Riyadh fashion week marks milestone for Saudi designers as government backs industry growth.

Renowned couturier Adnan Akbar, known as the “Saint Laurent of the Middle East” and designer for Princess Diana and French first ladies, showcased his creations at the inaugural Riyadh Fashion Week, a groundbreaking event in Saudi Arabia. The fashion show, held in Riyadh’s financial district, featured over two dozen floor-length gowns and a wedding dress made from French lace. This marks a significant departure from past fashion events in the kingdom, which were small, women-only gatherings or unconventional shows using flying drones.

The Saudi government is extending unprecedented support to established designers like Adnan Akbar and emerging talents as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda. The goal is to transition the country away from fossil fuels and transform it into a diverse economic hub. The Saudi fashion industry, contributing $12.5 billion to the national GDP and employing 230,000 people, is positioned as a potential major driver for this transformation.

Riyadh Fashion Week strategically focuses on showcasing local talent to reduce dependence on imported fashion goods, which amounted to $7.3 billion in 2021. While featuring renowned designers like Mohammed Ashi, the event also highlights lesser-known Saudi talents. The fashion commission aims to bolster the local economy by creating new projects, such as a manufacturing space set to open in Riyadh next year.

Societal changes, including the lifting of abaya and hijab requirements, have created opportunities for Saudi designers. The evolving wardrobe needs align with shifting cultural dynamics, with an increasing demand for streetwear that combines traditional elements with contemporary style. The fashion industry in Saudi Arabia is experiencing a transformative phase, and its potential economic impact is compared to the changes witnessed in China two decades ago.