Meet the Stylish Woman Bringing Arab Designers to Washington D.C.

Lena Farouki Curio Concept
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Lena Farouki, owner of boutique Curio Concept in Georgetown, Washington D.C., uniquely defines the mental activity of the restless and gifted: “My brain is like the memory game that tries to connect new things with what I’ve experienced before.”

The thread that unites so many curious creatives is a sponge-like ability to absorb new experiences and information, and then extrapolate those experiences to make new connections and resolutions about the world. This type of person typically ends up as a collector of some kind, but Farouki has turned that hobby into a full-fledged career in fashion retail.

For her, personal style is an extension of her personality, curiosities, and memories that have forged a special relationship between what appears on Curio Concept’s shelves and her life experiences. Having grown up in Abu Dhabi, she is uniquely situated to introduce the amazing talent of Arab fashion designers to the East Coast crowd, while her university stretch in London gave her a magpie’s love of kitsch, vintage accessories.

That is why Curio’s retail curation has attracted legions of fashionable followers, shaping Farouki into something of a style icon. In an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, Farouki explains her drive to share her thoughts on the Middle East fashion scene, her favorite designers, and so much more.

Lena Farouki Curio Concept
Photo: Courtesy of Lena Farouki

When and how did you find your personal style? How has it evolved over the years?
I love this question. It’s been a bizarre, humiliation-fest of J.Lo/Abercrombie/Avril Lavigne-inspired years while growing up. I have to embrace that childhood experimentation, because it brought me to where I feel confident and comfortable in my style now. Where I probably really explored my style and what I was drawn to was when I was doing my Master’s degree at King’s College in London. The diverse people I met there, the differences among my friends – everything impacted me greatly.

In turn, I realized, you create your own style when you combine high fashion, high-street fashion, designer vintage, and family vintage. It should obviously reflect your personality, but more importantly, your childhood. Style should be fun. I’ve always thought that one shouldn’t look like a nun – unless you’re a nun, I guess – but not a clown either. Taking yourself too seriously with fashion is a recipe for tripping on your face in front of street-style photographers. You are asking for it.

Does your style reflect your personality?
Probably too much. I have a strong attachment to my childhood and nostalgia. So, if something reminds me of a cartoon, a candy, a person I knew, a book I once read, or a perfume worn by my Islamic Studies teacher, I love it instantly. It happens more often than you’d imagine.

Photo: Courtesy of Lena Farouki
Photo: Courtesy of Lena Farouki

How would you describe your personal style in three words?
Colorful, fur, fur.

What would your signature outfit be?
Yohji Yamamoto boots, Acne jeans, an Adidas jacket, a white Curio T-shirt, Yvonne Leon earrings, and Diptyque perfume.

Where do you generally like to shop?
Your closet. I like taking things, with permission, from people’s closets – man or woman. It feels like treasure.

What are your favorite brands at the moment?
This is obviously going to sound biased because I buy these brands for Curio, but I do so for a reason: Sandra Mansour, Tata Naka, Wanda Nylon, Taller Marmo, and Yvonne Leon. I’m serious, though. These are my favorite brands.

Are there any fashion items that you collect?
I love vintage jewelry and hats. I also buy modern pieces that I think will eventually become collector’s items.

Are you a bag person or a shoe person?
I’m neither, to be honest, but I’m probably more of a shoe person. I hate migrating my things from one bag to another.

Photo: Courtesy of Lena Farouki

Is there anything you once thought you’d never wear, and now do?
I never liked houndstooth, but I’m really beginning to appreciate it. Never will I wear paisley. Never.

Complete the following: You can never have too many…
Jeans and pants. I actually think I have too many at this point, so maybe that doesn’t answer your question because it’s a cause for concern in my house now.

Who are your greatest fashion influences?
My mother was a Ferré and Escada woman in the 90s – I loved her style. She was and is a huge influence on me. I wouldn’t call anyone else a great fashion influence on me. I’ve definitely observed and picked up a lot along the way from people like Catherine Baba and brands like Versace VersusGaultierAnn Demeulemeester, and Moschino – but ultimately, my mother.

Photo: Courtesy of Lena Farouki

When did you launch Curio?
Curio opened in October 2016 after a renovation that took two and a half years.

You grew up in Abu Dhabi. How did you end up opening a boutique in Washington?
Is that random? I don’t know. Not really, I guess. So, long story short, I grew up in Abu Dhabi, graduated from American Community School, went to university in Washington, and moved to London for my Master’s degree. I probably spent too much time in London after getting my degree; I bought a stall on Portobello Road with my friend. We sold South Korean jewelry because her mother worked at the U.N. in Seoul.

There were a couple of months during which I spent designing skateboards, but I don’t know how to skateboard. I then moved back to Abu Dhabi and worked in advertising, and moved to Dubai and worked at Art Dubai for the 2012 edition, which I loved. I’d always wanted to open a concept store and considered opening one in Dubai, Washington D.C., or London. I thought D.C. would really appreciate something a little different than what’s already there.

Not only do my American clients appreciate Middle Eastern designers, but also my French, Colombian, and Saudi clients.

Tell us more about it.
I was always the child who got lost and worried her parents because I explored too far and for too long. Growing up in Abu Dhabi and traveling during the holidays, I began finding little stores and enjoyed them the most – a lot more than the shopping centers and main streets. If you want to know what made me feel like I could totally be myself in designing Curio, it was the feeling that I had every time I walked into someone else’s small shop.

It could be the store selling dollhouse miniatures in Rome, the hole-in-the-wall grocery store that sold my favorite ‘Aladin’ chips in Abu Dhabi, or Dover Street Market in London with designer installations – I love the feeling of walking into someone’s mind. No matter what it looked like, I loved stores with an opinion and a personality. Even if I didn’t connect with what they were selling, per se, I would respect the courage and effort it takes to tap into your childhood, your memories, your interests, and find tangible items that represent them – and then use them to transform a room into a piece of your brain.

Photo: Courtesy of Lena Farouki

Does your personal style influence what you buy for Curio?
Entirely. I obviously have to water it down a bit, depending on the designer, but my personal style drives the store’s interior, its music playlist, which designers I feature, everything.

What are three things that we should know about the boutique?
I have big plans. I want the entire townhouse to be the store, to open a café in the backyard, to create a Curio badminton team, and host a flower stall outside of the store during the summer on the weekends. I plan to explore Curio’s personality and grow it up.

How have these regional designers been received by your American clientele?
Georgetown is very diverse, so not only do my American clients appreciate Middle Eastern designers, but also my French, Colombian, and Saudi clients. It’s lovely to see people learn that what they’re admiring is by a designer in Lebanon or Dubai. It makes them love it even more.

Any plans to expand in the Middle East?
I would love to, but my bulldog doesn’t fly.

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