Rabih Kayrouz is a man who appreciates heritage and exceptional design. His career to date is noteworthy. He is standing in his London store surrounded by pieces that demonstrate his roots in couture whilst also being thoroughly modern and accessible. Opening his newest store last year during the early stages of the pandemic could not have been easy, yet here he stands, resilient and excited for the future. With lockdown a distant memory, Maison Rabih Kayrouz is now filled with life, a luxurious space to enjoy the clothes and the atmosphere, a place to appreciate the phenomenal talent of this softly spoken, sophisticated man.
Rabih recognised his passion for clothes from an early age. Born in Lebanon in 1973, by 16, his parents encouraged him to move to the city of light for preparation school. He enrolled in the renowned Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne to study fashion a year later. He furthered his skills under the tutelage of the houses of Dior and Chanel before moving back to Lebanon in 1995 to participate in an exhibition for young designers. It was a time of regeneration in the city, and its energy further sparked his passion for fashion design. "it was all happening there. suddenly I had this huge desire to stay". Rabih soon garnered a reputation for exceptional pieces, gathering a following for his stunning wedding dresses and evening gowns.
By 1999 Kayrouz had established his couture house in Beirut, an abandoned building that still held traces of civil war. But the success of his business transformed it into a three-floor atelier. And by 2008, he returned to Paris to open a design house located on the Rive Gauche in a space steeped in heritage, once a playhouse where Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot, was first performed now ready for a new phase in creativity. Today, each collection is still conceived in this space, and by 2019 Maison Rabih Kayrouz was awarded the official haute couture appellation.
His design style could be described as an antipode, pragmatic but daring, a fusion of elegant sculptural pieces celebrating voluminous silhouettes blended with the rigour of haute couture style codes. Using carefully chosen fabrics, the couture pieces speak of sophistication, while the ready to wear clothes have an accessible urban edge that demonstrates the designer's diverse talent.
Since 2009 Kayrouz has also been a guest designer of the Chambre Syndicate de la Haute Couture, with seasonal collections included at the Paris Haute Couture shows. Now entering his third decade with a Beirut flagship, his Paris atelier, a new London location, and a new website confirm that Maison Rabih Kayrouz is a house with a bright future despite recent challenges.
We spoke to the designer in his London store about his design principles, the London flagship and his hopes for the future.
Congratulations on the opening of your new London flagship store. It looks incredible; what can customers expect when they visit?
I wanted the store to show our universe and everything I like in terms of clothing and in terms of space. I didn't want it to look like a regular commercial boutique; I wanted people to come here to spend time and move from one room to another to discover the different collections and sit down and discover the exceptional pieces and take time. Time for me is a luxury, so we don't want to rush. I am lucky to find a store that is big enough to show because I am obsessed with wardrobe. I want to dress up the woman I love from morning to night and have her wear my clothes all the time, so I try to show this wardrobe that I dream of and that I made for this woman.
What motivated you to open a store in London and at this location?
I started in Paris, I wanted to start moving into retail. When I started, I had a beautiful retailer carrying my collection in the US and in London and the Middle East and a few in Asia, but it wasn't easy to show everything I had in those retailers because there was no space to show this whole collection. So I decided I needed a new strategy and London came in a very obvious way because after Paris we go to London and if it goes well we can spread to other countries because it is still close to my French base. And London is quite inspiring for retail and shopping, and I love this city, the city itself inspires me. I like the vibe; it's always nurturing coming here. So as a first boutique, I want it to become a second home. Like Paris is my couture home, and here is my retail home.
I understand that your collections are conceived and developed in your Paris atelier. Do you have plans to expand any of those creative and production processes to London?
We are not thinking of doing this, but I would never say never because sometimes a creative process can move, and why not? Because you can discover new people to work with. New energy and different attitudes and the city, it's inspiring just as Paris is so if sometimes I can work here I will have different attitudes in my clothes and why not. I used to spend time between Beirut and Paris, this is where there are different attitudes in my clothes, between something very sensual and something more pragmatic, more urban so maybe if we move to London it will bring more fun to my work, why not! It's not in the pipeline at the moment, but why not.
Congratulations also on your SS22 collection. We loved the sculptural aesthetic and the beautiful detailing. How important is it to maintain your distinctive couture construction while making pieces that are also so wearable?
