In June, Saudi Arabian women will officially be able to get behind the wheel marking a huge milestone in the efforts to empower and bring gender equality to the fore in the Kingdom. Buro 24/7 Middle East contributor and fashion designer Hatem Alakeel has created a new film to celebrate the achievement and we spoke to him about why it was an important moment to highlight and how fashion is a tool for empowerment, too.
You partnered with Bayan Linjawi on the campaign — why did she embody the spirit of the Hatem Alakeel woman/the spirit of the campaign?
Bayan Linjawi is an entrepreneur who, at the tender age of 23, already has two companies. One of them is called Blossom and it empowers Saudi start-ups to network and thrive. I can’t think of a better example than Bayan to represent the Saudi millenial who is moving forward and empowering not just women but the entire country and many other existing and potential entrepreneurs. An intellectual, cultured and career-driven lady is my vision for the role of Bayan’s character in my latest fashion film and for the future face of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi is undergoing significant (and exciting!) change this year with driving being just one of the highlights — what is the mood like in Saudi amongst both men and women about these new developments?
HRH Prince Mohammad bin Salman, our Crown Prince, recently announced that woman are no longer obligated to wear an abaya. To me this means that Saudi women are finally able to express and communicate their fashion identity. I cannot wait to see how our very fashion-savvy Saudi ladies present themselves with respect to our traditions. The mood is very positive for both men and women and we are all very excited to see our county thrive and continue to succeed.
How would you describe Saudi women? Is it the same way you would describe the Hatem Alakeel woman?
Absolutely. Toby Femme celebrates Saudi women and the many progressive and impressive aspects of the intellectual and stylish women who take pride in their heritage combined with their individuality.
We must never forget that it’s possible for all of us to move forward while still holding on to our values and traditions.
The ability to drive provides women with a whole new realm of possibilities —how does fashion (and your designs in particular) empower women on a daily basis?
I believe confidence must come before anything else. In this film, along with Lincoln Middle East, I wanted to express the sense of empowerment, accomplishment and confidence Saudi women are now experiencing.
There are three designs and each design represents a different stage of the evolution and progression of Saudi women.
The first is the stage of when she is hoping and dreaming with a velvet cape. Here she is only dreaming and pretending to be driving as she rushes down the stairs. The second design is a more contemporary yet modest version of the wrap dress. It also has that Japanese Samurai feel as I have always been inspired by Japanese culture. To me Japan is a symbol of progression with a strong sense of identity and history. We must never forget that it’s possible for all of us to move forward while still holding on to our values and traditions. The third look consists of a hooded silver cape, indicating confidence and accomplishment; she can now drive and is realising her dream . She is now moving forward but is always respectful of her values and traditions.
How do you hope the campaign will inspire Saudi women when they watch it?
As a designer and public figure it’s my duty to bring forth concepts that are a reflection of our society and culture. Our designing and creative process is a reflection of the times we live in and the new age we have reached. This short film was created to celebrate the new milestone for women, which finally sees them being able to drive. It also celebrates the new era of progress and innovation we are currently experiencing. I hope to continued to show the many positive aspects of Saudi Arabia and will continue inspire women to thrive and excel in every field.
Now, read Hatem’s latest column where he speaks with Bayan Linjawi about her role as a tech entrepreneur in the Kingdom.