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Symbolic clearance at Atelier G’s Bazaar
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BEIRUT: Grace Rihan of Atelier G is cleaning out her closet. Bolts of colorful silk sewn into evening gowns, lightweight jackets and neatly tailored pants, cotton dresses with silk collar accents and racks upon racks of novelty pieces from fall coats to designer kaftans: Rihan decided to clear it all out.

“Atelier G is an evolution, each season builds on the next, that’s why I had kept all of these pieces from past collections,” Rihan said. “But I decided it was time for some of them – maybe they were experimental or didn’t quite fit the vision for Atelier G – it was time to say goodbye.”

Rihan has put clothing pieces from the past four years up for sale in a two-week Bazaar at the Atelier G workshop space on Albert Khayat Street near Sassine, Beirut. The Bazaar, on through Sept. 12, offers items that haven’t been on the racks for sale at Atelier G for years, and for a reasonable discount.

The clearance is as much a symbolic move for Atelier G as an economic one. After four years, the designer said, she’s reached a stride and identity into which many of these pieces don’t exactly fit.

“When I was choosing the pieces, I asked myself ‘Can I wear this every day?’ You know my philosophy is comfort that can be worn anywhere, and these pieces don’t always fit,” she said.

But as Rihan pulled pieces off the racks to demonstrate their versatility, pangs of nostalgia reminded her why she’d made them in the first place.

She demonstrated one jacket in a textured cotton weave of deep autumn golds and reds, wrapping the exaggerated lapels around her shoulders.

Satisfied by its craftsmanship, Rihan explained: “This I love. Maybe I’ll reuse the fabric in a different way, or I’ll use this design but differently with another fabric.”

Rihan, an architect turned designer, infuses all her work with a bit of structural intrigue. Hanging off coat hangers, many bundles of fabric conceal their true forms.

A square of thick, grey-plaid cotton hung at the Bazaar that at first sight looked like a miniskirt fit for a schoolgirl’s uniform. Unhooked the piece is revealed to be a large disc, to be worn as a vest or, if belted, a sleeveless coat.

Neatly pressed maroon cotton came off the hanger to become a figure-flattering, asymmetrical skirt. After zipping up the high waist, Rihan paused in front of the mirror pondering whether she should take it off the sale rack and wear it to a dinner party she had that evening.

Since the Bazaar opened Wednesday, Rihan saw that the lowered prices have changed the way clients browse the collections. They take their time, try things on – even items they had no intention of buying – and consider offbeat pieces that were once too expensive.

“I want people who could not otherwise afford it to come – I want Atelier G to reach a wider set of people,” she said. “People take more time to look through everything at the Bazaar. They dare to invest in something unique.”

Some of the items proved far easier to part with – a lightweight jacket made of papery silk in a shimmery periwinkle didn’t satisfy Rihan, though she couldn’t put her finger on why.

A line of dark kaftans made at the request of Gulf clients hung ready for clearance, an experiment in made-to-order Rihan said didn’t suit her. She took them out to show their quality, despite their misfit status at the workshop.

Other items came from designs that need a bit of tweaking, but the prototypes are ready for the lucky clients who can squeeze into them. For example, Rihan experimented with a modern sherwal, or harem pant, the legs of which were sewn for model figures: sizes tall and thin only.

A handful of discounted Atelier G basics hid in the mix of castaways.

“I didn’t want to put out only the older things, I wanted to offer some of Atelier G’s basics,” she said.

Several gilets ranging from sheer olive silk to white pinstriped cotton could be found among older sale items, as well as a maxi dress made from fabric designed by Norwegian fashion designer Per Spook.

This type of item, a gilet or dress comfortable for day but suitable for night, is the future of Atelier G. Rihan is looking forward to expanding her client base and focusing on wearability with an innovative spin.

“You want to evolve as a designer, and now I know what will be Atelier G’s main basics,” Rihan said. “I want Atelier G to draw women with a wide range of tastes, but when they come to Atelier G she finds her personality and palette here.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 04, 2012, on page 2.
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