A Look Back At Saudi Arbaia’s First Fashion Week Which Lit Up Riyadh

Lindsay Judge   |   16-11-2023

The first edition of Riyadh Fashion Week took place this October, with 29 Saudi brands presenting their latest collections across 15 runway shows in the country’s capital. The event gathered the regional and global fashion communities to showcase the best of Saudi design and highlight the country’s rapidly emerging fashion scene.

Burak Çakmak, CEO of the Saudi Fashion Commission who hosted the event, said: “For the first time ever, we are welcoming the global fashion community to the epicentre of Saudi fashion, here in Riyadh. The event will showcase the best of our creative talent, allowing yet another opportunity for our brands to connect with the world. Whether you join us in person or via the live stream, we can’t wait to highlight what Saudi fashion has to offer.”

The inaugural event was focused primarily on showcasing Saudi talent, spotlighting brands, and sharing the country’s talent with the rest of the world. There was a key focus on setting a new precedent in fashion while celebrating local creatives and sustainable craftsmanship.

The four-day event kicked off with a runway show by Saudi Arabian designer Mohammed Ashi, presenting the latest ASHI Studio collection. Ashi, who has become a regular on the international Haute Couture schedule, made his name in Paris thanks to the dramatic silhouettes whose masterful volumes marry heritage savoir-faire with the modernity of ultra-pure lines. As the designer returned to his home country for this exclusive show, he was inspired by the beauty of the desert and the shimmer of the stars.

“Mohammed Ashi has already made history as the first Saudi designer to join the ranks of haute couture. As a leader in Saudi fashion, we are incredibly honoured to invite him back to Saudi during another historical moment in time – Riyadh Fashion Week.” Said Çakmak. The one-night-only event which took place on October 20, saw Ashi showcase his latest collection titled “8pm”. The runway show featured 21 evening looks with influences ranging from the majesty of the country’s landscapes and Bedouin culture to the capital’s forward-looking architecture-inspired looks that evoke some of Ashi’s most emblematic creations.

Tailoring and cocktail and evening dresses appeared in shades of white, silver and oxblood, mingling fine tweed, 3D organza flowers and crystal embroideries. Past meets present in organic shapes and textures inspired by humble natural materials such as raffia, now rendered as precious as French lace. Sculptural evening gowns in silk satin surprise with graphic cut-outs or jewelled backs, corseted tops are embroidered, poetically, with wheat motifs — a house signature – and elements such as a sleeve, a skirt or a bodice are revisited with generously draped volumes for a heightened sense of drama. Throughout the collection, sensual, feminine shapes express modernity through movement and are worn by a cast of models who embody the region’s many kinds of beauty.

Across the four-day event, other designers presenting their collections on the runway included Atelier Hekayat, Kaf by Kaf, Arwa Al Banawi, Abadia, Tima Abed, Adnan Akbar and many more. There were strong themes of glamour, evening wear and connections to Saudi Arabia, highlighting craftsmanship and some of the country’s most beautiful highlights. 

There was a surprising and welcome return to the runway for Somali model Halima Aden. After a four-year hiatus from runway shows, Aden opened Hondaya’s runway show wearing an eye-catching space-inspired blue gown, connecting to The Kingdom’s quest to expand its space travel. The “Cosmos” collection honoured Rayyanah Barnawi, the first female Saudi astronaut to go into space. Aden closed the show, walking alongside Aden much to the delight of the audience.

With fashion a key element of Saudi’s cultural renaissance, His Excellency Hamed Fayez, Saudi Deputy Minister of Culture, supported the designers from the front row. Other notable attendees included German fashion influencer Leonie Hanne, Saudi actress Khairiah Abulaban, Egyptian singer Ahmed Saad, and the Emirati twins that have taken the fashion world by storm, Mohammed and Humaid Hadban.

In a first-of-its-kind activation, Snapchat partnered with Riyadh Fashion Week to create an immersive augmented reality experience, bringing brands to life in pop-up rooms that allowed guests to try on designs virtually. The event also championed the local female-owned make-up brand Asteri Beauty, the world’s first-ever desert-proof make-up, with guests gifted goodie bags and makeovers.

The event marked three years since the formation of the Saudi Fashion Commission, which was created to promote homegrown talent and raise awareness of Saudi designers around the world. After the event, Burak Çakmak, CEO of the Saudi Fashion Commission, said: “This week has been a dream come true. Riyadh Fashion Week is a prime example of our commitment to bringing the fashion industry together, highlighting a remarkable journey of transformation for the sector. “We are playing an integral role in driving economic growth and diversification while creating an environment for local talent to develop their skills and thrive on the global stage. I can’t thank the local and global community enough for coming together in Riyadh and supporting Saudi fashion. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Riyadh Fashion Week.

Momentum is set to continue, with the opening of the Commission’s Product Development Studio in the next few months. A space to support designers with the most advanced machinery, technology and expertise, the studio aims to foster the development of the fashion design community.