Before we even think about dressing to impress, we have to recognize that our clothes are always a form of self-expression! Pulse wanted to dive into this idea from a theatrical, costume and styling perspective, so we spoke to actor, dancer, TV presenter, product designer, stylist and vintage collector Bshara Atallah, to discover how clothes help us convey a message.

How do you use the language of dress to express character, ethnicity and more?

Formulating ideas related to dress requires a brief study of the characters or the events you’re dealing with during the creation of the outfit, or while in the midst of the styling process. Dress codes are a must for any stylist to bring out the beauty of any character, be it the ethnic in focus, or not. Every ethnicity has a unique way of traditionally dressing and all of those traditions have evolved also into new ways and trends. Research is a key element for me. Looking into costume dictionaries or any other references, be they magazines or articles, even sometimes anthropological and psycho-social research, might give me a big hint towards a specific choice of fabrics, textures, accessories, jewelry, head pieces or shoes. I find it fascinating.

Can you tell us a bit about your process? How do you study characters and come up with the perfect styling?

Coming from an acting school background, I’m a graduate of the Lebanese University of Fine Arts in Acting and Directing, I allow myself to go deeper into the study of a character from an actor’s point of view and hence I bestow my styling for the actor or actress in relation to the script or mood, colors and psychological referencing, or even the historical and cultural perspective related to that character. Many times I request a meeting with the actors or actresses and the director themselves to discuss and relate the character’s dress to their personality and how they wish to express it through dress codes, and I take it from there.

What inspires you the most? Or where do you get your fuel from?

The immediate or direct contact with people and listening to their desires relating to the way they wish or feel to be dressed is essential to me. I am also inspired by my mom’s and dad’s vintage photos and what remained of the clothes in their closets from the war years. Yet when I am working on a personal project I find it different, because my way of dressing is far from conventional. Thus, my inspiration and my stimulation to create or dress comes from the playfulness of dressing up, of styling and what happens when I dare to be different or to combine prints and fabrics and make them work. Sometimes I hear people say “only you can pull off such a style or that look”.

Name a few Arab movies or theatre pieces that inspire your fashion imagination.

Many Arabic films have made it to the biggest film festivals in the world and even collected meaningful prizes and that has made me proud of being part of this small industry in Lebanon. Our dreams are bigger than our horizons and that makes us thrust into the world with boldness and a desire to achieve good quality in all the departments of a film or a play. A lot of the productions on my list are Egyptian black and white films that were so avant-guard and that set a tone for the production of films in the Arab world since the beginning of the 20th century.

I remember Sonya and Al Moutawa7isha, many Lebanese films, such as Safar Barlek (Feyrouz), the musicals of the Rahbani brothers in theatre (Baya3 el Khawatem for example) and films that introduced a lot of fashion statements over the years. Caracalla’s new ethnographic way of presenting their dance performances left a huge impact on me (I even auditioned for Elissa, the Queen of Carthage), Ziad el Rahbani plays when I used to hear them on the player and not be able to see them, even that gave me great inspiration, because I always imagined how such a character would be dressed until I had the chance to see one of his last plays, “bikhsous el karameh wel cha3b el 3anid” and I was blown away by the costumes what I like about these films and plays is that each has a very clear identity. Some show us that time is ephemeral. Some show us that time is now and some show us that time is nostalgia. These will always inspire us and future generations of stylists.

We attract attention with the help of our clothing, what styling tricks do you apply to yourself to attract the attention of everyone around you?

I love this question. I let my personality wear my clothes and not the other way around. Attention, though, is not so much the end goal of why we dress, yet it might be a product of how we dress. Being comfy and practical during our days is essential, so why not spice it up with a bit of style? I learn styling tricks from everyone I meet, from social media, from tips, and I do have a lot of my own that I sometimes apply to my day to day wear or my casual chic looks. Some of these tricks are related to choosing colors that suit my skin, this is a tip everyone knows. I also enjoy fun ways of working with prints and textures and I mix those boldly. Attention to detail is what makes a look outstanding, imagine how distinctive you will be when your style comes from the inside and expresses your inner radiation.