 2022 short film that is currently streaming on Netflix, VHS Tape Replaced, she literally rewinds the tape and goes back in time to play a teenager in the late 1980s. Filmed in the Eastern Province, the story unfolds in an exaggerated scenario that also somehow seems plausible.

Her projects are always centered on Saudi narratives, especially women-centric stories. She enjoys roles that take her out of her reality to inspire and educate the youth of tomorrow – and to remind of how Saudi used to be. In her own show, Jameel Jeddan, which can be viewed on Shahid, she embodies a school girl who slips into a coma and wakes up five years later to experience the “new Saudi.” In that role, she is the creator, writer, and lead actor. Her character is also in high school, but this time, Taibah films the scenes at the actual school that she attended as a student – which elevates the project and sprinkles it with authenticity. She uses her medium to create storylines that are both fresh yet familiar. “I believe that Saudi Arabia is finally becoming more caught up with the world,” she muses. “Or, rather, that the world is finally becoming more caught up with us.”

Fay Fouad

Fay Fouad wears dress, Del Core. Photo: Amer Mohamad

Born in 1995, Fay Fouad grew up in a magical world full of lights, camera, action – but she wasn’t allowed to join in the fun. Her father worked in advertising in Jeddah and made local commercials while she was growing up. Whenever she could, she would go on set and watch, her eyes glistening with wonder and her heart aching to be part of it. At home, the Fouad family had a dedicated home cinema where they would watch Egyptian movies and some foreign ones, too. She was hooked.

As the stubborn middle child, Fouad knew she wanted to get into the world of entertainment, but wasn’t sure how. Opportunities for girls in modeling or acting in Saudi Arabia were nearly non-existent in the early aughts. “I tried to find my footing in the real world. I dabbled in many jobs in different industries. Once, when I was working at a beauty salon, my customer told me that I shouldn’t be there – that I belonged in modeling instead,” she recalls. “I agreed, but what could I do?” Fouad couldn’t travel abroad due to the guardianship restrictions and it was a big “no” from her father at the time, who feared for her safety.

But she knew the camera loved her. She loved the camera. It was a collaboration; she understood lighting from her father and was able to set the mood based on her pose. She was sure she could tell a compelling story by how she filled the frame. If a picture was worth a thousand words, you could read a whole book in her expressive eyes.

In 2018, things started to open up and experiences once banned were suddenly permissible for Saudis. She immediately auditioned for anything she could. She modeled, acted – and tried it all. She felt like the inner child came out and the spark within her started to once again shine brighter than ever. While she enjoyed acting, modeling was her first love. In her recent Vogue Arabia photoshoot, she wore Saudi label Kaf by Kaf’s avant-garde design, which debuted at Riyadh Fashion Week. In it, straw inspired by Riyadh’s oldest farmer’s markets were used as a sort of thread to artfully fuse heritage with the present. Fouad felt that she became that straw that was extracted from the palm tree. Aptly, her name, Fay, means shade. Today, she proudly shares her world with her 11-year-old son. He brings her a joy that is immeasurable, especially since he also loves the arts. Together, they are witnessing history as Saudis across the country are able to express themselves more freely.

Ziyad “Zizo” Almaayouf

Ziyad Almaayouf wears jacket, pants, Loewe. Photo: Amer Mohamad

Before any boxing match, Ziyad “Zizo” Almaayouf goes into a darkened room alone, plays an audio clip of an enthusiastic crowd chanting, closes his eyes, and visualizes a win. Raised in Riyadh, the Gen-Z athlete merges chaos and calm with fierceness and elegance. Almaayouf is larger than life, but in the most humble way.

When he was young, Almaayouf used to look up to superheroes like Batman and Superman – until one day he realized they weren’t real. But like Superman, who only had a small phone booth to switch into his other persona, Almaayouf had to utilize limited facilities and resources. In Saudi Arabia, there weren’t adequate places for aspiring boxers like him. He needed to find a bigger, more modern “phone booth.”

When he was 19, he moved to the US to kickstart his training. “I closed my eyes and visualized it. I envisioned an experience in which I could be the athlete I knew I could be,” he says. Then, soon after, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and everything shut down – except Almaayouf. That was divine timing for him; while the world slowed down, he upped his training and got better and better. He jokes that he was praying for the world to stop so he could catch up to his peers and that his manifestation worked all too well – making the whole world go on lockdown, too.

Growing up in what he calls a large family, his household was made of three sisters and six brothers – he was the third to last. “Our father instilled in us the love of exploration and curiosity; he encouraged each of the Almaayouf children to find a hobby outside of school,” he explains. Only he went into boxing. But while his chosen sport is strenuous on the body, it also takes a toll on Almaayouf’s mental health. The solitary nature of it and the prolonged training abroad hits hard at times. To combat this feeling and to work through it, he started the Kingdom’s first English language solo podcast, which focuses on self-improvement. His The Inner Guidebook covers topics such as: finding self-value and prioritizing an attitude of gratitude.

Originally published in the February 2024 issue of Vogue Arabia

Style: Mohammad Hazem Rezq
Hair: Maggie Semaan, Mana Hamza, Salon Mermaid
Makeup: Ranim alturki, Jana Korkomaz, Manal Hamza, Laila Shawil, Yara AlJasser
Fashion coordinator: Fayzah Saleh
Fashion assistants: Mamon Ahmed Sqr, Kendah Jambi, Raneem Shaban, Neymat Master, Rehab Alahmadi
Production: Basamat Arabia
Production assistant: Mohammed Fawzi
Special thanks: Shangri-La Jeddah, Afnan Memesh, Cafe Noir 

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