For the first time ever, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia hosted ‘Saudi Design Week’ this Fall. I was lucky enough to be one of the invited guests. The experience was great and unlike anything the Saudi fashion scene had known before. I loved every minute of it! And even though it was incomparable to Fashion Week in Paris or New York, it was a great start for the Saudi fashion industry to get together, interact and share their ideas on creativity, fashion and style.
SDW played host to fashion designers and influencers from around the Middle East as well as the rest of the world. Some notable guests were Khalid Shafar, Phillip Hoffman, Layla Moussa, and many more.
The first day of SDW began at ‘Harvey Nichols Alfaisaliya’, where Chanel set up a vintage pop-up store especially for the event. The Chanel pop-up store was remarkably astonishing and breathtaking, from classic Chanel bags down to the beautiful accessories, every single piece brought forward a certain glamour and facet of its rich history. I absolutely loved every single piece!
In addition, the department store hosted the screening of the film Versailles ’73, directed by Deborah Riley Darper, and narrated by Cameron Silver. The audience had the chance to meet ‘the King of Vintage’ himself and the author of Decades: A Century of Fashion, Cameron Silver, who was present throughout SDW.
The screening of Versailles ’73 took place during the first day of SDW. The film outlined the development of the American fashion industry in 1973, and discussed its ‘blooming’ at Versailles in 1973 where American fashion was introduced for the very first time as a power to be reckoned with in Europe. The struggle of American designers in Europe was due to the established lines and rules that had to be challenged and adopted in order for Americans to make a place for themselves in the fashion world. American fashion designers such as Anne Klein and Oscar De La Renta were able to present a unique gift that was to change the world of fashion forever: ready-to-wear, or prêt-à-porter, causing a revolution in the fashion world. American designers were also among the first to hire multiracial models, forever changing the manner in which people perceived fashion, as well as the concept of beauty as a whole. It was that trip to Versailles in the year 1973 that turned the world of fashion upside down. I highly recommend watching the movie, as it is both inspiring and educational.
Cameron Silver & Deborah Riley Draper
I was lucky enough to meet Cameron Silver, an inspiring and enthusiastic American fashion-icon. Here are a few questions and ideas we discussed:
What inspired you to write Decades: A Century of Fashion?
“It was by accident, I met my friends’ publisher and it was like a bidding war. It took 5 year to write and publish the book.”
Why do they call you the King of Vintage?
” Because I’m old (maybe)”, he answered jokingly, “no but because the store Decades is 15 years old.”
Later on at the forum I also had the chance to speak with the director of the movie Versailles ’73, Deborah Riley Draper:
Why Versailles and why the year 1973 in particular?
“That particular part of history is really important because it was the establishment of the American ready-to-wear. Before that everyone considered France to be the center of fashion, and the Americans came to France with a different attitude, with a different style. They created a movement; they actually changed the course of history by using ingenuity, by using creativity, by using innovation, by bringing in inspiration from the street and not necessarily sticking to things that were just about French design. They were bold.”
I love how American designers incorporated multiracial women on their trip to Versailles, and how different it was back in 1973!
“Well there were women of color, it was very different, so being able to place thirteen women of color on a runway in 1973 was a stroke of genius, in addition to that it was quite bold and it could’ve failed but in fact it was triumphant. It speaks to people’s ability to break free and embrace difference and to be inclusive, and to also try different things, because if we all keep doing the same things over and over, we don’t have growth.”
At the forum HRH Princess Reema Bandar Alsaud, CEO of Alfa international, emphasised SDW as an important beginning of a wonderful chapter for the Saudi fashion industry. Her encouragement of Saudi’s creative youth was both uplifting and inspirational.
On the second day SDW hosted Nuqat, and NOBRAND artist and creative director, Badeeh Abla. Layla Moussa and Khalid Shafar were also present to give a talk about their journey as interior designers, emphasizing the effort and creativity that paved the process of realizing the success they dreamed of.
Following the talk, I had the pleasure of meeting Talah Saleh, Head of Digital Communication in Nuqat. I asked her a few questions about her company, and its mission:
What is Nuqat?
“We’re interested in creating an online publication; we have a blog now which is Nuqatblog.me which we want to turn into a credible online publication with writers contributing from all over, different magazines, different blog sites, and professional bloggers in the Arab world and worldwide. So we’re looking for people to help us manage that blog and the publication.”
Are you interested in fashion design?
“Yes, we’re interested in all types of creativity, whether it’s fashion design, interior, or architecture. Our audience is interested in these things, as a Nuqat team we don’t tell you we’re only interested in these things, no! Our interests are those of our audience, so we cater to what they like because there’s a need and there’s a thirst, and we feed off of that.”
Speakers on the third day included Cameron Silver and Deborah Riley, who talked about the making of the movie as well as the content and focus of Silver’s book, Decades: a Century of Fashion. This was followed by Silver’s book signing session, where scores of fashionistas lined up to get their book signed, including yours truly.
The fourth and last day of SDW was marked by the presence of notable speakers such as Alaa Balkhy, Kholoud Attar and Luxury Agency.
A little surprise exercise was also in store for the audience courtesy of Projects Hawas and Onquod. Each member of the audience was handed a piece of paper with the outline of a man’s figure, and was asked to draw a body part, and to pass the paper onto the next person. It was a sort of group design project with each person leaving with a unique one-of-a-kind drawing. It was a creative way of getting the audience to talk about Project Hawas’ main focus, collaboration in art. You can check out some of the audience’s drawings on Instagram via the hashtag #CrazyHawasnian.
I met up with a member of Project Hawas for a quick chat, and had the chance to discuss the main concept behind the project with him:
What is Project Hawas?
“It’s an art movement that emphasizes the importance of collaborative work in a region where solo artistic effort is the norm. It consists of seventeen core members from diverse creative backgrounds, including filmmakers, photographers, architects, designers, painters and musicians.”
What was the last project you produced? And what are you working on next?
“Our last project was the segalah which was showcased in Bahrain in December. What we have planned next is a surprise!”
Would you ever consider including fashion in Hawas?
“Yes! One of our members is in fact a fashion designer!”
Finally, would you ever consider going international?
“That’s what we have planned next; to display our work internationally. We’re planning on an international collaboration, with the goal of setting up many creative Hawas hubs across the globe.”
Overall Saudi Design Week was an amusing experience, a place where I learned a lot and met many interesting and creative people. It was a pleasure to attend this event, and looking forward to what the next Saudi Design Week has in store for us.