Princess Deena Al-Juhani Abdulaziz

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Rumoured for years, Vogue Arabia’s launch has finally been announced by publishers Condé Nast.

The first edition of the magazine is due to appear online in October under Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, 41, who is married to a member of the Saudi royal family, and has been appointed founding editor-in-chief. Print editions are to follow in the spring.

“The Arab world consists of 350m people, and they never had a Vogue,” Abdulaziz tells the Financial Times. “The time has come, and it has been a long time coming.”

“We never rush to bring Vogue into a new market,” says Jonathan Newhouse, the chief executive of Condé Nast. “We wait until we are confident there is the creative talent to produce a product at the Vogue level.”

Condé Nast International is teaming with Nervora, the publisher of affiliate Style.com/Arabia. Nervora will pay a royalty to produce the bilingual digital version of Vogue from October, followed next spring by 11 print editions a year.

While the magazine is to be based in the expat haven of Dubai, where foreigners outnumber locals by nine to one, a prized target of Vogue Arabia is Saudi Arabia, where of the 20m nationals, more than half are under 25.

Shashi Menon, Nervora’s 31-year-old founder, says developing the Arabic-speaking audience will be vital. Up to 70 per cent of Style.com/Arabia’s 500,000 readership is Arabic.

The timing of Vogue Arabia’s launch could be better: the luxury business is going through a crisis. The strong dollar has raised the price of clothing and jewellery in the dollar-pegged economies of the Gulf, slashing demands from Russian and Chinese tourists who had been bulk-buying in Dubai’s malls for years, while the collapse in oil prices has dented domestic consumer sentiment.

A slump in sales, by as much as 30 per cent for some retailers, has filtered through into advertising spend. But Menon argues that Vogue’s appeal will allow it to compete for those scarcer advertising dollars. “Vogue is a pre-eminent brand, revered in the region,” he says.

“The Arab couture customer has been around since the 1960s — way before the Chinese and the Russian,” says Abdulaziz, who fell in love with Vogue as a teenager, and has been running fashion boutique D’NA in Riyadh, where she lives.

Inspired and influenced by her mother, whom she describes as the chicest woman she knows, Abdulaziz wants to pay homage to stylish Arab women who struggle for a public voice in the conservative Gulf.

“We might not be avant garde, but we are sophisticated, and we are going to showcase this,” says Abdulaziz who hopes her Vogue will reflect the aesthetics of the elder generation of style-watchers who discreetly gather in the private salons of Jeddah and Kuwait. “Vogue Arabia will be a love letter,” says the Saudi princess.

Luxury brands are responding to demand from the Middle East: Dolce & Gabbana has sold its first collection of abayas and hijabs; Qatar-owned Valentino’s modest full-length gowns are well suited to the region’s aesthetics.

Beneath the ubiquitous flowing black abayas of the Gulf, fashionable women have for decades been sporting the latest trends. Others are less constrained but remain products of a religious environment, favouring skinny jeans while still covering their hair with the traditional hijab.

As well as promoting Arab talent, Abdulaziz says the magazine wants to develop fashion criticism, a genre in its infancy in the Gulf. Vogue Arabia will, however, have to walk a tightrope across local sensibilities. It says it does not want to offend, and intends to avoid nudity and religious symbolism; while gay designers will feature, it will be without discussion of their sexuality.

“We believe in women’s empowerment, but it’s about what’s positive — that is the way we will approach this, we don’t want to alienate people,” Abdulaziz says. “We are very misunderstood, especially in the US, where the media does not capture our full picture.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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