This Emerging Tunisian-Sicilian Designer Is One to Watch | Savoir Flair
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This Emerging Tunisian-Sicilian Designer Is One to Watch
article HELENA SHAHIN IN COCCELLATO | YASSINE TAHA
by Grace Gordon 8-minute read June 17, 2024

Iman Coccellato emerged on the Dubai fashion scene with a fully formed design vision, and the city has raced to embrace his brilliant work.

article HELENA SHAHIN IN COCCELLATO | YASSINE TAHA

I want to start this off by telling a story because things like this don’t happen to me very often. As the Editorial Director of Savoir Flair, I am often sent lookbooks by emerging designers. It is rare that they really grab my attention. I’d say that in a given year, there are less than five I come across that are worth looking into more deeply. It is rarer still that a designer’s first lookbook comes across my inbox with a fully-fledged vision, incredible looks, brilliant creative direction, and the ignition of lasting promise. 

One day, I opened a submission that stunned me. The clothes were beautiful, and the lookbook’s creative direction was vibrant, mysterious, and gorgeous. Thrilled to come across such a promising designer, I immediately wrote back to inquire further. A few weeks later, I was at an art exhibition hosted by a friend, where I met a lovely human named Iman. We gravitated towards each other instantly and spent the night talking about the intricacies of couture, the brilliance of Claude Montana, the need for the emerging class of fashion commentators on High Fashion Twitter to truly educate themselves on fashion history, and more. At one point, he mentioned that he was a designer. “I’d love to see your work,” I enthused. He opened his Instagram and there it was, the same images from the brilliant lookbook I had received. “It’s you!” I said. I couldn’t believe it. Fate had aligned for us to meet organically and not just meet but forge a genuine friendship. So allow me to introduce you to the exceedingly kind, thoughtful, warm, funny, and talented human behind the emerging Dubai-based brand Coccellato, my dear friend Iman Coccellato

AKSHITA SHETTY IN COCCELLATO | IBRAHIM ELHINAID

Iman was born in Cannes, France, to a Tunisian mother and a Sicilian father. Unfortunately and devastatingly, he lost his father at a young age and was raised by his mother, who faced many financial challenges over the years. Still, she never lost sight of beauty and was always dressed in her finest clothes. It was her sartorial fortitude in the face of hardship that inspired Iman at a young age. “In the beginning, my mother was a big client of couture, of Jean Paul Gaultier and Monsieur Alaïa. When my father died, she was left without money, without anything, and she found a job as a maid. When I was little I would hide in her closet while she got ready. One day I asked her, ‘Mom, how can you have such beautiful pieces when we have no money?’” It is at this moment that Iman learned an insight that would forever shape his destiny. “She told me, ‘Iman, when a woman wears the perfect cut and when she feels the weight of it on her body, she can be the actress of her life. She can be who she wants.' For me, as a very young man, I was like, ‘If a woman has beautiful clothes, she can be a superhero.’ This is how I started to love fashion.”

When Iman grew up, he was determined to go to Paris to study fashion, and the opportunity presented itself in the form of a design competition. “I won the competition with two designs: one I made from my mother’s blue silk curtains, and the other was a dress I made from mirrors,” he recalled. The prize was four years of study at Atelier Chardon Savard, funded by Carla Bruni. “It was not a technical school; it was only about creativity. It was a big challenge. For example, at the end of the day, we would go to the trash and see what we could create from inside the trash.” 

Afterward, he took an internship at Jean Paul Gaultier’s couture atelier and another at Y/Project, after which he sought a job in Paris, where he realized his limitations as a designer. “It was impossible for me in Paris to find a job because Atelier Chardon Savard is not a famous school,” he confessed. “I said to myself, ‘Listen, Iman, you need to go to Institut Français de la Mode.’ IFM is one of the biggest schools in the world. It was there that I learned design techniques and the communication of the fashion industry. That was my passport to the fashion industry in Paris.” His design acumen continued to be honed at internships at Lanvin and at Chloé, where he was assistant fashion designer to the head of fashion.

