BEIRUT: Lebanese designer Jean Louis Sabaji took the kind of risks in his first runway show usually reserved for established designers, those with the resources or clout to be unorthodox.
Take, for instance, a black pantsuit Sabaji strung with ringlets that gave the trousers and matching sleeves a stiff, Slinky-like spring. Or look at his various architectural details: the structure built at the top of a cream-colored jumpsuit with dozens of calla lilies or fluid skirts made from braided organza – a signature element in Sabaji’s collections.
With risk comes the possibility of failure, which also happened occasionally when Sabaji’s nature theme got too literal. On an otherwise attractive ivory sheath with a flowing cape, Sabaji had strung a vine of oversized grapes that made the dress better fit for a staged Grecian tragedy than a red carpet. And the designer said himself that he got a little blowback for not editing the collection down from a whopping 41 looks.
But there’s no denying that the designer got people’s attention, an impressive feat at Dubai’s Fashion Forward, where back-to-back runway shows can leave attendees in sartorial delirium. He also got the attention of buyers, meetings with whom filled up Sabaji’s postshow schedule. The designer took a moment’s rest between appointments to chat with The Daily Star about his first runway show.
Q: Tell us about this particular collection, which was so clearly inspired by nature?
A: In my previous collections, I was always inspired by the dark side of nature. One of my collections was the revenge of nature against humans, like the flowers devouring the woman’s body. This time I wanted to have a different view of nature: I wanted to create peace.
Q: Nature and humans are now at peace?
A: There are wars between humans, so what I wanted to do was to create peace. From millions of years ago, nature could find this balance, this peace, from the insects, the flowers. So what I wanted to pinpoint in this collection is to show that difference, that nature by itself can find balance but we as humans we couldn’t find the balance, we’re still having wars between each other.
Q: There was an insect on one of your skirts. Was that a beetle?
A: I always try to make from ugly stuff, make from it something beautiful. Whenever you see it, you’re confused. Is it nice or is it disturbing? That’s the struggle, that’s the thing I try to show in the dresses. As you find the beetles are moving. The shape of the skirt [makes it look] as though the beetles are crawling into the dress. [It] shows the interaction between insects and flowers, to show how smoothly they blend together, but still humans cannot.
Q: Right, if we saw a beetle we would stamp it out. Is there a piece, or several pieces, that characterize the collection?
A: Yes, it is the braiding technique. It’s all handmade from a simple organza fabric. I create kind of branches, as if the branches were enveloping the woman’s body and blossoming into flowers on the other side. This technique takes the most time, and it takes a lot of material. It’s also very expensive. This is the high-end product for Jean Louis Sabaji, and it’s going to be my signature for the brand. I want to have a signature so that when people look at the dress, they recognize this is a Jean Louis Sabaji dress.
Q: Tell me about the materials you used, since you mentioned organza.
A: I love organza because I can elaborate and transform it however I want. Even the flowers I produce are all made of organza, but I use different techniques to make it harder, we use gelatin to the fabric to make it stiffer. Everything is hand-painted as well. In all the pieces, I like them to feel handcrafted.
Q: Now you’re focused on made-to-order, but you’re planning a ready-to-wear collection?
A: Exactly. Especially in this collection, I introduced some ready-to-wear pieces so that people can start to recognize Jean Louis Sabaji and so they don’t get scared, like ‘I can’t wear that, and I can’t wear that.’ So what I tried to do was to introduce some easier pieces.
Q: But you definitely had people sitting up in their seats at your show?
A: As young designers, it is our role to do a revolution in fashion. And what I try to do is give people something they’ve never seen before.