|14 April, 2018

Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh: Saudi debut for UAE’s Aiisha Ramadan

Jean Paul Gaultier and Roberto Cavalli headlining the kingdom’s first ever Arab Fashion Week

Women attend the Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 10, 2018. Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser

Women attend the Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 10, 2018. Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser

DUBAI: Aiisha Ramadan is having a chaotic week. The UAE-based Lebanese designer – considered one of the region’s most prominent names in fashion – only had her visa come through at the beginning of the week ahead of her trip to Saudi Arabia. Ahead of her runway show at the Kingdom’s first Arab Fashion Week on Thursday night, she was busy prepping for what was set to become one of her biggest public appearances.

Ramadan was one of the regional designers to be showcased alongside international names such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Roberto Cavalli at Riyadh’s Arab Fashion Week, which runs until Saturday. Since it is organized by the Arab Fashion Council – which, according to organizers is the largest fashion authority representing the 22 Arab countries – it is now recognized as one of the world’s five most important fashion weeks, alongside New York, London, Milan and Paris.

“This is my first show ever in Saudi Arabia,” Ramadan said on the phone as we caught her rushing around Dubai to finalize some details of her collection before catching her flight.


“It’s going to be exciting to put the faces to the names of so many people who have supported me. Saudi Arabian women are [some of the most] beautiful women in the world. They’re fashion-savvy, so it’s exciting to now get an insight into this beautiful, mysterious market.”

“I’ll be showcasing a collection, which I’m calling the Golden Age of Aiisha; it comprises the best of Aiisha Ramadan from the past year,” she said, adding that she won’t be showing her brand new collection until next month.

“Most of my clients are from Saudi Arabia and therefore this show is going to be a tribute to them.”

Ramadan – who has been dressing Saudi customers since 2009 – has been a couturier since 2007, working from the UAE, which has been her base for more than 30 years. In 2013, she changed direction by reviving the art of couture in a contemporary manner, creating two collections per year for all of her lines, including ready-to-wear, couture and bridal.

For her show, Ramadan showcased ready couture – she takes pride in her cuts, embroidery and technique – with her stating that each piece “has a story behind them in the embroidery.”

She continued: “For this show I have picked pieces that are timeless.”

Ramadan believes that an event such as Arab Fashion Week is much more than just a series of runway shows, however, presenting an opportunity to support local and regional designers.

“I’d like to see more identity in the region, along with finding production solutions for regional designers,” she says. “We do not produce large quantities, and therefore the right support is required. We need buyers to become [more generous] with their budgets toward Arab designers.

“Designers coming from abroad almost always get paid, whereas Arab designers get left on consignment. It’s important to support local talent. In fact, out of all of the individuals I have dressed, all the [non-Arab] celebrities have liked my pieces so much that they have offered to buy them, and the same applies to Arab celebs.”

In the past, Ramadan hasn’t focused on regional celebrity clientele, instead working with stars from the West, including dressing Jennifer Lopez, Ariana Grande and Christina Aguilera. But she was ecstatic to dress Yemeni singer Balqees Fathi this past year.

“A major highlight for me this past year was dressing Balqees. I’d love to dress Cate Blanchett; she’s beautiful.”

One more thing Ramadan would like to see change is the concept of blagging by many social media influencers. The designer believes it impacts brands and business.

“They usually want to wear something no one has worn before, yet they won’t pay for it. I don’t see how a dress costing between 8,000 dirhams ($2,178) to 15,000 dirhams ($4,084) worn by an influencer will help my brand,” she states. “I have no problem dressing my friends – because they are my friends and I love them.”

Looking ahead, Ramadan is “opening our first ever outlet” this October, although she declined to disclose the location.

“It’s going to be a very big surprise,” she said.

In the meantime, she’s focusing on her time at Arab Fashion Week.

“This is a wonderful step for the GCC in terms of fashion… it’s a way of moving us forward to become a leader and establishing identity. I am very exciting about what’s to come.”

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