The fashion world’s Lebanese darling is riding high after being made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in France
A young man stands up to measure a shirt seam while an older woman sits stitching a collar. A rail of yellow and blue dresses stands behind the tables as rooftops glint with rain beyond the wall of windowpanes that have transformed one aspect of Rabih Kayrouz’s studio into a Parisian skyline. Taking a moment to step back, talking softly with his team, Kayrouz plays with a fabric as he feels for what shape his new collection might take.
“From the first drape it’s a whole process. Nothing is studied in my designs, it’s all intuitive.” Such a natural way of working explains the easy mood and understated cool of the designer’s highly acclaimed collections. Although far from simple in their construction, his clothes convey a brand of modern femininity that is understated and clean. Challenging enough to interest a sophisticated fashion eye, the Maison Rabih Kayrouz style simultaneously manages to have the relaxed air and flattering cuts that give it every woman appeal. “The Rabih woman isn’t just a figure, she’s a person”, muses the designer. “She’s a woman who is strong enough to be strong and strong enough to be weak. I like this kind of woman who can play with who she is because she doesn’t care too much.”
“From the first drape it’s a whole process. Nothing is studied in my designs, it’s all intuitive, I never plan anything”
”I have my own way of cutting which gives my work its identity. But every season is an evolution as my cuts gradually mature”
Born in Lebanon in 1973, Kayrouz studied at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne between 1991 and 1994, before returning to Beirut to found his own couture label in 1998 and moving into ready-to-wear in xxxx. Today, all the creative work takes place in Paris, at 38 Boulevard Raspail, formerly the Petit Theatre de Babylone, where the design team numbers 15. He visits Lebanon at the start of every season, choosing the right pieces for each client alongside them. “My clients are very loyal and many have become friends,” he tells me at the Beirut store, shepherding me towards a table covered in pots and spoons bearing Lebanon’s different honeys. As I’m given a tasting by the kind beekeeper who Kayrouz discovered one Saturday morning at Souk el Tayeb, Beirut’s gourmet market, the designer adjusts a dress on a client while she looks in the mirror, and recommends it without a belt and maybe in the other colour – the white and pink looks from this season’s catwalk can be found in lemon yellow and cobalt blue in the store.
Every time you visit the Maison Rabih Kayrouz boutique you are greeted by a different spread on the round central table – be it breakfast, fruits, coffee, or honey. “I cannot host people here without offering food”, he says, revealing his Lebanese sense of hospitality, but also his association of food and fashion with feminine allure. “I seduce these ladies with clothes, with dresses, with colours, with fabric – just as I was always seduced as a child, in a way, by my aunts, my mother, my grandmother, by their clothes and their food. What I do is a continuation of that. It’s a seduction.”
– photography at Maison Rabih Kayrouz Paris atelier by Houda Kabbaj