December 2020

Exclusive: Ashi Presents His FW21 Collection On Friend & Model Cindy Bruna

Exclusive: Ashi Presents His FW21 Collection On Friend & Model Cindy Bruna

Saudi Arabia’s most international designer, couturier Ashi looks to the City of Light as a new, no-holds-barred creative chapter unfolds – exquisitely embodied by one of his muses, supermodel Cindy Bruna.
White feather top, Ashi studio couture FW20; bracelet, ring, Chaumet. Photography: Tom Munro.

Since settling in Paris in 2018, pioneering Saudi Arabian courtier Ashi has brought a sense of je ne sais quoi to the world’s fashion capital and the birthplace of haute couture. Famed for his architectural sensibilities, Ashi’s pieces speak of ethereal, alien vistas where emotion and power rule – and his latest collection is no different. Once again, his voluminous shapes in delicate off-whites, subtle silvers, and deep blacks incite wonder. His FW20 collection speaks of the moon, the reflections of its pale light, and a deep-seated need to escape the mundane. The designer’s arrival in Paris – more specifically, in an old Haussmann apartment near the Opera neighborhood – has sparked a new wave of creativity.
Cindy Bruna wears structured crepe dress with shoulder drape, scarf detail, and embroidered buttons, Ashi Studio couture FW20; ring, Chaumet; shoes, Ashi Studio. Ashi wears coat, top, Ashi studio; shoes. Photography: Tom Munro.

Ashi’s Fall couture is showcased in the December 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia by French model Cindy Bruna. She and Ashi share a connection rooted in longstanding mutual respect. “Cindy is a Parisian supermodel and is the perfect choice as I have now been based in the city for two years,” he comments. The shoot, taking place around his new collection, includes a retrospective of Ashi’s work over the years. Dramatic yet modern, the collection speaks to a sense of much needed serenity, avoiding ostentatious displays in favor of a peace of mind that relaxes both soul and eye. Ashi comments on the women who are always at the forefront of his mind – French aristocrat Jacqueline de Ribes, Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, English accessories designer and muse Loulou de la Falaise – “Women with stories. Women with something to tell,” he says. And if there is heartbreak, perhaps, all the better. “There is no poetry without death; you always have to have something tragic to have some poetry.”
Double breasted coat dress with multilayer ruffle base and tail, Ashi Studio Couture FW20; gloves, shoes, Ashi Studio; necklace, Chopard. Photography: Tom Munro.

While underscoring Ashi’s monumental and emotional appeal, the collection also serves to mark a new beginning. The designer relocated to Paris following turmoil in Beirut, where he was based between 2002 and 2018. His newest couture speaks to a moment of clarity and it is tempting to link this apparent sense of inner calm to his move to the French capital. His new “fashion-lab,” as Ashi describes it, is where he will now be “experimenting with everything related to fashion.” And yet, Beirut is never far from his thoughts. It was in Lebanon where he studied fashion, at ESMOD, finishing top of his class three years in a row. After working for Elie Saab and Givenchy, the young designer struck out on his own, purchasing a sewing machine and hiring a seamstress he paid by the hour – when he could pay her at all – to realize his own designs. It wasn’t until a friend took his pieces to the Grammys in 2011 that he began to make a name for himself outside of Lebanon. Unsurprisingly, Beirut remains dear to him.
Coat, Top, Ashi Studio; Shoes, Saint Laurent. Photography: Tom Munro.

“It’s the energy that inspires me. I arrived with no knowledge of Beirut, its culture, its history, or its people.” The recent explosion at Beirut’s port, which devastated the capital and left thousands homeless, has left an impression. “When the blast happened I refused to see any images of Beirut destroyed – my office, my home. I wanted to keep the image I left in my mind clear. I didn’t want to leave a scar of Beirut in my mind and heart. Beirut has always been my backbone; I know for sure that it will rise again.”
Soft drape crepe top with scarf and headpiece, Wide Leather pants skirt with front slit, Ashi Studio Couture FW20; belt, gloves, Ashi Studio. Photography: Tom Munro.

