During a recent fashion show in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, dresses were showcased on unmanned drones that fluttered and swirled around the room.
The presentation was designed to make the show stand out to buyers in the fashionable coastal city. But in a country where women are still bound by conservative ideas about modesty, the replacement of women with flying robots prompted widespread mockery and outrage.
On social media, some compared video from the show to a horror film and suggested the floating dresses looked as if they were being worn by ghosts.
Others suggested the use of drones spoke poorly for views of women in Saudi Arabia, despite a number of changes the kingdom has made aimed at gender-related issues.
Ali Nabil Akbar, one of the organizers of the Fashion House event, told BBC Arabic the show was the first of its kind in a Persian Gulf nation and that preparations had taken two weeks. Akbar said that the decision to show off the goods using drones “is suitable for the month of Ramadan.”
“Everything involved innovation,” he said.
It doesn’t appear that drones have been used to show dresses at a major fashion show before, but Italian fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana recently used them to show handbags at a runway show in Milan.
Traditionally, Saudi Arabia has set restrictions on what clothes women can wear. Women are legally required to cover themselves while in public by wearing an abaya, a loose-fitting cloak. Many Saudi women are also expected to wear some kind of hijab or head covering, and some opt to cover their face with a niqab. These expectations are more relaxed in Jiddah, a relatively liberal city.
Saudia Arabia is in a period of major transformation under young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during which some restrictions for women have been loosened or removed altogether. For example, women can now legally acquire Saudi driving licenses as a long-notorious ban on women driving cars is set to be lifted.
In promotional videos for a planned $500 billion city called “Neom,” women were shown wearing sports bras and other athletic clothing.
In April, Saudi Arabia held its first official fashion week in its capital, Riyadh, a more conservative city. It was marred by organizational issues and low ticket sales.
Although it was held in front of an all-female audience, there were still strict rules about what could be shown — no cleavage, nothing above the knee and nothing too transparent, according to an NPR report.
Azhar AlFadl Miranda contributed to this report.