Vogue Arabia launches in the Middle East with bright colours and lashings of style

The magazine is targeting the oil-rich nations of the Arabian Peninsula, which offers a fashion-conscious and wealthy audience from a variety of cultures

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 12:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 12:36pm

Vogue launched its latest international edition this month, targeting a niche audience in the Middle East that is fashion conscious, style-driven and wealthy. If its debut is anything to go by, the magazine promises to be bold, representative and deferential.

The 22nd international edition of Vogue featured on its cover American supermodel Gigi Hadid, whose father is Palestinian, wearing an embellished, mesh veil covering half her face, with one eye peering out from beneath the veil. The magazine’s cover words said “Reorienting perceptions.”

“I don’t want Vogue Arabia to just be another regional magazine. I definitely want it to be global, especially in this political climate. I think it’s very important,” says Hadid.

Through its range of features and photoshoots, the magazine attempts to cater to a wide and diverse audience of Arab women, whose varying takes on personal style and modesty cannot be defined by one trope or fashion statement.

While not intentionally provocative, there are images of women in backless gowns and skirts that end above the knee. There are also artful shots of women in headscarves, though not necessarily worn in the parameters of Islamic hijab.

In Hadid’s cover shot, for example, the veil reveals a hint of bronzed shoulder.

“We aren’t trying to make a giant political statement but we do think that we can help contribute to conversation” says Shashi Menon, founder of Nervora, which published Vogue Arabia in partnership with Conde Naste.

“We want to be – delicate is the wrong word, but we want to be cognisant on how we are speaking to and with women from this region and that means being understanding,” he says.

Vogue Arabia’s strongest foothold is – as its name suggests – in the oil-rich countries of the Arabian Peninsula, where modern malls and a growing art scene are part of a wider push to get in on the multibillion-dollar-a-year global fashion industry, which is currently dominated by the US, Europe and Japan.

Vogue Arabia’s target audience is well-travelled and has long had access to fashion magazines, both local and international, including of course American Vogue.

The digital version of Vogue Arabia launched in autumn last year, and the print edition came out this month with 35,000 copies distributed across the major cities of the Gulf, as well as Cairo, Beirut and select salons and hotels in North Africa. It was not seen, however, in news stands in conservative Saudi Arabia.

Menon says the expectation isn’t that Vogue Arabia will somehow replace American Vogue or Vogue Paris, but that it will provide for the first time an edition that directly speaks to a Middle Eastern audience in a local voice. It’s also the first Vogue covering an entire region, rather than a single country.

Anna Wintour presents fashion as theatre in Vogue documentary

Inside its glossy pages, Vogue Arabia capitalises on the breadth of culture and character of the Middle East’s Arabic-speaking countries. Its March issue carried features on an arts initiative in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, an interview with the Egyptian sisters behind the purse brand Okhtein and a high-glamour shoot in Paris by Sudanese stylist Azza Yousif.

Bold colours are prominent throughout the layout, not just the clothes, but also the make-up and accessories. Advertisers include Dior and Cartier, and local outlets that carry them.

The March magazine also had a section entirely in Arabic.

Calligrapher Wissam Shawkat produced the Arabic typography for the various sections of the issue. He’s also been featured in the digital edition.

The Iraqi-born calligrapher, whose Arabic artwork has been seen on Rolex watches and in the logos of brands such as Tiffany, says he had total freedom of design when working with Vogue Arabia.

“Calligraphy is usually not something featured with something like a magazine like Vogue,” he says.

By featuring culture and art from the Middle East, he says the magazine spreads an important message. “It shows there’s still beauty and hope in the region whatever is happening. This is hope,” he says.