Launched by two Saudi Arabian entrepreneurs, Lavish boutique is exporting the region’s culture and artisanship to Mayfair
Words: Will Moffitt
When it launched in November 2022, Lavish boutique was a small space with grand ambitions. Helmed by Saudi-born entrepreneurs Hala Al Sharekh and Nada Altobaishi, the pop-up store opened on South Molton Street, eager to showcase designers and artisans from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East whose talents had evaded western audiences.
Showcasing art, fashion and homewares the store attracted interest from passing locals and clients from further afield who ventured over to see and purchase these exotic, elegantly displayed works. A larger popup, also on South Molton Street followed in March 2023, incorporating works by artisans and fashion designers from Saudi Arabia alongside those from Morocco and Lebanon.
Since those early experiments Lavish has progressively grown in stature, as evidenced by a larger event in Piccadilly last October at the French Railway House, orchestrated in collaboration with the Students of the Saudi Cultural Bureau in London, in line with the 2030 Vision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which mentors and supports young creative talent. Students unveiled art and short films, while the boutique’s roster expanded to include artists and designers from Iraq, Qatar, and Egypt, not to mention British designers.
“We collaborated with the cultural bureau because we didn't want Lavish to just be a platform for selling designers and art,” co-founder Hala tells me. “It's more about showcasing Saudi culture in the heart of London, which is Mayfair. We didn't call it a pop up store. It was an event. The idea started from something very little and it has grown into something bigger.”
Lavish’s collaborators are a diverse bunch, encompassing artists, traditional and contemporary fashion and jewellery designers, many of whom craft their products using time worn techniques. Based in Riyadh, Scarlet Boutique specialises in hand painted glassware and home decor adorned with heritage patterns. Dalsh Designs, also a Saudi-based enterprise, turns traditional fabrics like the abaya – a robe-like dress worn by muslim women – and kaftans into chic fashion garments. The Soul Of, a Saudi-based jewellery designer, crafts hardhats from enamel and diamonds, turning a typically masculine item into a symbol of female empowerment.
That notion of platforming and encouraging women to excel is built into Lavish’s DNA, but a tale of two Saudi women overcoming repression and gender bias it is not. As Hala and Nada tell me quite forcefully, they have felt empowered long before they founded their own business on these shores.
“The western world has a perspective of Saudi Arabia and of Saudi women and how we are treated, but we’ve always been working,” Hala tells me. “We’ve been entrepreneurs, doctors, artists. I've been working since I graduated from University. My mother's been working, my aunt, my cousins.
“When you apply for a job in Saudi, they don't look into whether you're male or a female, they look at your CV and your experience. It has nothing to do with gender. It’s about who is best suited to the role.”
Though still sourcing a location for their spring launch Hala and Nada are determined to make the next venture their biggest yet. Inevitably, their roster of collaborators has grown, with Middle Eastern artists and designers queuing up to showcase their talents and sell their wares.
Items are available to purchase online via the Lavish website, but both Hala and Nada talk of their desire to play an active role in the local community and launch further popups in and around Mayfair.
“Mayfair is a unique area. It's classy, it's bespoke. People have been coming and going here for years. We've been coming here since day one,” Nada says. “Mayfair is diverse and I think the people of Mayfair more or less understand where we are coming from. People here [are discerning] and know what they're buying.”
Most important of all to the driven female duo is that they provide an experience for their prospective clients. “Lavish is not just about selling products. We want to give anybody who comes into the shop a unique experience,” Hala says. “Whether it's serving Saudi coffee or Moroccan tea or playing music from the region, we want people to come in and see a different culture.”