World In Saudi Arabia, a "chic" and very modest fashion show
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Covered from head to toe by long traditional Gulf dresses, women models perched on high heels follow one another around a swimming pool, on the occasion of a rare fashion show in the very conservative Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi princess and former model Safia Hussein Guerras presented this weekend in Riyadh, capital of the Muslim kingdom, a new collection of abayas - loose dresses concealing the silhouette - in front of a small audience but, for once, mixed.
Under abayas embellished with patterns and rhinestones with more or less adjusted cuts, a dozen models for the majority Saudi strove to reveal the glamor of this controversial garment, guarantor of public modesty for some, symbol of the oppression of women for others.
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"I wanted to change the stigma around the abaya and the veil in the world whole ", confides the princess, who designed the" Sois chic "collection in collaboration with the Belgian designer Christophe Beaufays.
"If I take it to a level of chic and acceptance, maybe our generation will fully embrace the abaya," she adds.
Wearing this garment remains compulsory for Saudi women in the kingdom. The country, which seeks to soften its international image, lifted this obligation in 2019 for foreigners.
But young Saudi women are leaving more and more the traditional black and loose clothing in the closet to rather drape themselves in abayas with bright colors and more fitted cuts, which they sometimes leave ajar. Some took the rebellion even further: they stopped wearing the abaya.
Chic abayas on the catwalk in rare Saudi fashion show
Donning chic neck-to-toe abayas, models saunter in high heels around a swimming pool in a glitter-filled fashion show staged in the unlikeliest of places: Saudi Arabia. Haute couture displays are rare in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom and have usually been restricted to women or avoided female models altogether -- one even displayed dresses dangling from drones. But a private event in Riyadh last weekend -- which showcased a new collection of abayas, a billowy, figure-concealing robe -- opened up to a small but mixed-gender audience at a time when social restrictions are slowly being eased in the country.
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The collection presented at Riyadh will appeal to women of different cultures and religions sharing the same views on "modesty and elegance ", believes Christophe Beaufays, who works for a Saudi brand specializing in dresses worn by men, called" thobe ".
The parade, organized at the Belgian Embassy in Saudi Arabia, is part of the controversial desire of Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman to change the image of a conservative and closed country, by organizing cultural and sporting events, concerts of pop music at the Dakar rally.
But these efforts were largely undermined by increased repression in the kingdom which regularly makes the front page of the international press, with in particular the murder of a critical journalist or the imprisonment of activists for women's rights.
This weekend's parade was a step up from previous attempts.
In April 2018, French designers Jean-Paul Gaultier and Italian Roberto Cavalli headlined the very first Fashion Week in Saudi Arabia but the event was held behind closed doors, not only prohibited for men but also to cameras.
In June 2018, a video of dresses floating in the air, suspended from drones, during a fashion show in Jeddah, a town on the Red Sea, went viral on social media, and shot in ridiculous as a "ghost parade".
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