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Born and Raised in KSA, Ghadah Al Rashid is Finding Success with her Prêt-à-Porter Brand Ghadah Couture
October 20, 2010 Emily Holman

Back in 2007, Ghadah Al Rashid became the first Saudi Arabian female to have a Parisian couture boutique. Today Ghadah Couture is stocked by high-end boutiques across the Middle East and Europe, including London’s notoriously demanding Harrods. With her principal atelier based in Paris, Al Rashid’s fusion of an Oriental heritage with Parisian chic has hit the fashion jackpot.

As a Saudi Arabian woman, Al Rashid’s path to fashion success has hardly been easy. Diplomatically, she describes it as “interesting and challenging,” but confesses to a feeling of frustration when she was younger. “In Saudi, when a girl reaches a certain age, the abaya becomes a must. I had to wear it and everyone else in the country has to wear it too.” Opportunities to display her extravagant stylistic ambition were necessarily limited. Al Rashid admits to looking outside for inspiration when she was a child. “My main influence came from abroad, either through travelling or watching movies. But when I grew up, I started looking into my own culture and realised that it is so intricate and rich.”

Al Rashid completed a double masters degree in business and marketing in London and continued her studies at the London College of Fashion. By 2005 she had launched her brand, which specialises in high-end evening wear with a glamorous twist. Nowadays, Al Rashid describes haute couture as an “everyday occurrence” in Saudi Arabia, emphasising the heightened fashion awareness of Saudi women. “But since we wear abayas mostly, we invest in shoes and bags big-time because it’s the only thing which can show how fashionable we are.” The abaya has widened its appeal too. “I find the idea and the concept behind the abaya so mysterious – it makes me always wonder: what is hiding beneath this veil? I remember I used to secretly watch my mother’s friends coming into our house for a party, just to capture the moment of truth when they take off their abaya. When they reveal what is hiding beneath it. To me, this is the moment that defines every personality.”

Would Al Rashid ever consider designing abayas? “I really don’t know, but why not?” she says. For now, though, the idea doesn’t fit with her brand definition. “I chose to specialise in ballgowns because that’s what I know and that’s what I like to do. They are what I’ve been used to all my life. In Saudi, events mostly happen at night and everything has to be very luxurious so we tend to lean more towards evening gowns.” Not that she’s not open to change: for the past two seasons, Ghadah Couture has included chic daywear. “It has been very successful. We’ve had a huge response, especially from European buyers. But I am still more into the evening gowns. I guess it describes me more.”

It is Al Rashid’s apparently seamless mélange of the European with the Oriental that has given Ghadah Couture such a unique feel. How did she manage it? “Even though I’m from Saudi Arabia, I am still a modern woman of today. Although I work and travel a lot, I value where I come from. So this mix is visible and apparent in my designs. You will always find this richness in every piece, whether it is in the fabric or the cut, or even the details; always, the richness of my heritage is reflected.”

Given the importance Al Rashid attributes to stylistic fusion, it is perhaps unsurprising that she refuses to pin down her inspirations. “Anything in the world can inspire me and trigger my fashion sense.” Rather, she prefers the word ‘influence’. “My most important influence in my designs is my cultural background, because I come from a very different culture from most other designers. Saudi is a very distinguished country in its culture, customs and lifestyle.”

Al Rashid’s love for her homeland is obvious. So why the ambition to reach recognition in Paris specifically? “Paris is the fashion hub of the world and the most difficult and challenging place to make it, so to be recognised in Paris also means recognition in the rest of the world.” Yet she is quick to point out the impact that Paris has had on her designs. The famous capital “breathes elegance and couture.” “My heart is in Paris and my soul is in the Orient.”

Naturally, each season’s collection has a “certain theme, inspiration and mood.” But Al Rashid dislikes the word ‘trend’ when it comes to her designs. “I don’t follow trends as much as others. I tend to create more elegant, timeless designs, as I believe in style more than trends. My collections are geared towards modern chic and the elegant woman of today.” Though Al Rashid surmises her objective as to “render the woman sublime,” her chosen materials tend toward the natural and the classic, such as silk, crepe, wool, organza, or chiffon. “I use rich silk fabrics with Arabic-inspired elements fashioned in gowns with pure straight, lines and simple cuts.”

Progress has certainly come quickly for Al Rashid, a fact that can perhaps be attributed most specifically to her passion to please the consumer. “Although all women do not share the same tastes when it comes to fashion, every single woman in the world deserves to look glamorous. My goal is to achieve just this and to make them feel confident in my clothes.” It is, after all, the eagerness of the customers that has led to Ghadah Couture’s rapid expansion over the last six
years. But as for plans for the future, Al Rashid is currently feeling too lucky to offer a forecast. “What I can say right now is that a lot is going on these days and everything is happening really fast for me but thank God, it is all positive!”