Saudi’s first-ever street-style book succeeded in shattering stereotypes and demystifing the way the world views women from the Kingdom.
“I always knew that Saudi women were often seen as these enigmatic creatures unknown to the outside world, but I didn’t anticipate the depth of this curiosity or interest to be so global,” recalls author Marriam Mossalli, after it garnered interest from as far afield as Japan and South Africa.
Not content to stop there – in keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vision for 2030 – Marriam returns with a second edition launching in June to celebrate the second anniversary of the lifting of the driving ban for women in Saudi, complete with an introduction penned by Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud.
“Who’s more inspiring than the first female Saudi ambassador to United States of America?” Marriam proffers. Who could disagree?
“Princess Reema is just so generous with her time and with her support; I couldn’t envision anyone else writing the foreword. She has always supported women, and I can count myself as one of them. I also attribute the dissolution of the taboo around showing one’s face and revealing one’s identity to her.”
Sharing a glimpse of what to expect from the second edition, Princess Reema explains, “Under the Abaya: Street Style from Saudi encapsulates a desire to tell stories, and access or create opportunities. The project’s principles are an example of women supporting women in the form of a book where women tell their own stories in their own words, accompanied with original, sometimes self-generated, photography. There are many personalities in these pages with whom readers will find commonality and inspiration; all sharing their journeys and hopes for the fulfillment of their dreams.”
Marriam adds, “It’s always been important to me to have Saudis narrate their own stories. Too often, it’s been told for us, and incorrectly so. My goal has always been to dispel some of those myths, and I thought a fashion book would be the best format. What better way to show that we’re not that muted, suppressed stereotype wearing all black by showing women in their colourful fashion choices and give them a voice to talk about what they’ve achieved and how?”
Among them are: Saudi’s first opera singer Sawsan Al Bahiti; TV presenter Sara Murad; professional rower Dr. Alia Komasany; Dania Akeel, the first woman in Saudi Arabia to obtain a Motorcycle Racing Licence; and Alanoud Badr who was the first Saudi-born fashion blogger to gain international recognition; plus modest beauty influencers Amy Roko and Yara Alnamlah, many of whom have been lensed by female photographers who have earned scholarships from the proceeds of the book’s first edition.
What’s certain is that Marriam has another global success on her hands.
“What I do hope is that these books inspire people to learn more about Saudi, and perhaps remove some of that mystery and show how universal our ambitions and challenges really are,” she muses.
“As women, we share so much with our counterparts across the world; and I just hope that this book is able to reveal that.”
Lead image of Abrar Abed shot by Maram Al Khaldi.
From Harper's BAZAAR Arabia May 2020 issue