BURJ HAMMOUD, Lebanon: The first 16 graduates from the Lebanese American University’s inaugural fashion class showed off their final year collections with a catwalk show that demonstrated a new generation of designers moving well beyond couture cliches. The catwalk, held at the Abroyan Factory in Burj Hammoud Thursday evening, brought together the usual crowd of fashion moguls – but also a minister, international officials and world-renowned Lebanese icon Elie Saab.
“This was something, in my eyes, ... revolutionary for the area, for Beirut and for the Middle East,” Ziad Ghanem, a Lebanese fashion designer based in London, said during the gathered throng of the postshow celebration.
The graduating cohort exhibited about 147 ensembles in all, each displayed in front of a crowd of esteemed guests, including European Union Ambassador to Lebanon Christina Lassen, Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury and Lebanon’s own Elie Saab, who attended the event with his wife Claudine.
The LAU’s undergraduate fashion design program, inaugurated in 2013, was created in collaboration with Saab and the University of the Arts London’s College of Fashion.
“I’ve monitored the students and discovered a special talent in each of them. Throughout, I was very impressed by their keenness to succeed,” Saab, who kept a low profile throughout the evening, told The Daily Star.
“I want to tell them to learn a new lesson every day,” the internationally acclaimed designer added.
The runway show opened with student Rafah Seoud’s creations, offering a bold take on menswear. The first file of models – sporting bold, exaggerated shoulders – took to the runway accompanied by the Talking Head’s late ’70s anthem “Psycho Killer.”
Seoud’s collection, named “Drop Out,” riffed on last summer’s trend of big boxy shoulders, which were showcased with an undeniable counterculture edge, in Balenciaga’s men’s show in Paris and Dolce & Gabbana’s exhibition in Milan.
“Drop Out is a collection that combines the 1970 cyberculture and counterculture to illustrate a much-needed psychedelic journey at the office among today’s brainwashed youth,” Seoud said of her work in her designer’s statement. In what could be perceived as political commentary on the state of Lebanon, Seoud added that her collection highlighted the need for the young generation to “expand their consciousness ... and eventually be able to ‘Drop Out’ of the corrupted system.”
Departing from eveningwear and haute couture, Nadine Kassem’s “Olympics: Lebanon X Tokyo 2020” showcased Kassem’s line of performancewear for Lebanese athletes hoping to participate in Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics games.
Models walked the runway in pieces designed for fencing, gymnastics and swimming, emblazoned with cedar trees in bright reds, blues and greens.
“[The collection] will fill a gap in the Lebanese sports and fashion industries by embracing strength and diversity,” Kassem wrote in her statement. Her models exemplified these values, inhabiting athletic bodies unused to the traditional world of modeling.
Layal Kazma displayed a dystopian edge in her “Unorthodox” collection, which featured womens- and menswear. At one point, a model emerged wearing a futuristic headpiece featuring metallic rods curving around the wearer’s head.
“The brutality of the world: It comes, it goes,” Kazma’s statement read. “What is my purpose on this ground full of pores? Break us down into our true raw components.” Several of her models did indeed get down to their raw components, with fabric barely covering their bodies.
Thursday’s show was as much an outing for Lebanon’s elite as it was a celebration of the students. The first rows along the meandering catwalk were reserved for the country’s influencers as well as senior figures from the UAL College of Fashion.
The guests’ outfits, prominently displayed for the cameras, were eclectic from head to toe. While some chose to don laser-cut stilettos, a funkier choice of hot pink oxfords was also spotted, as well as a pair of timeless black Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars.
Guests snapped selfies with their friends and sipped glasses of wine throughout the evening. “Of course this is going on social media,” one person was overheard saying after taking a Snapchat photo.
The mood was celebratory for a reason – the word “first” in the title of the event and ubiquitous throughout the night acted as a constant reminder of just how significant the fashion show was for the graduating students.
“I’m really impressed with all that they’ve managed to do,” Claudine Rousseau, program director for product at UAL College of Fashion, told The Daily Star. “I’ve seen them in their first years, seen how they developed. I don’t think they’ve lost the audience, and it’s also really good to see healthy-sized menswear,” she said with a laugh.
Tania Haddad, associate creative director of Thursday’s event, praised her students and the success of the inaugural class.
“This work is really groundbreaking; it shows what young creatives can do in Beirut that I believe no one can do elsewhere in the world. I really believe in these students. I couldn’t be more proud,” she told The Daily Star.
“It’s a lot of hard work to do something new,” Haddad added, speaking about the program’s recent launch. “But it’s incredibly rewarding, especially to see it all unfolding tonight.”
Meanwhile, LAU graduated its School of Architecture and Design students in Beirut Friday. The university’s Adnan Kassar School of Business class of 2017 is set conclude their commencement ceremonies Saturday.