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Hass Idriss: When fashion gets dirty
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BEIRUT: An origami crane swayed slightly from its fishing line suspension as designer Hass Idriss dragged on a cigarette in his Clemenceau showroom. “Fashion is too clean for me,” he said. Idriss, a 20-something Lebanese-Brit, has always had trouble drawing between the lines. “I was a troubled teenager. I got kicked out of four schools and at 13 I had two psychologists, one psychiatrist, one psychotherapist, one hypnotist and every dietician in the country,” he said.

Cultivating a gift for painting throughout his rabble-raising youth, he hoped to hone his talent at the elite Central Saint Martins College in London. “I wanted to be a fine artist. But then they said I was too bitchy for fine art so they threw me with the fashionistas, none of which liked me,” he said with a laugh.

With rebellious creativity, however, he blurred the lines between performance, fine art and fashion during his university years.

“My final design was a woman wearing a man’s ego,” he said. Creating a corset made from metal pipes and a bodied skirt, the gown was designed to leak gas, finally igniting and exploding when fastened.

Assigned to deconstruct two concepts for another design course, he incited a minor scandal by choosing Islam and sex at the height of the Danish cartoon crisis. “The police came and asked me to delete it off my external hard drive,” he said proudly.

After several headstrong pursuits, Idriss found himself the eager assistant of photographer David LaChapelle and later to Anna Wintour. “I was called ‘excuse me,’” he said.

After graduating, Idriss landed a formative gig with Alexander McQueen, a fellow Saint Martin’s alum.

“He was a charming cockney character with a double personality,” Idriss said of McQueen. “You know, he was an artist.”

Idriss’ own intricately macabre sensibilities and his penchant for mixing the elegant with the dark seem to reflect, at least in part, his time with McQueen.

While most of his time is spent creating bespoke eveningwear for the society set, Idriss continues to play the provocateur with a variety of side projects. An exhibition of wax sculptures, representing the occult secrets, or arcana, of Tarot cards opens this week at Le Gray.

Two wax dresses embracing, bosoms melted together, represent “The Lovers,” a powerful card in the tarot deck. A hooded and headless body perched within a metal hoop represents “The World,” which, according to esoteric lore indicates wholeness.

The arcana, Idriss explained, represent age-old human emotions and desires. As a couture designer, he is no stranger to these common yearnings. “I constantly have women who want to send a certain message or hide a certain message,” he told The Daily Star.

“I have women who really want to attract men, women who want to be elegant ... The hidden messages and the given messages are so anthropological and so biblical on so many levels, so cliche,” he said.

Tarot cards, he said, were tropes to represent these same human emotions.

Similarly, Idriss chose wax as his medium for its symbolic virtues. “It represents brewing ... keeping the fire going; it represents passion, it represents danger, it represents so many elements that we’re all so attracted to yet so repulsed by, which is exactly what I expect of the feedback. I want people to love it I want people to hate it,” he said.

The exhibition, Idriss told The Daily Star, is something of a waxen climax to his time in Lebanon. “This is the point in my career where things are really heading elsewhere. My next big projects are in London and in Paris. I want to give Lebanon a big, strong shot done with not just commercialism but done with creativity and integrity and honesty and show really what I’m about before I don’t give a damn.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 13, 2013, on page 2.
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