After success abroad, Saudi designers hit the runway at home

Riyadh - Couturier Adnan Akbar’s past clients included Princess Diana and two French first ladies, but until recently he had never staged a major fashion show in his native Saudi Arabia. The 74-yearold, dubbed the “Saint Laurent of the Middle East”, was among the most decorated designers at this year’s inaugural Riyadh Fashion Week, a milestone in a country that used to require women to wear hijab headscarves and abaya robes in public. On a runway set up in Riyadh’s financial district, in front of a mixed-gender crowd of Instagram influencers and diplomats, models donned more than two dozen of Akbar’s floor-length gowns, and one wedding dress sewn from French lace. It was a world away from most prior fashion shows in the Gulf kingdom: small, women-only gatherings in private homes or, in one famous example, a public show that did away with models altogether, hanging dresses from flying drones. “It’s a huge change, what’s happening now,” said Abdullah Akbar, Adnan’s son and managing director of the family brand. “I think the world is seeing how creative we are, the strength of the designs that we have.” But as the Saudi government extends previously unheard-of support to veterans like Adnan Akbar along with up-and-comers bringing out their first collections, it remains to be seen whether authorities can develop the infrastructure needed to support them.

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