That's a challenge, but this is my aim because I was trained in the couture ateliers and then worked for 10 years with clients, and I know exactly how they are keen on details. So I keep that in mind, and I remember a lady, a very dear client telling me that "I love this dress, but during that party, something was bothering me, and I wasn't comfortable, and I lost confidence, and I wasn't elegant." So I said, ok, comfort is important, and attention to detail is important. When I say it's a challenge because by manufacturing, we have to do certain things to be in the industry and to do in quantities, but I found a way to keep this perfect feeling and this comfortable feeling in the cut and also in the finish so nothing would disturb you wearing the dress between the lining and the stitches inside, the details are so important. I am not doing fashion; I am not doing things that are going to be thrown away after three months. I want my pieces to be worn all the time, so they have to have the best quality to keep them, so maybe this is what remains from the couture, the attention to detail, the emotion of those dresses but the practicality and pragmatic approach. The rigorous form of the ready-to-wear.
Vogue mentioned some classic pieces that your customers come back to every season. Tell us more?
I try to divide my collection between the essentials and the exceptional. The essentials are pieces that I would create every season; we call them the carry-over in the business. Well, it's not a carry-over; it's a continuous collection, an evolution of specific pieces. Sometimes I will change details, I will change fabrics, I change certain proportions. They are always here; these are my cuts and my style. And then I do exceptional pieces every season, with certain details and particular construction and not ornaments because I hate ornaments. But in certain fabrics, that makes them exceptional. I love fabrics, so I have to choose the best materials that I can find. They have to be beautiful, comfortable, and yet not that expensive to keep a balance.
How do you want the woman who wears Rabih Kayrouz to feel when they wear one of your creations?
Comfortable and free, free in her movement and free to wear it the way she wants. And free to wear it wherever she wants. So this is important; comfort is freedom in movement.
What cultural and creative influences have you taken from your place of birth the Lebanon and France to inform your signature but constantly evolving style?
I am Mediterranean, so I am attracted to colour, by the sun by a certain sensuality, and then I am Parisian. I am French now, so I am attracted by the city and the urban feel by this rigorous attitude and a certain structure. So I try to balance this in my collections to embody all of those elements, and then it has a specific structure.
What's the story behind the embellished jacket from the latest collection?
I don't like ornaments; they are a crime; I mean, everything needs to have a sense; I can put paintings on the wall if they move me or have a certain feeling towards them. But with embroidery, I wanted it to have a certain sense. I thought I would like to put some souvenirs on it, so I took them from collected shells and pieces of wood. I had little rocks, and I cast them and embroidered this coat with them. I thought the idea would be so funny to ask you if you want this coat, to give me five of your pieces that you prefer and I will cast them. They can be anything, a piece of wood, pieces of a leaf, anything we cast them, and then you can have your pieces embroidered onto the coat.
Your atelier was established in 1999 in Beirut and in Paris in 2009. What would you say was the key to the brand's longevity and success in couture and RTW since 2009?
Passion, I mean, it's not a business; it's a passion. Perseverance, it's a beautiful business; it's glamorous; it's an industry too, so you have to persevere to work through any problems. So just do it. I always knew I wanted to be a designer; I never wanted to be anything else.
We understand that you will be showing at the Haute Couture Paris schedule in January 2022. What other plans and aspirations do you have for next year?
I don't work on themes; I don't work on strategy. I want to become a brand where you find unconditional love for it and its pieces. Still, I just want to continue this and keep doing it and find a way to make it more and more accessible. In different ways, not only price-wise but accessible in terms of style because I want ceratin pieces to become uniforms to keep on doing them, like particular blazers, certain shirts, coats and dresses. I want people to collect my pieces and to have the same jacket in 10 fabrics and pants in 10 colours. And I just want to continue what I am doing.
What strikes us most about Rabih Kayrouz is not only his versatility as a designer but the pure passion he feels for his craft. Taking cues from the cities he loves, he creates pieces that can span all elements of a women's wardrobe, from casual to occasionwear, from classic to modern; each piece is designed and crafted using only the finest materials and techniques. Pieces to cherish and feel exceptional in. Kayrouz is about more than fashion; his approach ensures that his clothes retain a timeless quality that goes beyond trends to ensure that the woman that wears his designs feels free and unique in pieces that are not only stunning but sustainable. It is so alluring to hear a designer talk with such fervour about his work and even more so to see the result of that lifetime's dedication and talent throughout his new London store. To be surrounded by such meticulously and lovingly constructed pieces is an inspiration. Indeed, a demonstration of what hard work and dedication can achieve. He has taken inspiration from many lands, but to see his latest store open and finally fully operational, Rabih Kayrouz should be proud of how far he's come.