Young, Arab and Proud

“Our superiority complex, us Arabs, should disappear”

Members of the Exil Collective answer Pulse’s Young, Arab and Proud questionnaire.

The way things are going, they will soon become a reference in the design world. Tatiana Akl and Youssef Bassil (co-founders), Rania Abillamaa and Joe Geagea (associates) and Antoine Guekjian (operations manager) are Exil Collective, a team of motivated Lebanese designers and specialists who work hand-in-hand with world-renowned experts from the design field and beyond, and with a prestigious advisory board, in order to bring promising projects to life. 

Exil Collective’s aim is to support designers along each and every step leading to their final projects, by adapting the designs to local manufacturing capabilities, and not the other way around. This allows them to generate new viable projects (which are selected regardless of who designed them) to be produced in the long term by artisans and manufacturers in the most efficient and ethical ways, creating a more stable form of export revenue for the smaller players of the industrial sector. 

Last Sunday, in Dubai, the winners for the Architectural Digest Design Awards 2021 were announced, and Exil Collective won for the Emerging Talent Category. 

PULSE TALKS TO… EXIL COLLECTIVE

What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing? 

Leopard skin prints. It always stresses me out and hurts my eyes.

What creation of yours are you most proud of? 

Being part of Exil Collective.

What was your worst fashion faux-pas? 

Ed Hardy, we all had that ugly phase sadly.

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? 

Plain colored tee shirts (white, black and grey), Issey Miyake pants and tons of sneakers. And Rabih Kayrouz, we love the vision he has of women.

Who do you dream of dressing? 

Everyone around us! Not that they need it, but we love matching outfits with the characters and the setting we’re in.

When was the last time you pulled an all-nighter? 

The last real one was almost two years ago, in Ballroom Blitz, in Beirut. No other place on earth can make us pull an all-nighter other than this temple of music.

Name five people, dead or alive, that you’d like to invite to a private dinner party at your house.

Tadao Ando, Yves Saint Laurent, Charlotte Perriand, Rafael Nadal and Etel Adnan.

What does the word “sustainability” mean to you? 

It’s a trend that should’ve always been around. Whether in fashion or in design, having pieces that can last for a lifetime, can be passed on from one generation to another and still be ‘valid’ in time  is what sustainability means to us. Branding strategies are not sufficient, and action needs to be taken today.

What would the title of your Netflix documentary be?

“Picky enough to be easy going.”

Describe the MENA region in 3 words.

Bewitching. Hidden Talents. Generous.

How is “Young, Arab and Proud” translated in your work? 

The core of our work is spreading the talent, craftsmanship, and know-how of design to the rest of world. Our designers, our advisors, the artisans working on our projects, everything is Lebanese and we are proud of showcasing that to the world. We want the world to know our story, our values and to understand what it means to be Arab.

What is the Arab DNA made of? 

Opportunity. Pain. Determination.

What is the most common misconception about being an Arab?

People sometimes think we come from another era, and that we are close-minded. Also, that colonial and post-colonial “Orientalism“ that either exotifies the Middle East or demonizes it.

If you could travel in time to meet any Arab icon, who would it be? 

Gibran Khalil Gibran, Said Akl, Dalida…

What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed? 

Always following Western trends, even when they’re bad ones! And wanting to be recognized in the West instead of working together as a community, especially in the fashion and design industry. We have so many assets that are forgotten or ignored and one of our main goals at Exil Collective is to be able to spread these resources and know-how that we inherited from our culture to the West.

How is the gender-neutral trend translated in MENA fashion? 

We recently noticed a shift in gender-related subjects in the MENA region. Many up-and-coming designers are incorporating gender-neutrality in their creations and collections and this is very well perceived in the region. The acceptance of consumers also plays a huge role in this trend. I believe that it’s the future of fashion and design. Also, Salim Azzam is playing a huge role here.

What is one Arab tradition you would want to change, and what is one you adore? 

The superiority complex that is common to all the people in the region should disappear. We need to drop our egos. A bit of modesty would not hurt. Otherwise, generosity is for sure something we adore.

What Arab dish could you eat every day?

Kebbeh nayyeh, for sure, all day and all night!

What is your favorite Arabic song, that is often stuck on repeat on your playlist? 

Raksit Leila, by Mashrou’ Leila, Habibi by Tamino and Helwa Ya Baladi by Dalila.

Um Kulthum or Fairuz?

Fairuz.

What is this one city in the MENA region you could live in forever, and why?

Beirut, forever. The love-hate relationship is intense but it’s the only toxicity we’ll ever take from anyone or anything.