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Fashion Week is often associated with places like Paris, New York, and Milan. However, a recent event is breaking molds and creating bold impacts: the inaugural Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital and most populous city. The country is changing and also recently added AMC movie theaters to the mix.

Riyadh’s version of the fashion week was very different from the usual scene that screams posh.  It, however, was monumental on its own. It featured both local and international designers. Riyadh’s event also featured something else much more spectacular: there were no photographers allowed, and the audience was 100 percent female.

Change in Saudi Arabia’s Entertainment Industry

Continuing a Modern-Day Revolution

Saudi Arabia has been making bold impacts lately. Only recently, AMC – the world’s largest movie theater chain – received the first ever license to operate movie theaters in the country. Their first of potentially many other theaters opened also last April in Riyadh. This 35-year ban on cinemas is monumental, inspiring a modern-day revolution in Saudi Arabia’s entertainment scene.

The entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia is changing. They’ve open their door to fashion week, and 40 cinemas are set to open in the next five years.

“It is big news with global significance,” says AMC’s chief Adam Aron. The company is aiming to open as many as 40 cinemas in the country over the next five years. The move will create new jobs, generate income, and forever change Arab entertainment.

In a similar light, the country hosting its first fashion week after a number of delays is a monumental feat on its own. Major names in fashion such as Roberto Cavalli and Jean Paul Gaultier are there, as well as several local designers.

Despite men being allowed to attend Arab Fashion Week’s opening ceremony, the rest of the actual catwalk shows did not allow them to enter – and neither were photographers. The main reason for these rules was because models weren’t dressed in traditional abayas (long cloaks) or head scarves.

Impact to Women

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, majority of people are Muslim. Muslim laws and traditions are sacred; As such, women in the country have been fighting for equality. While they have made significant impacts, they still face a number of restrictions. One of them is wearing clothes or makeup that “show off their beauty.

Women in Saudi Arabia follow a strict dress code that strongly follows Islamic law. It differs depending on which part of the country women are. For example, certain parts allow women to actually show their face, but many still do not think it is acceptable. Only recently, one of their prominent clerics proposed for even more modesty.  Women must refrain from wearing “any abaya that has any decorations… No embellishment, no slits, no openings.”

Marriam Mossalli, a luxury consultant based in Jeddah, explained how else fashion week was monumental for the women of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia:

“[It was] an amazing opportunity to shift the disconnect in the minds of outsiders about Saudi women, how they design and how they dress. Women here have been waiting for years for a time to shine.”

Unexpected Success

The country’s first ever Fashion Week almost did not happen, but it’s not because of the strict policies. Interestingly, models, journalists, and buyers had trouble obtaining visas to enter the Kingdom legally. This caused a delay in the event a few times.

Organized by the Arab Fashion Council, Arab Fashion Week is a success for women all over Saudi Arabia. Finally having this, as well as the AMC theater openings, are just a few steps into the country’s various changes. They will most likely spark debate and divide the nation and the world. These are bold societal impacts that most people elsewhere take for granted. Hopefully, the Kingdome of Saudi Arabia will soon welcome other previously banned forms of entertainment.