“Under the Abaya”: What is the message?

With a photo book, Saudi girls tell themselves how they are and how they would like to be (seen): Empowering Women!

Under the abaya” is a Saudi editorial phenomenon created by the brilliant Marriam Mossalli, journalist, entrepreneur, founder of the luxury marketing & communications agency Niche Arabia and promoter of the Saudi Style Council, which enhances young Saudi talents in the Fashion industry. Marriam is a reference point for the aspirations of the country that wants to assert its identity and its specific weight on the international Fashion Business scene and thanks to her commitment, Marriam is deservedly included in the prestigious BoF 500, the list of the most influential personalities in the Fashion world.

The Image of the Saudi Woman: Straddling the Line between Traditional and Fashionista

Through a collection of shots spontaneously sent by the featured characters, “Under the abaya” wants to represent the “street style” of young Saudi women and above all, collect their message: here we are, we are the Saudi women, proud of our identity, determined to claim our role, our personalities and our skills not only within the society in which we move, but also in front of the world! 

The shots are very beautiful, well-kept and “stylish”, in many of them you can see professional refinement and research of the particular, straddling a tradition that on the one hand you would like to revolutionize but on the other hand also maintain, with care and tenacity. This is through an expression of identity and a unique and original cultural heritage, to cling to in order to resist the wave of global homologation that overwhelms us all.  

Marriam Mossalli: Entrepreneurship combined with passion for the female cause

Knowing Marriam personally, her great professional skills and her passion and sensitivity for women’s cause, my admiration couldn’t help but to increase towards this brilliant marketing initiative. The proceeds, among other things, go to support scholarships for young Saudis who want to pursue professions in the fashion system. I collaborated with Marriam back in 2012, when ISBG launched its first Fashion Show, “Fashion & Motors by ISBG”, featuring models on the edge of a large swimming pool, here in Jeddah…another era! Back then, such an event was still very rare in KSA, especially for the mixed gender audience. Designers Antonio Grimaldi participated with his women’s haute couture and Hatem Alakeel brought his collection of beautiful men’s “tobe” by Toby. Marriam’s contribution was invaluable, a true force of nature! 

Fierceness & Challenge  

Therefore these photos of young Saudi women, full of pride and defiance towards the world, proudly claiming their identity and refusing to bow to any global stereotype, will surely be a beacon of light for all Arab women and non-Arab women, of various social and cultural backgrounds, who struggle every day to assert their human and civil rights. 

Women Drive: The Beginning  

How wonderful the shots of girls finally driving fiercely on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah, Khobar! I was here, in Jeddah, during the years when people were starting to talk about allowing women to drive and it seemed almost impossible! Yet, it happened and very quickly too, beyond the relatively modest practical significance. The symbolic value of this achievement is really heavy and has triggered a whole series of consequences in women’s consciousness and perception of themselves, of the family and of society.  

With ISBG, I met one of the pioneers of Formula 1 and sports driving in KSA, Aseel Al-Hamad, member of the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation and the first Saudi woman to join the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission. In 2018, shortly after women were allowed to drive, Aseel attended an all-Italian event here in Jeddah to celebrate this great achievement along with Maserati as a sponsor and she pointed out to us on that occasion that it would only be the beginning. She was right! 

Since then, in fact, other reforms have followed that are very significant for the condition of women here in Saudi Arabia, such as being able to start their own business ventures without the permission of male tutors, traveling and renting homes on their own, requesting custody of their children in case of divorce… Small – large realities that highlight the transformation underway in Saudi Arabia and have given many women the chance to take back their lives. 

Under the Abaya: A Small Manifesto of Self-Affirmation 

“Under the abaya” in my opinion should be read this way, as a small manifesto of self-assertion: the freedom to claim their own image as the protagonists have chosen to be portrayed. Each portrait expresses a personality and a message and all together they convey the strong will of the Saudi female population to set out, to be there, with all their physicality, with their intense faces and with their bodies, more or less wrapped in beautiful abayas! 

Picture of Alessandra Serafini

Alessandra Serafini

ISBG's President

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