RIYADH – Fashionable women, dark-haired Saudis and blonde Eastern Europeans alike, fill the gold-trimmed halls of Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, marking the start of Saudi Arabia’s first-ever fashion week.
Models and makeup artists preparing for the inaugural Saudi episode of Arab Fashion Week said they were surprised the event was taking place in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.
Strict social restrictions have eased dramatically under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has reined in religious police, introduced public concerts and lifted bans on cinemas and women driving.
Yet, restrictions persist. Tuesday’s reception was open to men and cameras, but only women are permitted at catwalk events and outside photography is barred.
Women in public places in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, wear abayas — loose-fitting, full-length robes symbolic of piety.
With recent reforms, women in some cities have begun to don more colorful abayas, sometimes trimmed with lace and velvet or left open to reveal long skirts or jeans.
No abayas will feature on the catwalk. The event hosts invitation-only fashion viewings and a Harvey Nichols pop-up store in a tent that was still being erected hours before the first show.
Another tent holds the catwalk, featuring designers from Brazil, Lebanon, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.