Back-to-back, one looking out to sea, the other to the land, both located at the Mediterranean gateway to Asia on the ancient silk and caravan route, Lebanon and Syria share complementary cultures.

With its people often more attracted to goods imported from abroad, Lebanon was the first to adopt and reproduce, from the beginning of the 20th century, western fashions and trends, sometimes anticipating them in terms of audacity and creativity. The more conservative of the two, Syria, has preserved its traditional crafts, and even the tools that accompany them, perfecting, from generation to generation, and to the point of virtuosity, exceptional skills across a range of fields. In the end, the exchange of ideas and influences between the two countries justifies presenting them side by side.

Pulse interviewed Moulham Obid, an FTA Award finalist in the Evening Wear category, about the fashion and design scene in Syria. Lebanese Alexandra Hakim, a finalist in the Jewelry category, Rym Beydoun and Renwa Yassine from the Ready-to-Wear category, and Claudia Khachan from the Debut Talent category also spoke to us about the fashion scene in their country.

Hailing from both sides of a common border, these designers show their pride in being part of communities with brilliant talent, but that are also suffering from a lack of investment, involvement and interest in the development of their industry.

Handicrafts are very common in Syria”

Finalist in the Evening Wear category, Moulham Obid writes from Vienna, where he is based, expressing his gratitude for his nomination for the FTA award which he says has, “Brought hope back to the Middle East and Syria in particular. Growing up in Syria, a country rich in cultural fashion from north to south, I have always admired Rami Al Ali, seeing how he has seen greatness and succeeded in an international career. Rami Al Ali has given hope not only to other Syrian fashion designers who want to go international, but more importantly, to the artisans, who have started to hope for more work in the fashion industry.

“Handicrafts are widespread in Syria and are an important source of income for many families. In every family home, at least one member practices some type of handicraft, whether it is hand-sewing, embroidery, wool knitting or dyeing. Syrian designers absolutely need all of this, first to create a thriving fashion production center in Syria and, second, to be recognized internationally. From here, we realize that the problem of a rather weak fashion industry in Syria is not due to the lack of talented fashion professionals, designers or craftsmen. Rather, it is the lack of investment and resources allocated to this industry, which is exactly what Syria needs.

“Fashion Trust Arabia has brought hope to the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular, as it gives me and all other designers in the Middle East a platform to learn more, grow and thrive internationally. Syria needs more organizations and foundations supporting creators at the national level, which will allow Syrian creators to gain more visibility at home, in the MENA region, and around the world. In addition, we need to raise awareness of fashion in Syria, for example through events or fashion weeks, fashion magazines and other media.”

A lack of investment in workshops”

For her part, Alexandra Hakim, a finalist in the Jewelry category, confides, “Lebanon boasts a fashion scene of global designers who need no introduction, but I find that the real magic happens behind the scenes. It oozes rich history and diverse talent like no other place on earth, forming a collective of skilled artisans and creative minds across the country, and beyond. I am a big fan of Nada Debs, Hass Idriss and Lara Zankoul, three artists who value the process of making as much as the final product in their respective fields. As a contemporary jeweler in Beirut, I feel that the challenges lie in the lack of investment in workshops with modern equipment that are accessible to young men or women willing to learn and preserve the craft.”

We need to stand up for each other”

For Claudia Khachan, finalist in the Debut Talent category, “Slowly but surely, the fashion scene in Lebanon is flourishing. Young Lebanese designers are striving to make a difference in this sector.

“In terms of crafts, the talent is already there, whether it’s couture, ready-to-wear, design or creative direction. But in order to go global, it’s important to consider the many opportunities and believe in collaborating with creatives abroad, in the MENA region and beyond. The creative scene in Beirut is still very local in most cases, but it would be incredibly interesting to work and collaborate with brands and creatives from all over the world, in order to share and expand our craft to the rest of the world.

“On another note, I think what we really need are patrons, people who support both the creativity of young people and their vision, financially and morally. The lack of support from institutions or the government makes it extremely difficult to start a career in Lebanon as a very young designer. “Being able to create with what we already have: our diverse backgrounds, our desire for change is our strength. I think that Beirut already has its place in the fashion industry thanks to the big, older houses, and I think it’s a shame that the younger ones are not highlighted enough. I think we need to stand up for each other and create a space where we can all think and share together, for a more united future.”

Beirut needs a valorization of culture and crafts”

For Rym Beydoun, a designer hard hit by the double explosion of August 4, 2020 at the port of Beirut, finalist in the Ready-to-Wear category and founder of the label Super Yaya, “Lebanon needs to develop skills such as weaving, embroidery, cutlery and silverware, handblown glass and wood carving to find its place on the international scene.” She sees Johnny Farah, the art director of his eponymous leather goods brand and pioneer of streetwear in Lebanon, as a true mentor and asserts that Beirut needs “cultural and craft valorization, educational structure, support and funding” to develop the country’s talents.

Lebanon is so inspiring!”

For Renwa Yassine, finalist in the Ready to Wear category and founder of her eponymous brand “Renwa”, there “are so many” role models in the Lebanese fashion scene. She gives the examples of Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Rabih Kayrouz, and says, “they are a source of pride for us, each of them expresses a part of this beautiful country that is Lebanon in their own way, in each of their designs that embody elegance, beauty and creativity”.

“Lebanon is so inspiring”, claims the young creator. “We can be inspired by the architecture that we find everywhere, just walk in the streets of Lebanon to discover all its wonders, even details in the local crafts, in the art, or in its culture,” she says.

According to Yassine, “The Lebanese designers must put forward all that this country offers to flourish internationally”. She adds that, “Beirut is known for its creativity and for its touch of elegance. Looking at its history, we can see all the Lebanese artists who have succeeded in putting forward their art internationally. I think that the Lebanese designers need support to help and push the Lebanese scene to show its creative abilities.”