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In search of Saudi style

In a fast-changing country with an influx of new events, how do you pair a packed social calendar with traditional style?

Abdullah A. Alkhorayef, the Saudi Founder and Creative Director of Ain Alfaras Atelier, writes for Esquire Middle East about the evolving nature of fashion in the Kingdom

Sometimes, dreams materialize later – and in a completely different way – than expected. Since childhood I had a clear view of how my life should be. I planned for it, focused on achieving it and I’m happy to say that all my plans have failed! Thank God for that.

I realize now that these plans were for an imaginary me. Thanks to my failed aims, here I am writing a Fashion column in Esquire Saudi, something I’ve never thought would happen. The notion of an Arabic Esquire never crossed my mind, let alone a Saudi one.

There has never been a more exciting moment for me in Saudi Arabia than today. The explosion of Arts, culture, design, and fashion, driven by the crown prince’s Vision 2030 is astonishing – and slightly overwhelming.

I’m thankful that my life’s trajectory has perfectly positioned me to be part of this cultural transformation — as a spectator and a participator. I’m still waiting for the events invitations nonetheless! Red Sea Film Festival, you know where to find me. With events from music festivals to Formula 1, restaurant openings to fashion shows, red carpets to Ramadan tents, the social calendar is full. Which begs the question, what should one wear?

It’s an exciting question, because at this moment in time we have an opportunity to make our own rules, to create Saudi Style. Is it a problem you should lose sleep over? Hardly. When in doubt always go traditional. It’s elegant, appropriate and sends a message of pride. In fact one of the interesting things I hear from tourist visiting Saudi is that it’s authentic, we still wear our thobes and abayas. It gives a beautifully sense of established identity & location.

Saudi women have mastered what to wear under their abayas for decades. As women’s roles evolved progressively throughout Saudi history, it’s been inspiring to see how they are embracing their designer abayas and gowns by Saudi designers – they had been waiting for this moment. But for us men, it’s a bit different. We have always relied on our traditional dress – it could take you from a wedding to a funeral looking appropriate and well presented.

The situation is completely different now, what you wear to MDLBeast will not get you into the Saudi Cup. It’s great that some events have dress code guidelines, but the ones without, what should you go for? Well, I’m here to help. I’m putting on my fashion engineering hat (which I have just invented) to explore the answer.

I always fall back on the basics: think about who you are. Where you are and where you are going. These questions should be thought of physically and metaphorically. From your age to your lifestyle, job, personality. Why are you going to this event? That’s your foundation. Then factor in location: Riyadh or Abha, winter or summer. A photographer attending the Joy Awards in Riyadh Boulevard should dress differently than a fan attending the camel races in Taif. Then you get to the event itself – the crowd in the paddock at the Jeddah F1 is different to the fashion show crowd in AlUla. Then you start adding small personal touches. Maybe an interesting watch with your traditional thobe. Striking sunglasses, a designer sandal. If you’re an artist or musician show your artistic side, go bold if you dare or support an emerging Saudi designer with an interesting t-shirt.

One of the joys I felt attending MDLBeast last year was how different everyone was. I saw traditional thobe & ghutra with farwah, mixing with punks in leather. I also spotted a few beatnik turtlenecks mingling with logo mania fashion-obsessed fans. It was wonderful – a true patchwork, a new Saudi perspective. We are doing it our own way, and we love it.

When it comes to personal style, start with the pace you are comfortable with. Follow your instincts. Test the waters. Make mistakes, see how you feel. One tip: it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. If this all seems a lot to take in, here is one last piece of important advice: have fun, it’s what you’ll wear best.



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