Before its expected soft opening this fall in Doha, Printemps has partnered with M7 for a collaborative project dedicated to supporting young Qatari fashion designers. As part of this partnership, Printemps Doha offers a space for the winners to sell their products. As both a mentor and a jury member for the contest, designer Roni Helou tells Pulse all about the initiative.

For several years now, Qatar, under the leadership of Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, has been working to become a hub of creativity within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. In addition to hosting the World Cup at the end of November, Qatar is home to sublime museums, such as the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art, the Qatar Olympic Museum and the sand rose-shaped Qatar National Museum designed by architect Jean Nouvel. But its focus is also on fashion, with M7 forming Qatar’s epicenter for innovation and entrepreneurship in fashion, design and technology. 

Spread across three floors on a built-up area of 40,000 sqm beneath the elliptical landscaped garden of Doha Oasis, Printemps Doha offers a signature store with an extensive range of exquisite fashion, accessories, lifestyle, beauty, technology, home and F&B brands. It’s also home to exceptional services including a customization studio, VIP concierge service, personal shoppers and stylists available online and in-store… This “grand magasin” with its history rooted in Paris, on Boulevard Haussmann since 1865, is now property of a Qatari-owned investment fund.

A space for selected young designers to sell their products
As part of its partnership with M7, Printemps Doha offers a space to selected designers to sell their products. Lebanese designer Roni Helou is leading the collaborative project. “I work with M7 in parallel with my own brand. My job is to create programs, including exhibitions, workshops and conferences in collaboration with Qatar Creates and Fashion Trust Arabia,” he explains, pointing out that “the new program is therefore the collaboration between Printemps and M7. Our contribution as M7 is to train the designers to present their products at Le Printemps,” he adds. The names of the program’s winners are expected to be released this week.

As both a jury member and a mentor to the participants, Helou sees no conflict between these two roles. He makes sure to take the young designers beyond their limits, to push them to develop their skills to give them the best chance of landing one of the seven sales spots offered by Printemps to the best among them. “I’ve been on juries for a few years, teaching at fashion universities. So I feel like I belong here, because in the Qatari fashion industry, where the scene is still young, I can share my experience in a useful way, especially by advising young designers. That’s why it makes sense for me to be on both the organization and the jury side,” he says.

A winner of the FTA Prize, 2019

Crediting his humble origins for keeping him grounded and measured, as well as being unimpressed by power and fame, this texture enthusiast let chance set him on the path to Creative Space Beirut. Creative Space Beirut is a free fashion school founded by Sarah Hermez and Tracy Moussi, with patron Caroline Simonelli, one of the pillars of Parsons, where Hermez studied. Obsessed with earning a decent living to help his parents, Helou also studied business administration, which he funded by working as a waiter. What little free time he had left, he spent volunteering, saving endangered animals.

Little by little, Helou set the foundations for his eponymous brand. The success of his first collections owes much owes much to his ethics, he strenuously avoids human or animal suffering, and the intransigence that drives him to use only recycled materials and non-polluting pigments often sets him apart. He shot his fall-winter 2019 collection in a landfill, if that gives you any indication of his outlook. Photographer Tarek Moukaddem suggested he enter the Fashion Trust Arabia Prize, which offers cash funding and a mentoring program. Helou registered, was admitted, and then won the 2019 edition along with fellow Salim Azzam in the ready-to-wear category. 

“When you’re based in Doha, all the opportunities in the GCC are open to you”

On how he ended up living happily in Qatar, Helou confides: “I met Sheikha Al-Mayassa when I won the FTA award. She became a client of the Roni Helou brand. That’s how we kept in touch. The day after the explosion in the port of Beirut, I contacted her to tell her that I was thinking of leaving Lebanon and asked her if she could help me move to Qatar. She committed me to move to Qatar with my brand and get involved in the creative community and help establish a fashion hub in Doha. That’s how I joined M7.

“For the moment, the candidates for the Printemps x M7 competition are all Qatari or based in Qatar. The next edition will, I think, be more oriented towards the Arab world.”

As for Roni Helou the brand, it is moving at a rapid pace. “We have just opened our store. When you’re based in Doha, all the opportunities in the GCC are open to you. We work a lot with Saudi Arabia. We do tailor-made products for VIP clients in the region. We have created a line of t-shirts that works very well, “says the designer.