Chic abayas showcased on the catwalk in rare Saudi fashion show

Donning chic neck-to-toe abayas, models saunter in high heels around a swimming pool in a glitter-filled fashion show staged in the unlikeliest of places: Saudi Arabia.

Haute couture displays are rare in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom and have usually been restricted to women or avoided female models altogether — one even displayed dresses dangling from drones.

Chic abayas showcased at Saudi Fashion Show

But a private event in Riyadh last weekend — which showcased a new collection of abayas, a billowy, figure-concealing robe — opened up to a small but mixed-gender audience at a time when social restrictions are slowly being eased in the country.

Draped in shimmering embellishments, half a dozen models, most of them Saudi or of Saudi origin, displayed the collection that sought to redefine the abaya as a stylish overcoat suitable not just for Muslims but for women everywhere.

“The stigma around the abaya and the hijab around the world — I wanted to change that,” said Saudi Princess Safia Hussein Guerras, a former model who designed the collection in collaboration with Belgian designer Christophe Beaufays.

“If I bring it to a level of chicness and acceptance… maybe our generation will (fully) embrace the abaya.” While many see the abaya, which has been obligatory public wear for Saudi women for decades, as a symbol of chastity and piety, feminists generally view it as a symbol of oppression.

The dress code was once fanatically enforced in the kingdom by the now-defanged religious police.

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