Beirut is in the eye of the Beholder: The Building Block Foundation of Fashion

Imagine this. You love fashion. You study fashion design. It’s all kind of a dream. And then you graduate.

Now what?

While a lot of designers end up working for bigger fashion houses – and in Lebanon there are plenty to choose from – design is often a very personal, creative field and sometimes the people who are best at it, the real talents, don’t want to slave away designing beautiful pieces so that a bigger name can take the credit. A lot of these young and fresh talents don’t even see themselves and their original ideas fitting into something that already exists – they don’t identify with the established designers that could potentially employ them. They want to break free and do their own thing. But how do you do that? Where on earth does a virtually-unknown ball of creative genius begin? 

Enter: Starch.

Starch is a white, odorless, solid, and most basic form of carbohydrate – a very pure substance. It’s also a building block in the fashion industry, used as an adhesive, and hardening and bonding component.

In the same way The Starch Foundation serves as a facilitator, as a foundation on which young fashion designers can build their talent with the proper guidance and resources. It’s a non-profit organization that helps young designers stand on their feet, showing them the ropes, helping to develop their collections as well as preparing them for other aspects of the fashion world—like communications, marketing, branding, and press. 

Starch has been doing this since 2008, choosing a handful of young Lebanese fashion designers and explaining to them what to do after they’ve got a diploma to their name. The process isn’t easy – and it’s not only creative. Of course the ingenuity of the clothes or accessories are the core of the program. But you can’t successfully sell a collection of even the most beautiful items if nobody’s heard of them, or if you haven’t made sufficient quantities, or if you don’t have a place to display the stuff. And as much as many designers are idealists who design out of love for their work, designers do also need eat, so they need to sell their creations.

Who better to pass down all the tricks of the trade than experienced professionals? The foundation is the brainchild of renowned Lebanese designer Rabih Kayrouz and fashion marketing guru Tala Hajjar. Solidere provides a free space that’s transformed into a differently designed shop every year, and that year’s ripe young designers sell their clothes, accessories and what not.

The designers and starchitect with Rabih Kayrouz and Tala Hajjar

This year the Starch shop reopened in early December, holding a trendy launch party for the 2012-2013 batch. These are the ones to watch, the big names of the future:

Sevag Dilszian, Celine Der Torossian, Hussein Bazaza and Bashar Assaf, as well as the “starchitect” who designed this year’s boutique, Stephanie Moussallem. Moussallem used lots of white and pipes (as well as a print of more pipes) to give the space a minimal, industrial and almost post-apocalyptic feel.

Sevag’s collection of copper, unisex statement rings tell the story of finding the way from being caged, going through various obstacles and phases, and eventually breaking the cage and achieving freedom. Two of the rings are unique pieces, and all of them are more then just decoration – they are a piece of a story. 

Hussein Bazaza’s opulent and mysterious clothing collection is full of luxurious textures and patterns, with a lot of detail, especially in the structure of the pieces.

The items include skirts, wide-leg pants, jackets and shirts with over-sized sleeves and unique open backs.

Celine Der Torossian’s clothing line Azade is inspired by Art Deco, geometry and tribal patterns. One short, long-sleeve statement dress is made of black spandex, and on it some tribal shapes in primary colors.

Bashar Assaf’s pieces are inspired by metamorphic rocks and thus are also metamorphic and multi-functional. One overcoat is actually a two-piece ensemble that turns into a classy coat and cape. The designed joked that some customers suggested the clothes come with an instruction manual. With lots of deep burgondys and greens, his collection has been described as sci-fi couture.

The same designers will launch their Spring/ Summer collections at the store in a couple of months. They’ll then move out and make room for the next generation of Starch participants, and join fellow Starch alumni, who include the already hugely successful and continuously growing Krikor Jabotian, Rami Kadi, Lara Khoury, Nadine Mneimneh, and Guitta Abi Hanna, to name but a few. After such an experience the newbies in the industry know how to go about creating yet another collection, having already done it with the proper guidance. Being more comfortable with the process, they can focus more on the creative aspect of their work. The common denominator between all the designes is not a specific style, but a specific way of thinking. Starch helps designers but chooses only those they see fit. Starch encourages not only talent, but the idea of innovation and true style.

Starch alumni

The bottom line is this: The Elie Saabs and Zuhair Murads of Lebanon, with their Paris Fashion Week collections, Oscar worthy gowns and superstar singer world tour costumes, have already “made it” with their own very distinct styles. But why imitate the talents of others when you can redefine fashion, create truly unique pieces and initiate new trends? Starch’s fantastic five this season definitely haven’t conformed to standards of what the original “Lebanese Designers” have created as a brand. They’re branching out and creating new looks that don’t necessarily fit with the typical idea of Lebanese fashion – much like their patron, Kayrouz, who himself is hugely popular because of his very distinctive style, and not despite it. 

Yves Saint Laurent is said to have uttered: “fashions fade but style is eternal.” No doubt fashion trends change at every change of weather, and finding them beautiful depends on the eye of the beholder. Every season, one can find gorgeous and hideous trends and items, but the designers of the “hideous” ones obviously thought they were beautiful, so it’s all very subjective. One thing is for sure: you can’t go wrong going with creating original designs that elaborate on a unique idea or concept (like our lovely Strach designers). What is ugly is unoriginal, poorly-done, “copy after copy” reproductions of other, successful designers. It’s undoubtedly better to move forward and introduce innovation than stagnate in the same cookie-cutter fashions. Creativity must be encouraged in order to breed designs worth wearing. That’s exactly what Starch is doing, and that’s beautiful!

Find out more on their website, and Facebook.


Photos courtesy of Starch Foundation