DUBAI: More than 1,700 guests crowded the doors at Rami Kadi’s runway show. They pushed inside, stood on the back bleachers and packed into the stairways until ushers had to close the doors on 300 more hopefuls who just wouldn’t fit.
Kadi, a Lebanese designer known for his couture-style gowns, held one of the most anticipated events at Fashion Forward. When it was over, the designer’s connected fans caused another traffic jam online as their photos overloaded Kadi’s social media accounts.
“My Twitter is blocked and my Instagram is blocked. It can’t refresh,” he said. Most of the designers who had already shown that weekend looked a little delirious after coming down from the preshow adrenaline rush. But Kadi and his team looked particularly haggard, and his assistant explained that buyers had been calling late into the night.
Kadi, 27, has already established a clientele of local A-listers, loyal followers such as Lebanese singer Myriam Fares and Arab pop star Nancy Ajram. And though most of the young designers at Fashion Forward put forward accessible ready-to-wear collections full of crop tops and cocktail dresses, Kadi focused on the kind of sparkling red carpet gowns for which Lebanese fashion designers are known.
The collection of pretty princess dresses was complemented by an animated video introduction, which told the story of a sleeping princess who awoke in 2014 in a palace full of beautiful things – presumably his collection of dresses – and was overwhelmed by her options as she began to get ready for her first night out. Cue bass and models.
The collection featured a range of full-length, highly adorned gowns in slim-fit shapes as well as plenty of A-frames with full petticoats. Volume was a major feature, so much so that more than a few models, wading through layers and layers of tulle, struggled to get down the runway.
With the bulk of his sales coming from one-off dresses, Kadi has been free from the seasonal grind of the international fashion schedule. He sells exclusively out of his own store in Ras Beirut and designs to the beat of his own sewing machine, a luxury that might change as the designer sets his sights on Europe.
Before a much-needed afternoon nap, Kadi spoke to The Daily Star about his new collection, the freedom of designing made-to-order gowns and plans for a Paris debut.
TDS: Tell us about the inspiration behind the new collection?
R.K.: I wanted to create a story behind a sleeping beauty when she wakes up in 2014. The theme was the enchanted kingdom. We did a mixture of royalty and modernity, so you have these big royal gowns with new colors, like we didn’t have lots of gold. The baroque we had but more pastel, more modern. Even all the embroidery, when you look at them, they all have this baroque aspect but they’re made with new [styles] with silk threads, with white colors and pastel colors.
TDS: I remember a gown made from periwinkle brocade fabric.
R.K.: We worked a lot on the fabrics made exclusively for us, all of the printed or new fabrics. All of the fabrics that were really nice, if you want. We have lots [made] in Paris, in London, in Switzerland, Italy and France. But all the embroidery and material work are done in our workshop.
TDS: I like checking your Facebook to see which stars you’ve dressed. Name some of your most recent Lebanese celebrities.
R.K.: I’m working a lot with Myriam [Fares] now. I have Nancy Ajram, Mona Abou Hamze, Dima Saade. These are the most recent ones. Most of my clients are based in the Gulf. We have a lot of clients from Qatar, from Saudi Arabia, from Kuwait and from the UAE. And now we have lots of customers from Russia.
TDS: I want to talk a bit about this idea of working exclusively in couture. Do you work on a seasonal schedule?
R.K.: We do seasonal collections, but they’re not launched in a specific timeframe because for now we don’t do Paris Fashion Week, so I can do it whenever I want to. But I think for the next season, if we’re going to do Paris Fashion Week, we’re going to have to stick to the dates.
TDS: Really, you’re thinking of doing Paris?
R.K.: Yes for the couture [week in July] – a presentation not a show, of course. You should start step by step.
TDS: What’s the longest time you’ve ever spent on a dress?
R.K.: Maybe like six months; six months working 24 hours on a dress. That was a dress made of 24 karat gold lace and it was all cut with silk Mikado. It was a huge [wedding] dress that she [the bride] took many pieces [off] and changed it a lot. It had two veils.
TDS: Until now, have you liked having that freedom to produce on your own schedule?
R.K.: This is why we have VVIP clients, and I do big weddings and big events because it’s more personal, and the client knows this is a unique piece made just for her. There are lots of designers who are doing [ready-to-wear], and they’re doing well. But since I do evening gowns, and since I was a little child I liked fancy pieces, this is a dream come true for me.