Marriam Mossalli

Updated: Jun 9


Marriam Mossali is the author behind the first Saudi street-look book: Under The Abaya. More than a "fashion" book, this initiative is a statement to normalize Saudi Women's image and identity.  Abaya is no longer an obligation in the country but abayas will not disappear. When most of the time this traditional garment is pursued as a symbol of women's oppression, with this book, Mossali reinstated the true meaning and value behind the iconic black piece of fabrics.

CAN YOU PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO THE INFLUENTE COMMUNITY, SHARE WITH US YOUR STORY?


I’m a second-generation, Third Culture Kid, who basically overcompensates by being extremely nationalistic over Saudi Arabia.I’ve always been a storyteller; whether it was through my start as a content creator in a branding firm or my decade-long career as a fashion editor and creative director, I’m constantly narrating the world around me through my creative marketing agency, Niche Arabia. And now, I want to be part of Saudi’s new chapter. And that’s why I’m launching initiatives to help the new generation break through the cultural barriers and the curse of “the first” and begin competing in an international arena and going for “the best".


TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR CAREER, WHERE DID THE ADVENTURE START?


I’ve always been an old-school writer. Whether it was developing commercials or corporate brochures, or critiquing the latest runway fashion, I was always a writer. But I’ll fast forward to when I helped launch the Life & Style section of the largest English newspaper in the Middle East. That’s when I became known amongst the region as a brand ambassador for the local fashion scene. It’s also the time when I was invited to meet then-First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House, as the only Arab industry professional during the “Celebration of Design.


YOU RECENTLY PUBLISHED, IN PARTNERSHIP WITH CADILLAC, THE STREET-LOOK BOOK « UNDER THE ABAYA ». HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA? WHAT WAS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS? WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF YOUR PROJECT? HOW DID YOU SELECT THE WOMEN IN YOUR BOOK, AND WHO ARE THEY?


Having worked for the fashion industry, I always wanted to do something to highlight Saudi fashion. Unfortunately, what you see in the media and what the outside world sees is just the abaya that we wear in public; but in private you are seeing looks right of the runway, you get to see the latest Haute Couture collection, and that's what I wanted to highlight initially. But as the years went by, I started realizing it wasn't about the fashion but about the women who wore it and that's actually what this book is about, the Saudi female: the dreamer, the pioneer, the mother, daughter, student, teacher, and all her diverse roles in society. I wanted to break the stereotypes that you are seeing on western media. The idea of this book is to mark the launch of an online platform of www.undertheabayaksa.com, which is inspired by the Humans of New York platform, where people will submit their own pictures and tell us who they are, what they do, and their story. This will be one of the ways we can counteract the negative stereotype of the Saudi female all covered in black without a voice that walks five feet behind her man.

I definitely see my abaya as the garment of my national identity. My goal has always been to make it international, like the Japanese Kimono, or the Moroccan Kaftan.

WHAT IS YOUR VISION OF THE EVOLUTION OF « WOMEN STATUT » IN THE REGION?


Well, Saudi women have always been independent and we’ve always been ambitious achievers. I think what’s changed is the taboo of us showing just how ambitious we are. We have been educating ourselves in our universities, breaking glass ceilings in the professional domain, and speaking out long before Saudi Vision 2030, but again the only real change has been that now we have our country championing us to go out there, make a difference, and be seen! Saudi, which is a country that is less than 100 years old, went through the whole “first Saudi” craze; what I see in the future is that soon women doing things will just be normalized--both in Saudi and in the minds of the world. It will no longer be news, but the norm.


WHAT DO YOU THINK OF DESIGNER TRYING TO « RE INTERPRET » THE ABAYA AESTHETIC?


It’s welcomed! I want us to share the abaya with the world; I am very proud of it. I just think that designers who are selling it to the markets who actually wear them, just need to do a little market research so they don’t look ridiculous trying to sell us 50 USD abayas for 3,000 USD because it has the tag of a brand sewn in it.


DO YOU THINK THAT WEARING THE ABAYA IS PART OF A CULTURAL STATEMENT? AND DO YOU THINK THAT FUTURE GENERATION WILL CONTINUE TO WEAR IT, EVEN IF IT’S NOT AN OBLIGATION ANYMORE?


I definitely see my abaya as the garment of my national identity. My goal has always been to make it international, like the Japanese Kimono, or the Moroccan Kaftan. I anticipate that many will still wear the abaya; much like the Emiratis in the UAE. It’s important to have the choice, and that is definitely key. But it will definitely stay a wardrobe staple for me; as I’ve even made mine international often sporting it as a fashion statement! And the trend is quickly being picked up by millennials: ripped jeans, a crop top and an abaya in Summer are becoming more Coachella than feathered headpieces and braids!


THINK THAT WEARING THE ABAYA IS PART OF A CULTURAL STATEMENT? AND DO YOU THINK THAT FUTURE GENERATION WILL CONTINUE TO WEAR IT, EVEN IF IT’S NOT AN OBLIGATION ANYMORE?


I definitely see my abaya as the garment of my national identity. My goal has always been to make it international, like the Japanese Kimono, or the Moroccan Kaftan. I anticipate that many will still wear the abaya; much like the Emiratis in the UAE. It’s important to have the choice, and that is definitely key. But it will definitely stay a wardrobe staple for me; as I’ve even made mine international often sporting it as a fashion statement! And the trend is quickly being picked up by millennials: ripped jeans, a crop top and an abaya in Summer are becoming more Coachella than feathered headpieces and braids!


DO YOU BELIEVE THAT FASHION & BEAUTY IS A TOOL TO EMPOWER WOMEN?


Yes. And I don’t know how to explain why other than to describe the feeling when you put on the perfect shade of red lipstick. Or when you slip into stiletto heels while wearing a body-conscious dress. That feeling is powerful no matter what body shape you are; or how you look in comparison to anyone else. That self-confidence we gain from feeling beautiful is something all women share. Whether you’re part of the Kayan Lahwi tribe adding another neck ring, or a Saudi woman waving bakhour [oud incense] into your hair and abaya before you leave the house; we all have our rituals that are sacred to us women as a gender. And so anything in that world, I find that empowering. And I definitely think, us, women can and do use it to empower ourselves.


NAME A WOMAN, PAST OR PRESENT, WHOM YOU ADMIRE?

Joan of Arc. I want to leave a legacy; maybe not as traumatic as being burned on a stake… but I wouldn’t mind having Mila Jovovich play me in my movie!


SHARE WITH US YOUR LIFE MOTTO. “Don’t try too hard. Which is why after thinking for 5 minutes about this answer, I settle with the quote I gave!"


COULD YOU TELL US WHAT IS AN « INFLUENTE WOMAN » FOR YOU?


It’s a woman who supports other women; whether directly or inspirationally. It’s a mom who drives her kids to school and then helps them with their homework. It’s the Girl Boss at her office who regardless of her hierarchy, is the last one to leave. It’s a simple writer, who thinks she’s wittier than she actually is. ;)


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