It was a strange sight at the Jeddah Hilton Hotel on June 4. Dresses, handbags and abayas floated through the air, hung by strings attached to drones.

In Jeddah, the second largest city in Saudi Arabia, several fashion shows took place as part of a trade fair between June 1 and 4, during the holy month of Ramadan. And to showcase the new collections, the organisers of the fair decided that rather than using female models to strut down the catwalk, they would use drones. The decision provoked some strong reactions online.
 

 
In Saudi Arabia, most people who saw the videos of the ‘catwalk’ found the absurdity of the scene hilarious. Lots of Saudi Twitter users took to social media to mock it, with some calling it a “ghost fashion show”.
 
“A fashion show without models. The whole point of a catwalk is for people – models – to actually walk. You could at least have bought wooden mannequins in a shop; that would still have been better than this catwalk of ghosts. Who had this stupid idea? It’s embarrassing for our country.”
 

The head of the Hilton Hotel’s events team told France 24 that these fashion shows are held every year. A dozen designers show their creations over three days. In the past, only female attendees were invited, and models walked the catwalk. This year’s iteration was open to both men and women. The organisers said they decided to book a drone company, Red Sea RC Team, to “bring a bit of novelty” to the event.

This isn’t the first time that fashion has come face to face with drones. Dolce and Gabbana used the light aircraft in February 2018 to open its Fashion Week show in Milan. The drones were used to present the bags from their Autumn/Winter 2018-2019 collection in a "spectacular" opening.

"Under their abayas, Saudi women are passionate about fashion. Don’t take this away from them!”

Marriam Mossalli is a fashion journalist, the owner of luxury consulting firm ‘Niche Arabia’, and author of the book “Under the Abaya”, a street-style book that fights against stereotypes of Saudi women. She went to the fashion shows in Jeddah. But for her, these shows smacked more of progress than they did of conservatism.

Instead of immediately talking about conservatism, we have to look at the changes that are taking place. In the past few years, fashion shows have become normal, and most of them welcome both genders. The number of Instagram influencers, style bloggers and designers has skyrocketed over the past few years in the country. There are also real professional Saudi models, such as Taleedah Tamer. She’s the first 'khaleeji' model [‘khaleeji’ means a person coming from the Arabian Peninsula] to have walked the catwalk for an haute couture fashion show.


For Marriam Mossalli, fashion can be a form of liberation for Saudi women.

Saudi people are always trying to find a balance with new technology. For example, we are trying to create virtual influencers like Miquela, a computer-generated blogger and Instagram influencer who has become popular in the United States. Why couldn’t Saudi Arabia do the same thing? Under their abayas, Saudi women are passionate about fashion and follow the latest trends. Don’t take this right away from them.


The kingdom of Saudi Arabia imposes strict rules on how women can dress in the country. According to the law, women must cover themselves completely with an abaya. However, these rules aren’t exactly followed to the letter in Jeddah, which is considered the most liberal city in the kingdom.