His home country also still serves as inspiration. “The Eighties, in Saudi, were phenomenal,” he recalls. “It was an easy life; there was no struggle, no pressure.” Ashi remembers spending his time with his friends playing football and escaping to art classes instead of detention, remembering with a laugh that he was a “naughty boy.” “I’m living the current transformation in Saudi through the lens of social media,” he says. “Everyone is telling me that it is changing. I do remember towards the end of my teen years that restrictions were creeping in – I had long hair, and this was looked down on.”Born in 1980 in Jeddah, the only son in a family with four girls, Ashi recalls that fashion was everywhere. “It was in my face. I lived the era with them – the big hair, the makeup, the ostentatious fashion. Designers would come to the house for fittings and I would give my opinion. It wasn’t considered a luxury, that’s just the way it was,” he says. Along with his mother’s inspiration, his father, who owned a luxury textile company, also influenced his foray into fashion by introducing a young Ashi to fabrics he still employs today.
Ashi has consistently played a role in redefining fashion. But when he started work in the early 2000s, his architecturally inspired pieces were not well received. “It was a new thing, I faced some backlash,” he tells. “It wasn’t appreciated at the time. I started a movement in fashion, which I slowly perfected and polished with time. I am a very conceptual person and I always think of great architects like Zaha Hadid when I’m designing,” he says.
Red Cape Structured Dress with embroidery detail on neckline and bottom, Ashi Studio Couture SS20; shoes, Ashi Studio; ring, Chopard. Photography: Tom Munro.

Ashi’s work has since been embraced by private clients and celebrities the world over. He has dressed Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rita Ora, Billy Porter, Queen Rania of Jordan, Cardi B, and more. He has also released various prêt-a- porter collections. Never one to stand still, Ashi continues to push boundaries. Perhaps his most striking departure from his high fashion roots is his new loungewear collection. Launched last month, the line is inspired by the enduring appeal of Hollywood’s Golden Age. “I enjoyed working on loungewear because being comfortable is something I look forward to,” he says. “I thought, why not create something simple, yet light and sultry, using silk? It’s inspired by the glamour of the 1950s, with a modern twist.” The collection is embodied by Georgina Grenville, a South African model and a mainstay of the 1990s with a slew of Vogue covers to her name.
Structured crepe Dress with shoulder drape, scarf detail, and embroidered buttons, Ashi Studio Couture FW20; shoes, Ashi Studio. Photography: Tom Munro.

Contemporary, with a simple elegance, Ashi takes us on an emotional journey. His pieces catch the eye and certainly provide a haven from the noise and drama all around us. The avant garde designer will continue to push boundaries with the new fashion experiments he’s currently working on at his exclusive Parisian atelier. Time will tell where the winding cobblestone streets will lead – as always, Ashi will let beauty guide him.
Read Next: Vogue Arabia Cover Story: The Fascinating & Colorful History Behind Saudi Arabia’s Bedouin Fashion
Originally published in the December 2020 Issue of Vogue Arabia 
Hair Alexandrine PielMakeup Kelly McClainProduction laura Prior, Margaux HuguetPhotography Assistant William HalbersModel Cindy Bruna

Vogue Arabia Cover Story: The Fascinating & Colorful History Behind Saudi Arabia’s Bedouin Fashion

Vogue Arabia Cover Story: The Fascinating & Colorful History Behind Saudi Arabia’s Bedouin Fashion

In Diriyah, the capital of the first royal Saudi dynasty, women from the Kingdom’s provinces display their rich and distinct traditional dress.
Photography Hayat Osamah

As the all-Saudi team – led by historian Dr Laila AlBassam and with photographer Hayat Osamah – maneuver around Diriyah to prepare for the Vogue Arabia December 2020 cover story shoot, they can’t help but marvel at one of the most significant cultural heritage sites in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Throughout its rocky topography and winding valleys and amid the mud brick former palaces of At-Turaif, Ghussaibah, and AlMulaybeed, a myriad of treasures await discovery.
Central and Northern Region: Saba Alkhamis. Black net dress in tulle embellished with metallic lace and sequins. This overthrow dress was worn with the sleeves looped over the head to create a head cover. Photography Hayat Osamah.

As the capital of the first Saudi dynasty, Diriyah established what is known today as modern-day Saudi Arabia in 1744; it also united all corners of the diverse and culturally rich Kingdom. Since then, the Kingdom has been divided into five main provinces – Najd in central Saudi Arabia; Hijaz in the west of the Kingdom; the Eastern Province; and the Northern and Southern borders.
Photography Hayat Osamah

Given the Kingdom’s unique geographical location – occupying 80% of the Arabian Peninsula and surrounded by Gulf countries – its lands have been populated with numerous tribes impacting and stimulating the nation’s unique culture and aesthetic. Diriyah was the needle pulling its thread throughout the Kingdom, uniting the regions while honoring their cultural diversity. This diversity is evident within the variety of dresses that presently make up part of the Kingdom’s cultural DNA.
Photography Hayat Osamah

Nowadays, what is considered traditional dress in the Kingdom was deemed fashion to the generations that preceded. Like many contemporary designers, the Kingdom’s women used traditional techniques to forge identities of their own. They quickly found that the methods in stitching used to join animal skins together could be used for ornamentation and embellishment, and despite the primary function of their traditional apparel being protection against the relentless desert sun, the innovative women of the Kingdom found ways to balance function and fashion by communicating the stories and narratives of their tribes and regions through embroidery and embellishment.
Central and Eastern Region: Dana Al-Senan. Dress and and overthrow dress made of blue silk and embroidered with metallic threads and sequins. Photography Hayat Osamah.

