Alex Hawkins, lead author of The Future Laboratory’s ‘New Codes of Luxury in Saudi Arabia’ explains how next-generation Saudi consumers are dispelling luxury stereotypes.

As the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) emerges as an influential luxury epicentre, views on its key luxury demographics, and what they value, are being challenged. 

The next generation of Saudi consumers is re-inventing luxury from the inside out, according to New Codes of Luxury in Saudi Arabia, a new joint report by The Future Laboratory in partnership with Together Group. In other words, luxury audiences in KSA are interested in more than just high-value products from big brands.

Instead, luxury is increasingly defined in terms of innovation and cutting-edge design (51 per cent), along with customisation and personalisation (44 per cent), and the seamless integration of technology (41 per cent), according to exclusive FuturePoll™ data. This runs against many of the marketing, branding and retail strategies used by luxury brands who have set their sights on this market. 

And when it comes to these new codes of luxury, women appear to be leading the charge. Among affluent KSA nationals, 47 per cent use digital methods for purchasing, compared to 34 per cent of men. Meanwhile, innovation and cutting-edge design were even more important to women (58 per cent) than men (46 per cent).

Attitudes are starting to shift for younger consumers especially. With 63 per cent of Saudis under the age of 30, according to a 2022 census, the Kingdom boasts one of the youngest populations in the world. As they mature, they are setting new standards for a luxury market expected to reach a staggering value of USD 15.8 billion by 2028, according to International Market Analysis Research and Consulting (IMARC) Group. 

While there is still a lean towards many European brands among the youth, there is also a strong and growing desire to support local. As much as 95 per cent of young Saudis emphasise the importance of Saudi-first businesses and local craft and design, our research found. This will only accelerate in line with the promising trajectory of Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning fashion industry. The launch of Riyadh Fashion Week, for example, sees the capital city emerge as a new contender in the global fashion circuit.

Meanwhile, the Fashion Commission’s upcoming product development studio and a research centre at King Abdulaziz University’s Science and Technology Center (KAUST), which will explore innovative sustainable solutions in textile science, have the potential to create the right conditions for the ‘made in Saudi’ label to thrive. What we anticipate next is a micro-globalised luxury that reflects the new realities of KSA both today and tomorrow. That push-pull means that brands will need to think differently — and get creative about how they blend international influence and appeal with cultural nuance.

Saudi Arabia’s broader creative economies and cultural sectors are in growth mode too. Events like Riyadh Season, the Diriyah Biennale, Saudi Design Week, Noor Riyadh and the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah are just a few of the new and emerging festivals and key cultural events that KSA is using to attract a more discerning and culturally attuned traveller. To this end, the Kingdom has strategically invested in culture, architecture, wellbeing, and experience-based luxury to attract a more elevated global luxurian profile. 

Wadi AlFann, the Valley of the Arts, is a pioneering desert hub for contemporary art, featuring works by renowned artists like James Turrell and Michael Heizer. This art(s) enclave sprawls over a 25-square-mile area, featuring monumental pieces ranging from mirrored installations mimicking mirages to labyrinthine towns crafted from adobe walls.

For brands, participating or associating with cultural events such as Saudi Design Week and the Red Sea Film Festival means they can align themselves with a new cultural hub. Meanwhile, partnerships with Saudi’s entertainment leaders could see brands curate exclusive experiences within the Kingdom’s coming rush of entertainment districts, offering a fusion of high-end retail, dining, and leisure activities.

Sport is another untapped opportunity. The Ministry of Sport aims to raise physical activity levels in the Kingdom by 40 per cent by the end of the decade, paving the way for sportswear and general athleisure apparel to become highly dynamic product categories. Saudi Arabia has also secured the right to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at its Trojena resort — a haven for outdoor activity designed by architecture heavyweights like Zaha Hadid Architects, UNStudio, Aedas, LAVA, and Bureau Proberts.

Finally, The AlUla Project is developing an archaeological, cultural and touristic complex — dubbed as an open-air ‘living museum’ — in a region as vast as Belgium. By showcasing the region’s stunning heritage – from millennium-old archaeological sites to breath-taking landscapes — it intends to capitalise on the region’s natural assets.

The Royal Commission for AlUla’s (RCU) ‘Journey Through Time’ masterplan will blend living and hospitality options, ranging from eco-tourism resorts to luxury lodges.