When you think about fashion and beauty, cities like Paris, New York and Milan may leap to mind. But there’s a newer player on the fashion and beauty scene: Saudi. Fashion designers like Hatem Alakeel and makeup artists like Yara Alnamlah are blending a modern aesthetic with traditional styles to come up with looks that are uniquely Saudi and also “hold their own in the world of high fashion,” Alakeel says.
Young Saudis expressing their individuality. Clothing Designer: Klub (klub-me.com).
“Gen Z is no longer obsessed with established brands like Balenciaga and Gucci. They tend to favor local fusion,” Alakeel says. He adds that while brands like Yeezy and Adidas are “alive and well” with today’s youth, art-inspired fashion is also popular. To that end, he says it’s not uncommon to find a T-shirt with a slogan on it produced by a local mixed-media artist in Arabia, for example.
The older generation of Saudis, while still aficionados of the classic established brands, now favor a more “high-low” approach to fashion — say, pairing a luxury bag with a fast-fashion outfit. Mindful consumption has also fueled Saudi fashion, Alakeel says. “The current trends are about pieces that you’ll get a lot of mileage from.”
Alakeel in one of his own designs.
“Being attached to your culture doesn’t mean that you’re primitive,” Alakeel says. “It means that you have a strong sense of identity.” Fittingly, Alakeel’s line, Toby by Hatem Alakeel, is composed predominantly of thobes as well as a well-edited selection of men’s ready-to-wear shirts. Alakeel, who was always drawn to fashion, earned his degree in marketing and communications and eventually secured a job in the marketing department of a bank — to which he wore a thobe every day. That’s when it dawned on him to “bring a bit of Savile Row to tradition.”
So, relying on local tailors, he crafted his own, more individualized thobe. “People at the bank began to ask me where I got it.” By 2007, he opened his first brick-and-mortar store in Saudi. By 2008, he was asked to show his line at Dubai Fashion Week. Since then, fashion and music industry luminaries like Christian Louboutin and Snoop Dogg have sported Alakeel’s styles. But his more typical consumer is “any Arab or Muslim who wants something traditional with a bit of flair,” he says.
Defined lips and lashes are popular in Arabia.
Generally, women in Arabia wear an abaya even though non-Saudi women are not required to (modest dress is still recommended for visitors, however). “And, of course, there are still women who cover their faces out of tradition or for religious purposes,” says Alakeel. He notes that while the culture is continually moving forward, respecting the values of previous generations is important. “If not for them, we wouldn’t have our strong values.”
As far as beauty trends go, that means that women such as Yara Alnamlah, a makeup artist, blogger and YouTuber who is developing her own line, may choose to wear head coverings while at the same time sporting trendier makeup looks, like a red smoky eye. “Skin care is also popular in Arabia, especially during the pandemic,” says Alakeel. “People just want to feel better in their own skin,” he says. “We’ve gone from vanity to humanity.”
— Didi Gluck is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience reporting on travel, culture and style for publications including Travel + Leisure, JWM, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar and Elle.