Dresses Flutter On Drones In Saudi Fashion Show, But Critics Aren’t Buying It

A fashion show in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that used drones to walk clothes down a runway has been ripped apart by Arab fashion elites and critics who compared the dresses to ghosts and dementors.

Ali Nabil Akbar tells BBC Arabic he thought showing the dresses via drone during the Saturday show at Hilton Hotel was "suitable for Ramadan."

"The idea is that we want to add things that are simple yet beautiful," Akbar tells the BBC. "Even the décor and set-up of the hall was organized beautifully, everything involved innovation."

Footage shows a black floor-length dress fluttering across a hotel ballroom, its sleeves rustling under chandeliers and above the heads of men in long white robes and checked red and white headscarves. A green dress follows on a black hanger, while the drone's loud buzz competes with the soft music playing in the background.

The show in the western port city came weeks after the Saudi capital Riyadh hosted its first-ever Arab Fashion Week. NPR's Jackie Northam and Fatma Tanis covered the April event, which featured models wearing clothes by Jean Paul Gaultier and other designers from around the world:

"The first gowns by designers like Lebanon's Tony Ward and Bibisara from Kazakhstan were ultra-feminine — with long trains and an emphasis on sequins, feathers and beads...

"Saudi women regularly attend fashion weeks in New York, Paris and Milan. But the kingdom is still highly conservative and there are restrictions on what types of clothes can be exhibited at the Riyadh show — no cleavage, nothing above the knee and nothing too transparent. The audience was female only."

Jacob Abrian, the founder and CEO of the Dubai-based Arab Fashion Council that organized the Riyadh event, said at the time that Saudia Arabia was the most important market in the Arab region for fashion because of its young population with high purchasing power. He writes NPR in an email that Arab Fashion Week reflected "the serious steps taken to reform the country."

However, Abrian pans the drone catwalk. He notes that Dolce & Gabbana recently used drones for the first time in history in their 2018 show of handbags and accessories.

"The latest show in Saudi Arabia has copied D&G innovative idea in a very bad quality which absolutely doesn't reflect the vision and standards of the Arab Fashion Council," Abrian writes NPR.

Twitter users piled on the scorn after London student Jina Khoushnaw tweeted a video of the event she found on YouTube. Khoushnaw writes NPR that she posted it because she thought the show was "creative, different and extremely amusing too."

One user comments that he didn't know "if they're living in 3018 or 1018."

Another calls it a ghost show and a third writes a dress reminded her of "dementors from Harry Potter."

The April fashion event was a mark of reform in Saudi Arabia. Recently, the kingdom has allowed cinemas to open and granted women permission to obtain drivers licenses. The change is an initiative of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has billed his reign as a time of renewal and innovation. However, many restrictions on women remain and the nation is strictly segregated by gender.

Abrian of Arab Fashion Week has said he plans to repeat his high-end fashion show in Riyadh in fall.

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