Fashion. We think we know what it is and especially so in beautiful Beirut with its high-octane glamour. Leading Lebanese designers dress royalty and Hollywood royalty in equal measure. Yet for me, there is just one problem: I do not like fashion.
This may seem like a contradictory statement for someone who is overseeing the B.A. in Fashion Design at the Lebanese American University but it is entirely true. It is generally assumed I am training young designers in the fine art of haute couture and preparing them to enter an established market. Yet, haute couture is only one part of a multi-billion dollar global industry: what about the 20 or so menswear, unisex or sportswear designers currently on the program? What would have happened to them?
An academic fashion program allows young designers to explore the unknown, most notably the discovery of who they are. A prime example recently happened when students were asked to bring vintage pictures for an exercise. Jana brought one of her grandmother and during our conversation she told me how her relative had gone against her family to get an education and eventually became a head teacher.
Jana explained that her grandmother has ‘the gaze’, which I took to mean she was looking out onto the world. Through academic intervention, Jana realized she does not have to place women in a gilded cage, but rather has the power to define her own creative language. How refreshing in a selfie dominated world.
Another student, Sara, is about to make her third short film using garments as a vehicle to explore Lebanese society and perceptions of beauty. Her first used an elderly man as her muse and was filmed on a Sunday, edited Monday and shown to a jury on Tuesday morning. The jury was completely transfixed by something so un-fashion. Her second film played on mental health and the expectations of women in Lebanon, while her third movie will be filmed in India in late November. She has been asked to enter them into the Berlin Film Festival. Do we teach film-making? No. Do we allow creative expression? Absolutely. We are a conduit for creative expression and the unexpected. We are pioneers.
If I call it fashion, the outcome is limited and expected: she will be glamorous, she will be sexy and she will be judged on her beauty. Not everyone wishes to live their life in this bubble and whilst great fun, can we not create a new perception that challenges expectations and helps create a new aesthetic? One that supports artisans and ateliers in beautiful Beirut and Lebanon in the promotion of great design and critical thinking.
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