Culture

Fashion designer rolls out ready-to-wear charity campaign

Interview

BEIRUT: The display window at Milia M, a fashion boutique in Saifi Village, is packed with a thousand plastic packets. From outside the shop, the display looks like striated snow, a seasonal atmospheric stunt entirely appropriate for showcasing Milia M's winter collection.

Inside each of those plastic packets, however, is a tank top that heralds an altogether different campaign - combining refugee relief with the ongoing battle against another round of postwar amnesia.

There are exactly 1,191 tank tops in Milia M's window, representing the number of people killed in Lebanon during the war with Israel in the summer of 2006. In bright red type, each white piece reads "remember" and "don't forget" in nine languages - Arabic, English, French, Armenian, Turkish, Russian, German, Italian and Spanish.

Printed in a limited edition, each tank costs $20 and carries a unique serial number along with the letters "BEY" for Beirut. Emilia Maroun, the pint-sized, curly-haired, multi-talented designer behind Milia M, plans to do different editions for different cities - 1,191 tank tops in Paris, for example, and 1,191 in New York.

All proceeds are going to local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with children and orphans affected by the 34-day war. Maroun hopes to raise $17,000 for charity from her sales in Lebanon, and $100,000 from the campaign overall, once she takes it international. So far Maroun is working with two NGOs, Mouvement Social and Mada.

The field of fashion is arguably among the least responsive of all creative disciplines. It adheres to a strict schedule, abides by its own strange calendar and demands ample time not only for design but for manufacture, presentation, promotion, ordering, shipping and more. Only architecture - when it is actually built - is slower than fashion.

When the war broke out on July 12, 2006, artists, writers and filmmakers were notably quick to react. In photographs, videos, online diaries, interactive maps and instant archives and inventories of the conflict, they registered their discontent almost immediately. Maroun, however, says she couldn't even fathom such speed.

"The idea for all this came up during the war," she says, "when you're saying to yourself: 'What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?' But I had to protect myself, too. Before I could do anything I had to save myself." Even when the war came to a close, she explains, "I had to gather myself and it took two months. I needed to have the strength [to react]."

Given all the political twists and turns that have gone down in Lebanon since the cessation of hostilities, Maroun decided to launch her campaign like a New Year's resolution.

"For me as a designer, the simplest thing I can do is a T-shirt. A T-shirt for a designer is like a card or a poster. But I also wanted this to be like an operation and not like a reminder, not like a dramatic story.

"I wanted to say that we forget very fast - our disasters, our mistakes, our injustices. We try to forget the very next day. It's a consistent burden we carry on our shoulders. We live in a state of denial, and maybe this prevents us from acting. I wanted the installation in the window to be like a strike - we won't open the window until all the T-shirts are gone. It's art in the service of something useful."

For more information on Milia M's tank top campaign, please check out www.lebanonsummer06.org

 

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