‘Historic’: Saudi Arabia hosts 1st swimwear fashion show, signals ‘softening’ austere image

Saudi Arabia hosted its first swimsuit fashion show, featuring models in one-piece swimsuits, marking a significant shift from the conservative norms of the past. The event took place at the Red Sea Fashion Week at the St. Regis Red Sea Resort.

Livemint
First Published18 May 2024
A model presents a creation from the summer beachwear collection by Moroccan designer Yasmina Q, during the Red Sea Fashion Week in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea resort of Ummahat Island on May 17, 2024. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)
A model presents a creation from the summer beachwear collection by Moroccan designer Yasmina Q, during the Red Sea Fashion Week in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea resort of Ummahat Island on May 17, 2024. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)(AFP)

Saudi Arabia hosted its inaugural fashion show featuring swimsuit models on Friday, marking a significant shift in a country where, less than a decade ago, women were required to wear body-covering abaya robes.

As reported by AFP, the poolside event showcased Moroccan designer Yasmina Qanzal's collection, which included predominantly one-piece swimsuits in shades of red, beige, and blue. Many models had exposed shoulders, and some displayed partially visible midriffs.

“It's true that this country is very conservative but we tried to show elegant swimsuits which represent the Arab world,” Qanzal told AFP.

“When we came here, we understood that a swimsuit fashion show in Saudi Arabia is a historic moment, because it is the first time to have such event,” she said, adding it was “an honour” to be involved.

A model presents a creation from the summer beachwear collection by Moroccan designer Yasmina Q, during the Red Sea Fashion Week in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea resort of Ummahat Island on May 17, 2024. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

The show occurred on the second day of the inaugural Red Sea Fashion Week at the St. Regis Red Sea Resort, located off Saudi Arabia's western coast.

The resort is part of Red Sea Global, one of the mega-projects central to Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 social and economic reform program, overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Since becoming first in line to the throne in 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has launched a series of social reforms aimed at softening Saudi Arabia's austere image, historically influenced by a strict form of Islam known as Wahhabism.

These reforms have included sidelining the stick-wielding religious police who once enforced prayer times in malls, reintroducing cinemas, and organizing mixed-gender music festivals. However, these changes have been accompanied by increased repression of dissent, including crackdowns on conservative clerics who might oppose such moves.

AFP reported that Shouq Mohammed, a Syrian fashion influencer who attended Friday's show, remarked that it was unsurprising given Saudi Arabia's efforts to open up to the world and expand its fashion and tourism sectors.

In 2022, the fashion industry contributed $12.5 billion, or 1.4 percent of the national GDP, and employed 230,000 people, according to a report published by the official Saudi Fashion Commission last year.

(With inputs from AFP)

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