BEIRUT: Lebanese designer Nathalie Trad wore a giant stone to the 2014 Grazia Style Awards. But the gem wasn’t on one of her fingers; it was clutched in her hands.
Creations such as that bag, which looked like a piece of volcanic rock sitting on the designer’s lap, won her and her small team one of the most sought-after awards in Dubai’s blossoming design world. Grazia Magazine named Trad “2014’s Best Regional Accessories Designer.”
Shortlisted for the award with two established brands, Poupee Couture and Baraboux, Trad told The Daily Star several days later that her win was unexpected: “It was definitely a surprise.”
Born in Beirut but raised in Dubai, Trad, 27, opened her self-titled accessories brand one year ago exactly, launching a collection modeled after the minutia found in nature. The designs on her bag that night, for example, drew inspiration from the black spots that cover the wings of a Polygonia butterfly.
The Grazia Style award wrapped up the designer’s inaugural year on a high note after a whirlwind of success these past 12 months.
Last April, the brand debuted a collection encompassing leather goods, statement necklaces and solid, abstract clutch purses. It was the latter, part of her “Shell” line and made from unusual materials like resin, mother of pearl and stainless steel, that caught the attention of regional boutique curators such as Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, co-founder and director of D’NA boutique and magazine.
Today, Trad sells her clutches throughout the Middle East and in shops from the United States to India.
“Success is not really about the awards, it’s about being able to sell in New York, in London, in Riyadh, in Tunis, in India, in Beirut,” she said. “It’s because people like Dina from D’NA just believed in me ... people like that, who believe in you for your designs and not for who you are or how long you’ve been in the business.”
Trad’s overnight success, so to speak, is unusual, particularly in this region, where support for young designers still leaves a lot to be desired. Her story is an indication that the market may be opening up to local talent, especially in places like Dubai, which is pushing to promote itself as a destination for design.
“Dubai is super central. In terms of business, it’s easy to work here, it feels like an international playground.”
“It’s going to give us a playground to be able to play and work together – that’s what’s missing in the Middle East. We don’t interact with each other, push each other, give each other feedback,” Trad said.
Before moving back to Dubai, Trad studied fashion and business, first at ESMOD Paris and then at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City, where she also worked with then-rising designer Proenza Schouler.
Trad got hands-on experience in accessory design at Proenza. “It was in a loft, where everyone worked. There were three, then I was the fourth so it was extremely hands-on. It was very enriching, from understanding what goes into the research, which materials to use and what not to use.”
It was also in New York that Trad came upon her personal design credo: deconstructing forms from nature into avant garde accessories.
“I was at Strand. It’s a bookstore with three floors of used books and books that are out of print. I was looking for something that would spark something in me. At the time, I wasn’t 100 percent sure if I was going to start my own line. I found this book of drawings from the 1800s of insects and nature. I remember opening up the book, and that’s sort of where it started.”
That inspiration provided the basis for the asymmetry, texture and geometry of her off-beat purses. Do her Lebanese roots inspire her work also? “I’m 100 percent Lebanese, so I’m sure it does. It’s in my DNA.”