REEM AL KANHAL: Saudi Fashion Soars To International Heights

By Marriam Mossalli

“I chose him, he didn’t choose me,” asserts Reem Al Kanhal of RK Designs, about how she met her husband. This kind of impenitent role reversal of gender stereotypes in a Kingdom heavily embedded in them is common ground for the outspoken Saudi designer. It’s a perfect illustration of the kind of woman Al Kanhal is: Strong, assertive, and unabashed. She knows what she wants and she’s unapologetic about it.

Her designs exude the same traits. They are bold and demand your undivided attention. Just like with her, the more time you spend delving into details, the more layers of sophisticated deliberation are revealed. As a Saudi fashion editor, Al Kanhal makes me proud. As an international fashion editor, she makes me even prouder. She is not just good “for the region;” she’s good on an international level.

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Al Kanhal is homegrown talent to the tenth degree. Having graduated from the Arts & Skills Institute, this Riyadh-native is an outstanding incarnation of the volatile talent emerging from the enigmatic Kingdom. “Sometimes I feel creatively trapped by the conceptions of what Saudi fashion is or should be,” she confessed. Her SS 2013 collection, entitled, “Fly Away,” is her releasing herself from that weight of her self-alienation. She admits she felt caged by the lack of nurturing—perhaps even the lack of understanding—happening in the Saudi fashion scene, and as a result, appeared to take on an even more obstinate approach to her work. But this collection is her departure from those shackle-free bonds.

Even with her past collections, Al Kanhal is used to creating bold designs that have paved the way for Saudi’s burgeoning fashion scene. This collection is no different, if except, a lot more celebratory. This is not the self-confessed Tomboy full of angst and rebelliousness that I met two years ago. No, this is an empowered woman; self-aware and rededicated in her mission to marry her aesthetic and her audience’s taste without compromising on who she is as a designer and still challenging and elevating their perceptions of good fashion. “This is a new chapter for me; I’m not as stubborn and I’m more in touch with my client and who she is.” A 31-year old with two kids and a career, Al Kanhal is her client. And this new sense of self-awareness has made her unstoppable.

Aside from her obvious talent and eye for dramatic silhouettes, what sets Al Kanhal apart from her counterparts is that she is constantly evolving. A perfectionist, who is also surprisingly adventurous, she is a contradiction that equates to a signature aesthetic of strong, tailored looks in a mélange of unique fabrics and commissioned prints.

The silhouettes themselves are very modern in their asymmetry and—floor-length, tailed blouses, which after three collections, has become known as her signature cut. Her manipulation of the female body through various waistlines that seem to jump from one design to the next is almost magical. She has an ability to soften and sensualize her client with a jersey maxi dress layered under a sheer, silk print blouse, then turn around and transform her into a fierce, hawk-like warrior with winged shoulders of silk taffeta.

But not all of her designs have an avant-garde approach to them. From a silver, silk cape to her ode to Dior’s New Look bar jacket, Al Kanhal’s designs possess a sophistication that circles back to a classic era of fashion. “I was heavily influenced by my mother and her love of Western designer clothing,” she stated. “It was further perpetuated by my own love of old Western films.” This obvious influence adds to the comprehensiveness and inclusiveness of Al Kanhal’s collection. The Grace Kelly of High Society and her real-life granddaughter, Charlotte Casirghi can both find themselves in Fly Away.

In place of her first collection’s spikes and studs, sharp, mirrored feathers became the dominant motif. Transforming something usually synonymous with light and soft into something edgy and hard, Al Kanhal has reconditioned the qualities people are going to associate to quills. “I didn’t want to use actual feathers—I didn’t want to go the obvious route,” she revealed. “Besides real feathers remind me of pillow stuffing, or old vintage lingerie from a classic Hollywood movie—I wanted to take a modern approach.”

“Modern” is the perfect word to describe Al Kanhal and her collection. It’s now. She has found a balance and harmony between editorial and commercial to create a collection that is wearable, but still true to her art. This is just the beginning for Reem Al Kanhal. There is no doubt that this designer is about to soar to unbelievable heights in the international fashion world.



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