AlBassam, one of the first Saudi women to study and document the Kingdom’s history through traditional Saudi costume and textile, explains, “Decorative embroideries and accessories have well-defined each region as its own, and through these intricacies you can tell a lot about the cultures they were influenced by and which tribes they came from.” She continues, “Whether it was a simple embroidered sleeve or a feminine-shaped design, they used their environments as their muse and canvas.” Accordingly, the differences in the positioning of appliqué and embellishment took into consideration both the tribe of the wearer and the temperature and topography of the region. Within the Najd region of central Saudi Arabia, intricate adornments made of gold and silver thread were placed strategically around the bust, neck, and sleeves of their traditional Thoub AlToor. Predominantly Bedouins, who were in constant movement under the overwhelming sun, the peoples of the region needed garments that were embroidered in parts that were exposed to direct sunlight to detract the harsh heat of Arabia. Their dresses were known for their massive wide sleeves with deep flaps that reached their hemlines and were designed in such a way to catch the breeze and trap body moisture. The Eastern Province incorporated similar features with the contrast of dress color. The vibrant tones of the region’s Thoub AlNashal were influenced by shades worn in India, from where many textiles were brought in by merchants returning from their voyages.

Westren Region: Danya Al-Ghamdi. Distinctive dress, geometrically patterned from black and blue colors that identify the wearer as a married woman. Photography Hayat Osamah.

In the Southern region, Dr AlBassam explains that the Asiri Qatt – a geometric design in bright hues of red, green, blue, and yellow typically painted by women in the entrance of their houses – found its way into the region’s traditional dress over the years. The South’s Thoub Mujanab is elaborately embroidered with Asiri Qaat and cinched with meshes of silver at the waist. Occupied by mountainous terrain with a more temperate climate, the South’s dresses are both shorter and more fitted, yet the garments still drop easily over the head, being both mindful and modest. The Northern region of the Kingdom is known to have the most practical of traditional dress, sparsely embroidered with fine line stitching. Their Thoub Al-Midrgah is made much longer than the frame of the women wearing it and is hitched up in a deep fold at the waist to provide freedom of movement through the region’s towering peaks and plunging valleys. Known to be the most culturally diverse of the Kingdom’s regions, primarily due to being the traditional host area of all pilgrims to Makkah – many of whom settled and intermarried there – is Hijaz. The women of Hijaz had hundreds of distinctive traditional dresses depending on their lineage. One particular traditional dress, Thoub Mobgir, from Taif in the Hijaz region, combines practical patchwork, gold embroidery, and ornate headpieces. Albeit being incredibly diverse in technique and tradition, two things remain constant – modesty and ornamentation. Of the more than 300 types of traditional dress, depending on tribe, these are just some of the many skins of Saudi fashion, and they are what pave the way for future creations.
Northern Region: Njoud Alanbari. Red velvet dress embellished with white embroidery, with deep V-shape neckline. Photography Hayat Osamah.

Presently, Saudi is at a pivotal point, where so much is being invested in preserving, protecting, and promoting its culture and heritage. In doing so, the country has developed initiatives with the aspiration of promoting culture as a way of life that contributes to economic growth and creates opportunities for international exchange. With 66% of Saudi’s population under the age of 35, it is no surprise that nurturing young talent is absolutely vital to the Kingdom’s goal of developing a thriving cultural sector and paving the way for future generations. One remarkable initiative that has come into fruition is the Cultural Scholarship Program, which launched in January 2020 under Saudi’s Ministry of Culture. The program aims to emphasize the importance of culture in improving quality of life, enabling national talents, creating opportunities for dialogue, and promoting the exchange of experiences with the world. Dr AlBassam recognizes that traditional dress and crafts are inherently linked to culture, and their need to preserve it – through documentation, engagement, and conversation – is what will give way to future artisans, which in turn will lead to the birth of modern Saudi fashion. As Njoud Alanbari, one of the women on these pages, compellingly states, “Tradition is imperative to the future of fashion because everything new must be inspired by something old, and tradition is a point of creation – the beginning and the foundation for anything novel.”
Southern Region: Alaa Al-Zahrani. An embroidered black dress with geometric patterns and flower motifs. Most notable is the embroidery on the side gores in straight lines. The head is covered with a yellow scarf and wide-brimmed hat; a black scarf is added when the women get married. Photography Hayat Osamah.

Originally published in the December 2020 Issue of Vogue Arabia 
Hair Amina
Makeup Aljoud Aldrees
Production KSA Aisha Almamy for Basamat Arabia
Production UAE Laura Prior
Photography assistant Abdullah Al Jahdhami
Production assistants Suhailah Almamy, Abdullah Alquayt

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