Ahead of the highly anticipated first season of Fashion Forward this weekend, we speak to guest of honor Rabih Kayrouz.
Lebanese fashion prodigy Rabih Kayrouz knew his calling was fashion before even finishing middle school. “It was obvious for me that fashion was my future as early as at the age of 12,” shares Kayrouz. At the startlingly young age of 16, Kayrouz moved from Lebanon to Paris to begin his career in fashion, earning a degree at the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. He also worked at Dior and Chanel in Paris, and his pedigree is deeply entrenched in both European and Middle Eastern influence. In this intimate interview, Kayrouz shares his history, the passion that drives his creations, and what we can expect from Fashion Forward, of which he is this year’s guest of honor.
As an established Middle Eastern designer, where do you draw your inspiration?
I love women and I love to dress them. I like looking at people in the streets of Paris. Paris is so inspiring, and people living in such an urban city inspire me. I walk around looking at people, their way, their gestures. When I start a collection, I start with the fabrics. Then, while choosing the fabrics, my mood gets involved. I start playing with the fabrics and the way they move. It’s a fluent process and a teamwork effort. You keep playing with the clothes, and, from one design, you get to another.
When I start a collection, I start with the fabrics.
Do you also have a specific woman in mind when designing?
Yes, definitely. She has attitude and she’s a strong woman. She knows what she wants. She plays… She plays a role… She plays a lot with others. It’s all about her playful attitude and her elegance. She’s got her own style. She’s got elegance. She’s confident. She can also be fragile, but she plays with that. Her fragility comes from being naughty and playful.
Because of the importance of the wedding market in our region, it’s a lot more common to find couture-oriented designers than ready-to-wear designers. What made you decide to make the jump from couture to ready-to-wear?
When I first started in Lebanon, it was easier to start with couture. It was more accessible and the client base was there, as you said. I then realized that I love to dress people for the day, not only for special occasions. I still love couture but my new expression is ready-to-wear. It was a personal choice that is hard to explain. As designers, we have to really follow our gut feeling. I wanted to be able to dress people on the streets. Ready-to-wear is more modern and more accessible.
You founded the Starch Foundation in 2008. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
In my atelier in Lebanon, I would receive a lot of designers who were confused and lost. They had no idea how to get started in the business. I realized that, for almost ten years, there were hardly any designers emerging from Lebanon, and I wondered why. The answer is because there isn’t really any help, any support for these designers. That’s why I decided, with my partner Tala Hajjar, that something needed to be done about this. So, we founded Starch. I think it’s so important for a designer to be pushed and helped. In Europe, there are a lot of institutions, a lot of people helping. We felt that it was important to help people from our country. It’s healthy to have competition in the industry. It’s what makes you go on and grow. So, in 2008, we started a new school in Lebanon of ready-to-wear designers.
It’s healthy to have competition in the industry. It’s what makes you go on and grow.
How many designers are there currently under the Starch Foundation?
We started four years ago, and we have about 15 designers now. We add four or five new designers each year.
And these designers produce and work from Lebanon?
Yes. They have to be Lebanese and working and producing in that environment.
Let’s talk about Fashion Forward. What was your first thought when you were approached?
The first time I heard about it, the team came to my office and presented the project. I was seduced by it; it was perfectly presented. I told them, honestly, that I didn’t believe I was big enough; I’m still young. So I said no in the beginning. Then, I received the guide and all the information and I was sold. I was so impressed. All the ideas they had reminded me a bit of the reason I started Starch. I just decided I had to be part of this.
What do you hope to achieve through Fashion Forward?
I would like it to become a reference. I would like people to come to Fashion Forward to discover new Arab talent. The fashion industry is not what it was in the 60s or 70s when there was only one Fashion Week. Today, every country and every region has a Fashion Week. People are going all around the world to discover new designers, new talent. As a region, we are very fashionable and we love to dress up. But, unfortunately, we don’t always look to our designers. I think it’s important to put our industry on an international platform. It will also push the designers to be more creative, because they will know that people are coming to Fashion Forward to discover new talent that isn’t inspired by other designers.
I would like people to come to Fashion Forward to discover new Arab talent.
What’s your opinion of the Middle Eastern fashion industry?
In general, I think we are still a bit shy. The big Lebanese designers proved themselves on the red carpet scene with couture dresses. It’s a certain style, but we have a lot to do in terms of young, fresh, and talented designers. We’re not seeing this kind of talent enough.
Are there any young designers from the Middle East that you think are very promising and that have caught your eye?
To be honest, I am not very aware of the emerging designers from the Middle East. I’m really looking forward to coming to Fashion Forward to discover new names. Ask me this question again when you see me next week. [Laughs]
I definitely will! Finally, what’s the most important advice that you would give to emerging designers?
Designers have to look to their own story, find their voice, and start telling that story. It’s also important to have general knowledge of what’s happening in the world around you and to look around. Then, when you sit down to work, you should only listen to yourself. Do exactly what you feel like doing. It’s your own story, in your own way. This is how you become unique.