RABIH KAYROUZ The Theater of Life

They’ve worked together since Maison Rabih Kayrouz launched its first collection. They have been friends for years. Their busy schedules make shared moments a rare treat. For Leclaireur.com, Armand Hadida and Rabih Kayrouz discuss the theater of life, the Paris scene, and their common values.

Armand Hadida : Your calling came early, Rabih, didn’t it…?

Rabih Kayrouz: I was 11 when I realized I wanted to design clothes. I wasn’t really interested about fashion, per se. Fashion goes in and out of date. What I love is the clothing itself, creating, manufacturing. The « making » process.

AH: That sounds like my story. When I was 11, my thing was taking solex bicycles’ motors apart. There were pieces scattered all over the garden; I would put them back together and repair everything.

RK: Even as a child, the only games I wanted to play were those in which I could create something. Ball games were never of any interest to me because there was nothing to build. I loved games that allowed us to shout, to hide things in drawers, or to build houses, like Legos.

AH: Where did those games take place ?

RK: In Lebanon. Not in Beirut; we were at war and it was impossible to reach Beirut. I lived in a village, supported by a beautiful family, within a protective clan of sorts. What’s funny is that I got to know Paris before Beirut. I was 17, I had no experience. I don’t know how or why, but Paris was my city before Beyrouth, the place where I got to study, to discover everything, to learn my craft.

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AH : In your eyes, Paris alway seems to have a theatrical quality, something you cultivate in your life, in your approach to life. Even your work studio used to be a theater, and you’ve turned it into a living space, hosting dinners or creating other pleasant moments…

RK: Of course. « Paris est une fête », remember? A party waiting to happen. A moveable feast. Seeing people sitting at a table, in front of restaurants or cafés, or lying in gardens… that’s something we see frequently in the city, and it’s what inspires me. I don’t just draw my inspiration from books, I find it in people. How they walk, the way they move their shoulders, their arms. When I’m making a garment, it’s this movement or that gesture which inspires me other movements. It’s a game, of sorts, like an actor: walking in the shoes of a female character, acting the part…

AH: How do you foresee Paris as the heart, the future of fashion?

RK: That’s a recurring question, isn’t it? The future? Is Paris still THE capital ? Could it lose its magic?

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RK: I believe that Paris is a magical place, not only for fashion. Good wine is in France, good cheese is in France, we eat well, live well, what we see is beautiful, a simple walk is enough to be inspired. Fashion is here because here is the best place for fashion. The best chemistry is when craftsmanship meets creation. Two skills that truly come to life in France. That’s why the whole world comes here. That will never die.

AH: Your clothes are now present in every capital; Maison Rabih Kayrouz is everywhere, and successful. Do you anticipate your next steps? Your new projects ?

RK: I’m never satisfied. I’m on a quest, seeking a garment, a wardrobe. To me, the quest is not over, so I’m starting with the creation of a wardrobe, my obsession, something I want to develop more and more…

AH: What do you have in mind? Are you thinking shoes, accessories?

RK: Clothes first, then accessories, such as shoes, leather pieces… I aspire for this brand to be something you want to wear and can’t live without.

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AH: Describe your ideal day…

RK: It starts with time spent dreaming, during which I wander, take walks, and don’t draw. I absorb everything, like a sponge, I immerse myself into images, colors and volumes. It could be in Paris, it could be looking through the window of an airplane, observing the clouds during a four-hour flight, or the sun…

AH: You love music. Does it play an important role in your work ?

RK: You know what? I don’t really listen to music while I’m working. The people, the studio, they’re the music, and I love to be working in the studio. I love that moment when creation itself starts, when I grab a piece of fabric, and turn it between my fingers, when I work with the patent-makers and try on a garment in the studio. It’s live, it’s happening… First, there’s my gesture, then the gesture of the person wearing the garment.

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AH: The Ministry of Culture named you Knight of the Arts and Letters, in recognition for your work and dedication to creation. How did you, both as a Lebanese and a Parisian, receive this honor?

RK: I don’t even remember how long I cried when I got that lovely phone call. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t expect any kind of special rewards because I’m doing my job, which I love. I do it for myself, for my brand, for my team: I see it as a duty. This moved me beyond words, maybe because I’m not French. I received a French education because I was in a French school in Lebanon, but I see this country from a different perspective, a country that respects people and welcomes them. I’ve always been proud of being Lebanese but this… Not only dit it give me the desire to stay in France, it also made me want to be French. I felt respect for me as a man, which touched me deeply, but also respect for the work done.

AH: Young designers start working as soon as they leave school, often after three or four years, to throw themselves into the business. You’re an experienced designer. What words of wisdom would you want to share?

RK: There’s a reality in the fashion business: it’s managed by financial, marketing and strategic aspects.Which applies to many creative jobs. My only recommandation might be to respect that, because it’s essential to us being able to make a living, but to remember that creation is emotion above everything else. Because that is something that comes straight from the guts. It’s not just about reality and business. You don’t succeed thanks to a plan. The plan has to follow you.

AH: That’s the one thing with which you can’t make concessions, or make money, is that it?

RK: Yes. The plan has to follow. I always think about that: we take a train that leads us to somewhere we want to go to. But first we have to let the train know where we want to go. These days, when it comes to creation, we tend to forget to take the time to think and focus on the destination itself. That’s my only advice, really: listen to your gut, follow your heart, show us where you want to go to, and we’ll go there with you. But first, ask yourself: what’s the destination?

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AH: Let me ask you where you want to go, as a Parisian… What are the places in Paris you go to in order to nurture your own emotions, and inspiration?

RK: For me, it’s about people first. There’s a saying in Lebanon: « Heaven without anyone is a desert ». I love people. The most beautiful moments for me are moments I get to share, Like a party, here, or at your home! The invitation itself, whether I invite or I’m invited, is a special moment for me. Next, well… I love to take long walks in Paris, I make sure to cross bridges at specific times: sunrise and sunset. You cross a bridge and all of a sudden, with the reflections of light, you discover two lights: the one at the beginning of the bridge, and the other at the end.

Maison Rabih Kayrouz is available at Leclaireur Boissy d'Anglas.