The 160 outfits modeled at the extravagant “FIRST Fashion Show”, held on June 8th in a disused textiles factory in the outskirts of Beirut, projected a Lebanon that is vibrant, eclectic, energetic, joyful and above all adventurous.
“We don’t do fashion; fashion is a reflection of society,” said Jason Steel, coordinator of LAU’s fashion design program, ahead of the show put on by the first cohort of graduates.
Steel has for four years been nurturing the curiosity and creativity of the 16 designers whose first collections were showcased, leading them on a journey of self-discovery and expression.
The students, now graduates, were supported in their individual journeys by the program’s honorary chair, internationally renowned Beirut-based designer Elie Saab, and the expertise of the London College of Fashion (LCF). The trailblazing Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Design in collaboration with ELIE SAAB and the London College of Fashion was initiated in 2013, aiming to help bolster and redefine Lebanon’s fashion industry.
In one of the large rooms of the Abroyan factory, decked out with rows of seats along a rectangular runway that spanned the entire area, LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra, Saab and head of LCF Frances Corner were joined by ministers, ambassadors, academics, and proud parents to celebrate the achievements of the young fashion designers.
“They ceased being students in the final year when they completely focused on their individual and unique vision, to become who they are,” said Steel of his former students. “This show is the launch pad for these creative entrepreneurs, who will change the cultural identity of the country,” he said.
The garments on show — ten outfits per designer — were eclectic and were not limited to the eveningwear look Lebanese designers are known for.
“Fashion is not only about women’s wear and glamorous bridal dresses but is also about menswear, sportswear, knitwear and textile experimentation,” said Yasmine Taan, chair of the Department of Art and Design, in her welcoming remarks.
The 160 pieces, showcased by 60 models, included a collection of outfits designed for the Lebanese 2020 Olympic team, disco-inspired leotards and body suits, a man’s jump suit masquerading as a trench coat, a series of deconstructed blazers, oversized jackets, track suits and knitted ponchos, and embroidered wrap coats that resembled duvets.
“Some of the outfits are very conceptual and experimental and others are ready to sell,” said Director of International at the London College of Fashion Paul Yuille, clearly pleased with the results of the partnership with LAU and ELIE SAAB.
“While LAU adopts a U.S. model and international standards, it has a very evident local culture, and we found this very attractive,” said Yuille of LCF’s decision to partner with LAU. “Preserving and enhancing local culture and expression is key, and the fact that ELIE SAAB was both established and remains in Lebanon is hugely significant and aspirational for young Lebanese designers,” he said.
The desire to give back to his country is what motivated Saab, a self-taught designer, to establish an academic program. “I wanted to share my experience and knowledge with the overflowing pool of young talent that is just waiting to burst into life,” said Saab ahead of the inaugural fashion show.
“The difficulty had been to set up a structured platform where students can study, learn and perfect the right skills they need to attain degrees of international standards,” said Saab, expressing his appreciation at a dream fulfilled.
Jabbra also thanked Saab for his vision and commitment to Lebanon’s youth and said to the graduates, “It is quite moving to see that your dream is being realized right at this moment.”
Among those realizing her dream is Hiba Kawoukji, whose collection reflected her love for dance and was inspired by the attitude of the 1980s woman. She, like her peers, was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be showcased in a fashion show of international standards.
“We are so lucky to have enjoyed this degree and this amazing show, and as the pioneers we’ll build the industry and the opportunities so that future graduates won’t have to go abroad to gain work experience,” said Kawoukji.