Fashion Forward 2015. An event full of frantic activity, glamour, celebrities, and talent that makes you sit up and take notice. In the backdrop of this mega event of the Arab fashion world, where the creme dela creme of fashion industry is spotted, I meet Nour Najem. Nour, well what can I say, she’s this extremely talented and successful young designer. She graduated in Fashion and got her MBA from ESMOD Beirut in 2012. Has interned at several Lebanese designers, such as Elie Saab,Rabih Kayrouz and Caroline Seikaly. In 2013, she launched her fashion label and in 2014 she launched Kenzah Foundation to help revive the traditional knitting craft of the Arab region.
She had her Catwalk presentation a day before and is in a more relaxed mood, with the show part behind now. What’s striking about Nour is that she doesn’t have an air of arrogance, considering the fact that she has achieved so much in such little time. She has a warm smile and answers to the questions like a friend talks after going through a hectic schedule.
Why Fashion Designing?
While growing up, I always thought I would become a doctor, the idea changed over time. I come from a family which is full of architects. So we can say attention to detail is in my blood. But I wasn’t keen on being an architect. And then my sister came up with idea that I should go into fashion because I had an eye for fashion and seemed to be good at it. And am so glad I took it up because it gives me great pleasure.
How was your experience at ESMOD?
When I decided that fashion is what I wanted to be a part of, I joined ESMOD. It was a great experience. I felt at home there and fashion came to me naturally. I was always top of the class because fashion wasn’t a vocation but a passion for me.
How did you benefit from your internships? Which taught you the most?
I interned at designers Elie Saab,
Rabih Kayrouz and Caroline Seikaly. They were all amazing experiences. The one that really shaped me was the one with Rabih Kayrouz. Here we worked very closely with him. He is, I can say my mentor. He’s also one of the co-founders of STARCH, where I was selected to showcase my designs. What I like the most is the simplicity of his designs. Whatever he designs has this simplicity and elegance, it spells understated luxury.
You launched your label within a year of graduating. What pushed you towards it?
See, in the fashion world, there are two types of people that you come across.The ones who are here for the glam factor, the lifestyle. And then there are those who are passionate about their work. For them fashion is not just a lifestyle. It is what drives them, it is their dream, their passion. I am from the latter. I love my work. And I needed a base to express myself. Hence the label. If there is one thing in the world that I am allowed to keep, foregoing everything else, it would be this.
Tell me more about Kenzah Foundation
Kenzah is an idea whose aim is to preserve the traditional knit craft of the Arab world which was earlier carried out by men, but with new sectors emerging in the region, men have left this behind to pursue different vocations. We at Kenzah are trying to keep the tradition alive by making the ladies who are at home a part of it. These ladies, more than anything else feel a sense of accomplishment when they work. I have often heard them saying that they want to be seen by their daughters working, as they want them to work when they grow up rather than staying behind doors.
Here we usually get in touch with women who want to be a part of our foundation, they are taught and mentored, sent online tutorials, given a piece of work, and then that work is evaluated. All the hand made pieces in my line come from them. They are paid when the piece made by them is sold. Many of them say that even if they don’t get the money, they find it empowering to be able to create something, to work. And that is why Kenzah gives me so much satisfaction.
What is fashion to you?
Many people in this world don’t know who they are. I believe fashion helps them find themselves. It is a very personal thing. Fashion is an expression of self. The piece in itself is nothing. Its the wearer who brings it to life.
What is the inspiration behind your collection showcased in Fashion Forward – Nov 2015?
It was predominantly heritage, culture…nostalgia. We are losing our culture to the wars in the region. And everybody trying to westernize themselves is also having a huge impact. I am trying to hold on to what is our’s- our culture.
Where does the production of your line take place?
The hand made pieces are made by the women in their houses and we get them collected, the sewn stuff is carried out by experienced professionals in the factory. All in Lebanon.
Have you ever used plus sized models in your show?
Not yet. But I often work with plus sized clients. I love it.
What’s your take on body shamers?
When people talk about slim being beautiful or size zero being beautiful, I just want to know, who they are using as a reference, who said that? As long as you are happy, nobody can shame you over any aspect of your’s. Bullies look for insecure people, because it is easy to make them feel bad about themselves. We should not seek validation from anyone but us.
What do you usually carry in your bag?
Umm…my agenda, business cards, wallet and a red lipstick (for an immediate confidence boost).
Fashion designers you admire..
Favorite shopping destination?
Message to women out there..
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Stop fighting yourself. Stop judgement and jealousy, be kinder to each other.
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