Seriously rich, luxurious and carefully crafted fashion, jewelry and accessories by 100 designers from Saudi Arabia are taking center stage at the Iron23 event space in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood starting Tuesday.
Saudi designers, many of whom are considered new brands and were selected from a field of 1,500, were challenged to create pieces that reflect Saudi heritage and culture for the exhibition. The exhibition titled “Saudi 100 Brands Fashion Exhibition” is organized by the Saudi Arabian Fashion Commission. None of the 100 brands have yet appeared outside of Saudi Arabia.
The fair, which opened in Riyadh late last year, is divided into eight different categories: ready-to-wear, modest, concept, premier, demi-couture, bridal, handbags and jewelry. Adorned in fabrics, embroidery, laser-cuts, color and references to Saudi architecture and landscape, they are modest in their body coverage. On display are long robes or “tobs”, long coats or “abaya” and large head coverings called “tarha”. But there’s a difference in style, with some streetwear – hoodies and some shorts featured – and more fitted and avant-garde designs on offer.
“This exhibition has no commercial angle. It’s meant to give visibility to creativity from a region of the world that’s never been exposed to the rest of the world,” Burak Kakmak, CEO of the Saudi Arabian Fashion Commission, told WWD in an interview at the exhibition. “It’s open to anyone. It’s a free event. You just have to sign up.
According to Cacmac, former dean of the Parsons School of Design, the exhibition represents “the starting point for showing the level of creativity.” “Each of the brands is working on a wholesale collection. The idea is this fall, we will have wholesale collections for retail. Most of these designers do not sell outside the country. Many are sold in the region; one or two internationally. The aim is to show different products designed in the country, But at the exhibition, we tried to make a show that reflects their creativity and represents their identity, not as a retailer, but as a retailer.
It aims to dispel misconceptions about fashion in Saudi Arabia and how people dress there.
There are currently no statistics on the size of the Saudi fashion industry, although the commission is collecting data to find that out, Kacmak said. “Local brands are interested in growing internationally and international bands are very interested in coming to Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“One thing people don’t realize is that life in Saudi includes all kinds of products. What separates it from the rest of the world is what is public or private. This does not mean that the products you see in the West are not sold in the East. There is a different way to use the product, but each category is still very useful in the region. There are no restrictions. It is each consumer’s personal journey to decide how they want to dress indoors and outdoors.
The exhibition may go to other cities, but that has to be decided. To further assist the designers, the Saudi government has set up mentorship programs, bringing in mentors and experts from fashion houses and academies to guide them.
When asked if international politics could affect the level of acceptance of Saudi design by Americans, Kacmak replied: “The goal is to connect creative communities and build bridges between designers and other creatives, designers and businesses.” At the end of the day, individual brands are very focused on building their own business, and we want to focus on the business side with them. This is ultimately helping the creators to shine and grow their business without any other objective. When we see innovators interacting with the West, it doesn’t matter where they come from. You speak the same language. You focus on where your motivation comes from, where the culture comes from, and how it affects each other.
“Saudi Arabia is on the path of growth in all sectors, including fashion, and there are great opportunities for local entrepreneurs to build new businesses in the entire fashion value chain,” Kakmak added. “A strong fashion sector benefits from local creatives, design studios, marketing and communication agencies, manufacturers and retailers. And with programs like Saudi 100 Brands, we look forward to seeing Saudi designers take their rightful place on the international stage.
The exhibit, which runs from July 26 to August 7, will be open Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to noon, Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Iron23, 29 West 23rd Street. . Tickets can be reserved at saudi100brands.nyc.