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With his pink hair extensions and leopard-print pants, Saudi model Ziyad Al-Misfer caught the eye during a recent photo session in a public place in Saudi Arabia, where society remains highly conservative.

Passers-by took out their phones to take pictures after Al-Misfir got out of his white car to the pedestrian walkway in the luxurious cafe area in the capital, Riyadh, followed by his clothes coordinator and photographer.

These appearances helped Al-Musfir, 25, build a huge following on social media, paving the way for the few Saudi models who were brave enough to wear clothes widely seen as suitable only for women, defying their country’s strict gender norms. .

This boldness has made Al-Misfir a favorite of luxury brands keen to capitalize on an unimaginable landscape in Saudi Arabia before the series of social reforms launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

However, Al-Misfer’s approach is very risky.

In addition to the enthusiastic fans, mostly teenage girls who follow him on Snapchat, the crowd of followers of the last photo session in Riyadh included an angry middle-aged man who got out of his car to attack Al-Misfer, describing him as “gay”, in a country where homosexuality is heavily criminalized, According to AFP.

Saudi Arabia traditionally forbids men from “like a woman” or from wearing women’s clothing, and vice versa.

Al-Misfir does not identify himself as gay and intends to marry a woman someday, but explains that he simply follows international fashion brands that offer unisex wearable clothing.

Despite the harassment he is subjected to from time to time, whether in person or via the Internet, Al-Misfer confirmed to AFP that he has no intention of leaving Saudi Arabia or modifying his appearance.

“It’s better for me to stay home and wear these clothes than to wait for a flight abroad to put on a bold outfit,” he said.

family clothing coordinator

Born in Riyadh, the eldest of six siblings, Al-Misfir’s passion for fashion and style began at an early age.

“I used to choose clothes for my mother, my aunts, and my relatives,” he said. “I used to like to coordinate their clothes.”

“My mother used to consult me ​​about these matters, so I became more interested in women’s fashion,” he added.

Al-Musfir only revealed his ambition publicly after Prince Mohammed began his project to improve the kingdom’s image, including relaxing the mandatory rules that have governed women’s clothing for decades.

About two years ago, Al-Misfer began modeling online through Snapchat, which is a relatively safe option as the platform automatically deletes posts once 24 hours have passed since their presentation.

Today, he boasts of having more than two million followers on the app, and another 200,000 on Instagram, a level of influence that has drawn the attention of brands.

Saudi fashion designer Ziyad Al-Misfer fixes his hair before taking a picture for his photographer, on Tahlia Street in...

When “Gucci” opened a new store in Riyadh last month, its staff was keen to invite Al-Misfir to view the products, according to the employee in the sales department, Lulua Mohammed.

“It is very important to invite him because when we invite him and we take a video or photo of him wearing any item, it guarantees that it will be sold immediately,” Pearl told AFP.

“All Saudi women – old women and young girls – are watching him,” she added.

‘Sort of an artist’

Although other male models and influencers are following in his footsteps, Al-Misfir still enjoys a unique stature.

A sales representative at the Prada store said he was “the number one”, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic, as did others interviewed by AFP.

Many professionals in the fashion industry have made clear that Saudi Arabia’s limited acceptance of al-Musfir should not be understood as a complete endorsement of his behavior.

They noted that Al-Misfer, who makes part of his revenue through online advertising, is protected because he works with luxury brands and mingles with local celebrities who invite him to their events.

A woman wearing an abaya passes in front of Saudi model Ziyad Al-Misfer as she poses in front of her private photographer on Tahlia Street...

“We see him as a model or a bit of an artist, so we can’t judge him,” said Lulua Muhammad.

But she added, “Sometimes the reaction is negative. Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country. I don’t want to see my brother do the same.”

This inconsistency in the perception of Al-Musfir is clearly visible in the comments on his Instagram page.

In response to a post in February in which al-Musfir wore a bright red coat with a fitted purple collar jacket, one user wrote, “Forgive me Almighty God” while another wrote, “I will delete Instagram after seeing these looks.”

But another user expressed his support and encouragement, writing: “Ziad, keep going, I love you. Take care of yourself for the people that love you, do what you love, and don’t care about anything.”