Dalila Barkache: “The talented designers from the MENA region are not visible enough in the international market.”
1/ What pushed you to send in your submission to this year’s FTA Prize? What do you expect from this experience?
The current economic situation in Lebanon, specifically after the blast in the port of Beirut, has blocked my ability to produce jewelry. This tragic situation has led me to apply to the FTA Prize.
At the moment, we are still working from Beirut. The extraordinary situation in Lebanon slowed down my production, therefore, I have recently decided to move a part of the production to Morocco, in order to simplify the process.
I will use the Prize for business development; everything from designing the next collection, to presentation, renting a studio space, and expanding my team. It would also be helpful to hire a studio manager to refine business procedures. Right now, I do most of it on my own.
2/ What was the first object related to fashion (a piece of clothing, jewelry, an accessory…) that dazzled you when you were a kid, and why?
When I was ten years old, I was given an old, Berber silver ring by the grandmother of a friend. It was the first ring that I ever owned, and it had one moving part, a coin from France. I truly believe this ring set me on my path. From that moment on, I had a new awareness of jewelry, from ancient beads to modern bling, each culture bringing its own voice, I was intrigued by it all. Eventually, I realized jewelry not only gave humans expression, but each culture attaches a meaning to certain pieces, symbols of protection, or statements of marital status, for example.
Later I discovered the exceptional work of jewelry houses like René Boivin, Suzanne Belperron, JAR (Joel Arthur Rosenthal), Van Cleef & Arpels, René Lalique, Cartier, Raymond Templier, Wallace Chan, but also jewelry created by artists like Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Ettore Sotsass, Tony Duquette, Cesar Baldaccini, Alexandre Calder, Man Ray…
Last year, archaeologists unearthed 33 shell beads from the Bizmoune cave in Essarouia, Morocco. It is the oldest jewelry on record, and it dates back 150,000 years, and it’s only 90 minutes from my hometown!
3/ What was the trigger that made you realize that you wanted to be a fashion designer and nothing else?
My first ring, as I mentioned, but from there I saw a fashion documentary on TV when I was a teenager that blew me away, and I fell in love. Something just clicked, and I knew that I’d found my calling, specifically, I loved the work of Dries Van Noten. I love that his work is timeless and poetic, but also the way that he created unique happenings on the runway. He stopped time with his work, and it captivated me. I knew I wanted to be part of this industry.
In high school, I spent a lot of time in flea markets searching for jewelry for myself, but over time, to make money, I started selling my finds. I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so this was a way to be able to afford vintage and designer pieces. When I was 17, I would sneak into the fashion shows, by lying to security saying that I was a reporter’s assistant and didn’t have my badge. Sometimes I made a fake email to get an invitation… and it worked!
I went to the jewelry school Haute École de Joaillerie in Paris, after graduating I planned to go to New York, but spontaneously found myself staying in Beirut after a brief holiday, because I got a great job. My experience in Beirut gave me the freedom to explore my unique vision. Right now I am studying sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Rouen.
In 2007, I had the wonderful opportunity to team up with Comme des Garçons and opened the concept store Guerrilla store +9611 in Beirut. This fruitful experience led me to launch my own brand.
4/ Which fashion designer, Arab or international, inspired you, and why?
Without a doubt, I would say Azzedine Alaïa. His sense of aesthetic and his unique brand, based on a particular work ethic and on profound love, deeply inspires me. The technical elements of his designs are always started and finished by his own hands. He once stated, “Je suis une petit main,” which I think says a lot about his philosophy.
His personal story is fascinating and, somehow, I sometimes feel close to his journey. He was deeply rooted in his Arabic culture even though he lived and worked in Paris. His passion and love for couture designers pushed him to collect artworks from some of the best couturiers, from Madeleine Vionnet to Cristóbal Balenciaga, or today, Rei Kawakubo, Martin Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto, Rick Owens, and more. He even created a foundation that archives his collection as a way to keep records of them and allow future generations to admire them.
He sometimes even challenged common rules of the fashion industry to follow his own instinct. He, for example, decided to abandon the system of seasonal runway shows to concentrate on the finalizing of a unique collection that truly represented his vision. There is so much that could be said about this artist, but his true passion for art is probably the reason why I look up at him a lot.
5/ What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?
I never judge people by the way they dress. The most important thing is to be yourself and be proud of it. But if I would have one wish, it would be more about the accessibility of products that are socially and ecologically conscious. I think that the focus has to be more on the producers than the consumers. For that, research on new technology that is more ecologically-friendly is, I think, very important.
6/ What was your worst fashion faux-pas?
Wearing silk pajamas anywhere and anytime…. Or to be overdressed.
7/ If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any other designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
If I have to pick any piece to wear everyday for the rest of my life, it would be a Haïk, which is a traditional women’s garment worn in the Maghreb region. It’s a rectangular piece of fabric covering the whole body, 6 by 2.2 meters in length, rolled up then held at the waist by a belt and then brought back to the shoulders to be fixed by fibulae.
To be more specific, it would be a Haïk in the Pleats Please range by Issey Miyake. Made from a collaborative project between Issey Miyake and the photographer Yuriko Takagi, the project is called “Pleats Please Travel Through the Planet”. Issey Miyake’s pieces were shot with stunning images in Kenya, India, China and Morocco. It’s comfortable, timeless and it feels right in any place or occasion. He left us an amazing, important legacy and I would wear it every day.
8/ Who do you dream of dressing?
My list is too long, but to name a few, it would be Cher, The Wu Tang Clan, Anjelica Huston, Rihanna, Susan Sarandon, Tyler the Creator, John Waters, Cindy Sherman, Takeshi Kitano, Teresa de Keersmaeker, Bella Haddid, Mona Tougaard and Nora Attal.
But frankly, I also secretly dream of dressing His Majesty the king of Morocco Mohammed VI. He is elegant and takes care of his look, and is keen on keeping up with the latest fashion trends. Some say this reflects his openness to international designs.I love the fact that he is really into fashion by wearing a variety of outfits, some of which were untraditional, but also including formal African outfits and traditional Moroccan fashion. Some photos of the King showed him with the famous African designer Pathe Ouedraogo. The king’s modern style is inspired by hip-hop and rock stars. His clothes are marked by bright African drawings and distinctive Moroccan embroidery and I love it.
9/ What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?
In my opinion, “sustainability” is first the respect of the materials and also the human behind the work. From an ethical point of view, fashion can also support an age-old industry and know-how on the verge of extinction, while creating working conditions and remuneration that are more respectful of these craftsmen and preserving the environment.
10/ What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed?
As far as I know, there is not something specific that makes me uncomfortable inside the MENA fashion industry. It’s more the fact that the talented designers of our countries are not visible enough in the international market.