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Jun / Jul 2013
Fresh Faces

Writer: Nadine Khalil

When Sandra Ghattas decided to tap into what she calls ‘the Lebanese designers’ boom’, she didn’t expect that within a month, Beirut Designers’ Week, the country’s first such event, would be sold out.


We’re on the upper deck of Zaitunay Bay and it’s a beautiful, breezy day. Boats bob gently as visitors move amongst the stands of 70 designers, presenting everything from haute couture and lingerie to furniture and yacht accessories.

“We have plenty of Lebanese designers dressing stars at red carpet events,” Sandra Ghattas tells me, dressed smartly in a cowboy-style hat and long, loosely flowing skirt, “but I wanted to push for those who are still unknowns.”

Presenting those ‘unknowns’ at the city’s glitziest waterfront, amongst high-end restaurants and boutiques was astute. The designs are all made in Lebanon, although not all the designers are Lebanese. Eva Szumilas, a Polish designer based here, creates intelligent, multifunctional ‘boxes’ that fit inside one another and have leather handles to function as drawers.

She arranges her units in modular compositions, creating bookshelves, plant stands and tables. “I’m an architect and I was suffering from how long-term architectural projects are,” she tells me, “so I decided to go into object and lighting design, where I could see my ideas materialise more quickly.”

In stark contrast is Sandra Macaron’s furniture with its Arabesque motifs and laminated finishes. Her Damas collection is inlaid with mother-of-pearl while Remmeneh is all perforated dots, resembling the inside a pomegranate. “To me, it also looks like the lace grandmothers use for setting the table,” Macaron says. “I wanted to combine modern style with something traditional.”

There’s also haute couture, the most striking of which is Nadine Zeni’s beautifully-wrought cocktail dresses in silk, sequins and lace. Her collection is largely focussed on evening wear but today, she’s wearing pieces from her daywear line, also on display. Clad in a skirt emblazoned with colourful sequin flowers, she’s definitely making a statement. Trained as a lawyer, with no formal education in fashion, Zeni’s intricate evening gowns and leather handbags are impressive, to say the least.

Just around the corner is ‘Dough’, a more austere collection by Rima Kassis, a graduate of Central Saint Martin’s. Minimalist in tones of black, white and grey, her creations are an exercise in simplicity; loosely flowing dresses, trousers and tunics. “My clothing is for the free-spirited, sophisticated woman who doesn’t need or want to be over-dressed,” she tells me, explaining that her inspiration was the post-war European simplicity of the 1950s.

On the accessories level, I come across two exhibitors who are rather extraordinary. Nadine Kaddoura, designing as Dear N, makes bracelets out of fabric and semi-precious stones. Displayed in glass jars, they almost look like frisky garter belts. “I feel the wrist is very much neglected,” she explains, adding that the textiles come from the family business in Senegal, “so I wanted to bring it back into focus and with a baroque accent.”

Malaika Najem’s jewellery is entirely different. “My work is often exhibited at galleries and exhibitions, rather than sold,” she tells me. You can see why. It’s highly conceptual. Brought up in West Africa, with a Lebanese father and Tuareg mother, Najem’s influences are multiple. There’s Lion, a necklace made of curly strips of silver and copper, Blossom, a bracelet made of barbed wire and even an old bullet, made into a diamond-studded pendant. Her eye, clearly, is unusual.

Designers’ Week may have been rooted in Beirut but judging by this first edition, its influences come from all over the world.

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