Salim AZZAM takes Lebanon Fashion in command 

When fashion, illustration  and craftsmanship co-exist in the same universe, don't expect less than magic to happen. This was my key takeaway from the 40 awe-inspiring minutes of conversation with Our designer of the month: the renowned Lebanese fashion designer, Salim Azzam.

The fact that Salim grew up in a little historical hometown in the region of Chouf’s valleys and mountains (Bater), didn’t limit our chosen artist’s dreams to come true. On the opposite, it inspired him from a very young age. It was there, that he fell in love with Fashion& Craftsmanship. Experiencing  the hard work and dedication of women on a daily basis, ignited a passion in him “: there always have been women in the background doing crafts so I have always been familiar with the idea that women are born makers in that part of the mountain.”

And that sensation, that feeling of empowerment, pride, and inspiration is the sole reason why he said no to Canada and went back to Lebanon right after completing his Master’s degree in Visual Communication Design at the University of Alberta in Canada.

He came back to give those women a platform, he came back to show the world the magic of the Craftsmanship and the talents of the women of his region. In short, he came back to save the crafts, or as he would like to put it: “ My mission was to revive those sorts of craftsmanship and put them on wearable pieces and let them travel around the world.”

And that’s ladies and gentlemen how Azzam ended up in Fashion. 

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Now when we go a little bit in-depth in his story, we get to discover that the truth behind this big Brand of his wasn’t about the big name and the fame more than it was about the nobility and productivity of his brand’s aim which was built primarily on promoting women’s talents in craftsmanship and providing them with work opportunities all whilst conveying to them a big sum of his knowledge and well-harnessed skills in order to launch an important new shift in embroidery craftsmanship by changing it from a display piece to a wearable one.

However, at first, this big shift wasn’t as praised as it is today, it actually was a big challenge for the women he worked with to change their generational process and adapt it to modernization techniques, but due to Salim’s vision and mind-blowing resilience, he managed to instill in them the will of change and the will of accepting modern generational exchange which makes his brand fit the description when he says

“: I would say it is genuine and human before anything else. Slow and sustainable as well  as authentic and rooted.”

Now, watching his consecutive successes, one would wonder where does he get his inspiration from, and on that question, in particular, the poetic artist had the most beautiful gift shaped answer: “ I have always been inspired by where I come from, I think I always have been fascinated by how people lived in the south, with sustainable simple ways living.  Having grown up in a community that really made the best out of nothing was the main inspiration for me.” he also added, “: Still to this day whenever I want to feel like myself best, I drive up to the mountain and it’s just so natural how my energy vibrates and I  start having  so many ideas being up there.”

It was an answer that gave me a new perspective, and just when I thought that this answer was all about the poetic answers I could get out of him, he surprised me with another one when he told me about his perception of the way he draws women in his illustrations “: One thing about my illustrations is that women are usually drawn with their eyes closed because it reflects this sort of sanity in where I grew up there always was this Soufi moment where I looked up to those women as dreamers.”

And it was in that exact moment, that I realized that Azzam’s connection to these women was more than a connection to his workers or inspiration, it was something a lot more sacred, it was as if in the process of providing them with a platform, he allowed himself to become the microphone that transmits their hopes and dreams in the most humble of ways.

Therefore, he always made sure to use the right techniques in order to portray his art beautifully, and to him, making sure to use local ones in his collections like embroidery and other crafts, represented the survival of his heritage and Chouf identity and what was more genius is that all of that was done through the women AKA the female embroiderers who have guarded these traditions and skills throughout generations which solemnly represents the core of the brand.

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That sole representation gave him a chance to overcome the challenge of having to be overwhelmed with such an assertive heritage and enormous shoes to fill. Which drove him towards graciously finding his space in the fashion sphere by winning The Fashion Trust Arabia Award and getting to dress up Queen Rania, etc.

“: I can definitely say that Fashion Trust Arabia has put me on this big playground of meeting giants in the industry and having opportunities. It was definitely life-transforming and definitely needed at that time.”

In short, due to his Fashion Trust Arabia Prize win in 2019, he got to open his atelier in Chouf and stock pieces from his F/W20 collection on global retailers MATCHESFASHION and CATWALKER.

To the outside world, that process may seem glamorous and full of fashion events and benefits but to the inside surface, the designer has suffered multiple challenges that made it very difficult for him to continue such as the hypocrisy of the big runway buyers and their false support to the slow Fashion industry, alongside the lack of production and supply chain in his country “: I have to create in my own work, a full-on manufacturing system where I even have to teach the woman fashion luxury, how to tailor, how to cut patterns because embroidery and craftsmanship is something but producing luxury items is something else.”

Another one of the designer’s latest challenges, was right after COVID and the infamous port explosion that took place on August 4th, Azzam and his team were thankfully not hurt by the blast but, like all Lebanese near and far, were disturbed and heartbroken “: On a creative level, there were times when we had completely to shift our schedules in the atelier due to electricity caught, can you imagine that we switched days and nights sometimes with work at night. »

Yet he declared proudly that all of that gave a new hardcore drive and inspiration towards finishing his work fully and not leaving his country or more correctly not abandoning his country and having faith in its rise from the ashes. 

His words shortly brought me to the realization that Lebanon for Salim was the place to be and the place to stay in no matter the hard conditions ": I believe what I want to do belongs in Lebanon and I’m not going to let go of the foundation of my dream that I have created here, in Lebanon and in the mountain to just move and live somewhere else and that’s the dream to do something local that goes global.”

And from all that dream talk we moved on to talking about his latest collection: NEW LAND where each piece is named after an Arabic word that encompasses the sentiment of the collection.

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E.g Ghasaq’, a hand-embroidered blazer featuring an orange sky, is inspired by the sunset.

“: It’s called new land and illustrations were very much abstraction of this idea of movement and flying and being free, and like other collections, people loved relating to it.”

Coming up to the end of the interview, it was only fitting to ask about the future and his ambitious dreams to which he answered

: “I see myself in the near future giving more opportunities for women to join the team and thrive for this common project of ours, expanding the work, and reaching a bigger audience."

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"I definitely see Salim Azzam in a place where we at some point engage the younger generation in the learning process because I definitely want to contribute to the continuity of this craft and create maybe a school that teaches people how to do this.”

With this article coming to an end, we hope that you, maft readers, found this interview illuminating and mind-broadening that got you to understand through the discovery of our designer of the month, that Fashion is not just about design and trends, it’s also a form of expression and storytelling. And by mixing the two, Salim Azzam creates a beautiful love letter conveyed through minimalistic and very modern designs.