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article HELENA SHAHIN IN COCCELLATO | YASSINE TAHA

After gaining a formidable design pedigree, Iman decided to launch his brand in his new home in Dubai, a labor of love that the eagle-eyed fashion commentator and stylist Osama Chabbi helped realize through his creative direction. Coccellato’s debut collection launched in 2023, inspired by the female Arab artists who shaped Iman and Osama’s youth. But the brand doesn’t abide by the traditional fashion schedule, nor does it produce in a traditional way. Instead, Iman sources deadstock fabrics, patiently teaches his Dubai-based suppliers the design technique for each look, and prefers to perfect his work instead of rushing production  – which means collection drops are infrequent. “It is important for me to take the time to do beautiful things,” he reasoned. “I don’t mind working five years to perfect a simple suit.”

But producing in Dubai is not without its challenges. As much as the emirate is a bastion of retail, it lacks substantial resources for producing fully realized ready-to-wear collections, which is where Iman’s tremendous patience comes into play. “Here, [my suppliers] really want to know about the fashion industry, but they are limited. I have found a great embroidery factory here in Dubai, but they cannot create my samples. So, I have my samples made by my friend in Paris who has a couture embroidery factory. I create the sample with her and then bring it to the supplier in Dubai to show them the technique. It’s an education for me as well,” he said. Meanwhile, as the rest of the fashion industry races to release new collections, Iman’s perfectionist tendencies have led him to embrace a different approach. “My collections will be available for pre-order, but what is difficult is that I only use deadstock fabric, so I am limited by the quantity of deadstock,” he shared. “My schedule is to launch a piece or silhouette every three months. They are based on the patterns I have worked on perfecting for years. I work on a lot of pieces simultaneously, so when I am able to validate the perfect cut, I launch. I think it’s a good rhythm.”

HELENA SHAHIN IN COCCELLATO | YASSINE TAHA

As Iman has ventured into launching his own business, he has been encouraged by the enthusiasm for his work among friends and clients. He is energized by building that network, one where interpersonal relationships are the key to success. “I have met fabulous people here who help [me] because they see the vision. In Dubai, I see the future here in terms of the fashion industry. In Paris, I never had the chance to create. It’s too expensive, it’s too saturated. Here, it is completely different. Here, we are able to write our own history,” he shared.

What I love the most about Iman is his sensitivity toward women. Like the greats who have gone before him – Alber Elbaz, Thierry Mugler, Azzedine Alaïa – he truly loves women and the female form. For Iman, “everything is about the woman,” in that he considers not just how she is shaped but who she is, where she is going, and what occasion she is dressing for; he desires to make her feel vividly seen and special. “The story that I try to tell is about the woman and following her mood and her body. I want to give the woman the capacity to be sexy in her daily life and to be proud of who she is. I create by instinct. When I am in front of a fabric, I will think of the body of a woman, and I will create. I will think about her walking through the street proudly. Or when she is feeling vulnerable.” It may sound like a simple thing – designing for the body of a woman. Shouldn’t all designers take this into consideration? You’d be surprised how often this is an afterthought in the creation process. Knowing firsthand the complexities of being a woman and the trials and tribulations of finding the right look to suit my mood, the occasion I am dressing for, the weather, and any number of other factors, I deeply appreciate that this is the very foundation of his work.

Armed with a couture attitude, Iman achieves his precise silhouettes by “doing a lot of fittings.” The way he sees it, if he can put his friends in his pieces, he can use them as case studies for how they wear the clothes in everyday life. “I will give them a piece for a few days and then have them tell me how they feel. I want to know how [the clothes] feel when she is eating dinner – can she bend her elbows? Are the sleeves restrictive? – how she will walk in them, how she will run. The feedback of my muse is most important,” he shared.

Today, Iman launches his retail website, Coccellato.com, where he will sell his beautiful collections direct-to-consumer via pre-order, and he is also launching a series of hand-painted silk scarves. The scarves offer an entree point into the universe of Coccellato and will be on limited offer because they are painstakingly hand-crafted and are, as Iman so eloquently put it, “a piece of art.”

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