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Face of fashion Saudi princess turns heads in ultraconservative kingdom

Riyadh: A young Saudi Arabian princess inspired by her time living in Tokyo is the new face of fashion in an ultraconservative kingdom, where dramatic reforms have sparked equal parts optimism and scepticism.

Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, the great-granddaughter of Saudi Arabia’s founder, was named honorary president of the Arab Fashion Council in December.

The royal, who turns 30 on Sunday, this month oversaw her country’s first Arab Fashion Week, headlined by Jean Paul Gaultier and Roberto Cavalli.


With a shayla headscarf draped over her hair, the princess is warm, welcoming and eloquent, the exact image that fans have hailed as the future of Saudi Arabia and critics have dismissed as little more than window dressing in one of the most restrictive countries in the world.

“Absolutely I understand people’s perspective,” Princess Noura said in an interview in Riyadh. “Saudi Arabia has strong ties with its culture. As a Saudi woman, I respect my culture, I respect my religion.

“Wearing the abaya or being if you would like to call it conservative in the way we dress is something that is part of who we are. It’s part of our culture … this is how our life is, even while travelling,” she said.

Saudi Arabia has witnessed rapid policy change since the June appointment of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of the king and heir to his throne.

From this summer, women will be allowed to drive in the kingdom. The crown prince has also hinted that the abaya, the neck-to-toe robe worn by women, may no longer be compulsory.

The princess graduated from Tokyo’s Rikkyo University with a Masters degree in International Business with a Japanese Perspective.

She cites her time in Japan as a major influence on her approach to fashion, business and people at home.
“That’s where the whole love of fashion started,” she said. “So I think I bring back a lot of Japan to Saudi … The respect of others, the respect of other people’s culture, of other people’s religion.”

The cultural influence of Asia is visible in Riyadh, where the crossover between the kimono and abaya is growing in popularity among fashion-loving youth.

Ready-couture, the halfway point between haute-couture and ready-to-wear, has also skyrocketed in the region with the rise of social media and influencers, and Saudi Arabia has an eye on that market — as a future manufacturing hub.

“Couture is no longer affordable to a lot of people,” said Princess Noura. “It was something that was part of fashion and still is … but these days people are focusing even more on ready-to-wear which is something that everyone can indulge in, everyone can wear, everyone can be part of.”

The princess also has her eye on introducing textile manufacturing to Saudi Arabia, which is seeking to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil.

“Even if it’s just 10 percent of the production line, or the manufacturing line, we can have the finishing … the last stages of assembly in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“I believe that we can do something great.”