Last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said full-body veils, like burkas some Muslim women wear over their clothes, are "not welcome" in France. Four days later, the George V Hotel in Paris hosted a fashion show consisting entirely of designer abayas. John Galliano designed the abaya worn by the red-haired model who opened the show by riding down the runway on a white horse. Twenty models followed wearing abayas by Nina Ricci, Blumarine, and Alberta Ferretti, among others. The first batch of abayas, ranging from $5,500 to $11,150, will be given as gifts to Saks Fifth Avenue's most faithful Saudi clients. Ready-to-wear versions of the robes will hit the sales floor in Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia in September, retailing for around $2,500.
Dania Tarhini, the general manager of Saks in Saudi Arabia, organized the show after she realized women were running around all day with their lovely designer clothes hidden by plain black abayas. "It is an obligation to wear the abaya there, but let them feel good about it," she tells the Telegraph.
Ms Tarhini, a Lebanese who has lived in Saudi Arabia for the past seven years, acknowledged "it wasn't easy" to convince designers to take part in the project.
At first, "they couldn't imagine how to make a designer abaya," she told The Associated Press in an interview. "I explained to them the concept is to (make women) look good and also to promote their brands ... Then they accepted."
Most of the abayas in the show were suitable to wear in Saudi Arabia — black and floor-length with a built-in head covering or matching veil. A few translucent styles, like the bell-sleeved gown by Carolina Herrera embroidered with yellow flowers, are meant to be worn over evening gowns.
Abaya gets a makeover from John Galliano and Blumarine [Telegraph UK]