Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 January 2020

Designer Rami Kadi: 'My DNA is fashion technology'

The Lebanese-American designer talks to us about his penchant for fashion technology hours ahead of his haute couture debut in Paris

Rami Kadi’s debut at last month’s Haute Couture Fashion Week in Paris took inspiration from Burning Man, the annual music festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Offering up a kaleidoscopic explosion of colour and sparkles, Kadi’s ­couture collection channelled the ­festival’s “free spirit and ­creativity”.

The final result was certainly creative: a line that blends glittery modern minis, shimmering leggings and silhouette-skimming gowns, complete with feathered wings. Laser-cut embellishments, iridescent sequins and neon touches made the show a wholly contemporary affair, with the headpieces a standout of the runway display. Custom-created for Kadi by atelier Bruna Abreu, the towering accessories dialled up the collection’s drama with their high-shine finish, while other looks carried ­embroidered hashtags, including a veil stamped with #BrideToBe.

I meet Kadi about five hours before his debut. We are backstage, in a salon in the famous Four Seasons hotel George V.­ Models are pouring in, slipping into shiny dresses, and promptly triggering a discussion among the team about who should wear each look. ­Surrounded by mountains of priceless clothes, someone is ­completing last-minute stitching, ­somebody else is steaming the ­glorious gowns, and people are ­milling around helter-­skelter, but clearly with purpose.

Kadi leans forward so he can be heard above the noise. Amid the bustle, he seems to be the coolest person in the room, but admits: “I couldn’t be more excited about the show. I haven’t been able to sleep for two weeks. It’s not nerves or stress, just pure excitement.”

Dressing the stars

For nine seasons, Kadi, 32, has ­hosted presentations of his haute couture collections in Paris, but for this year, he says he was ready to make the step up to the runway. Showing a full collection in the fashion capital of the world is a career leap for the designer, and the timing could not be better. Kadi has dressed ­Jennifer Lopez, Aishwarya Rai, Myriam Fares, Ahlam and Maya Diab.

A week before the show, Rachel McAdams wore a Rami Kadi dress for an event in ­Hollywood, while last year, Beyonce wore a Swarovski crystal-covered hoodie by the Lebanese-American designer during her On the Run II tour in Manchester. There is no doubt, then, that his work is getting noticed. He says that the Beyonce endorsement gave him a huge boost. “I never met her,” he says. “She ordered a dress, and we made it and sent it to Los Angeles, and then ­nothing for two months. I had lost hope of her wearing it, then one night I was woken by lots of ­messages – it had happened.”

Fashion with fabric technology

The ­bespectacled Kadi admits his vision is weak and that he can barely see ­without his glasses. “Sometimes, though, I remove my glasses and try to figure out what a fabric or detail is, and imagine it differently,” he says. He explains that when he removes the spectacles, he sees an intriguing shimmering, pixelated vision, which is in keeping with his love for shine.

“In this show, we have lots of angel hair [a ­multicoloured fringed fabric], Lurex, holographic sequins and a rainbow of iridescent material,” he says. “There are fabrics from Italy and France, and embroideries from St Gallen in ­Switzerland.”

Fashion with fabric technology is the cornerstone of Kadi’s work – this is contemporary couture, modern and glamorous. “It is always the same spirit, but every season it evolves. There are trials and errors as we try to be more creative with the materials,” he says.

Kadi pulls out a halter-neck gown crafted from a mosaic of laser-cut geometric pieces of mirrored glass in tones of purple and red, all hand-­created in his atelier. It is reminiscent of couturier Paco Rabanne, who was famous in the 1960s for his chain mail and mirrored dresses.

Standing out from a crowd

While he was studying ­fashion at the Ecole Superieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode in ­Beirut, Kadi developed a ­passion for ­embroidery and ­hand-­crafting ­techniques, paired with contemporary embellishment. A typical ­example is a dress made of bright sequins, which is heat-treated to make the sequins curl up and refract the light – a perfect showpiece for the dance floor. Kadi learnt ­techniques such as knotting at Esmod, but instead of using silk thread like the other students, he experimented with using nylon, PVC and leather cut into different shapes.

There are a lot of Middle Eastern designers showing during Haute Couture so, for you to be seen, you have to do something differentMy DNA is fashion technology; it’s very playful, lots of fun and I enjoy doing it.

Rami Kadi, fashion designer

“There are a lot of Middle Eastern designers showing during Haute ­Couture so, for you to be seen, you have to do something different,” he says. “My DNA is fashion technology; it’s very playful, lots of fun and I enjoy doing it.” You will not find any tulle princesses in his collection, either: Kadi’s clothes are younger and sassier, and most pieces are designed for the party circuit.

Kadi also admits that ­Instagram is very important to young ­businesses such as his. For instance, the ­platform helped boost the range of face powders he created in ­collaboration with Max Factor Arabia in November.“I have clients who like pieces straight from the runway, but ask me to cool it down a little,” he says. “They like the style, but want it toned down. A fashion show is very loud, and I like loud. But if the dress is too revealing, we can do it in a different way while keeping the shape and the identity.”

Early influence

Born in New Jersey, Kadi moved with his family to ­Lebanon when he was two. “As a kid, I was attracted to art and, more ­specifically, fashion, but it was taboo in the Arab world to say I liked ­women’s clothes. However, I had cool and very supportive parents,” he says.

Upon graduating from Esmod in 2008, the designer opened his own ­boutique and studio in the heart of ­Beirut in 2011, at the age of 25. He took great encouragement from the successful ­showcasing of his first collections in 2009 in the Starch boutique, founded by Rabih Kayrouz and Tala Hajjar, and run by the Starch Foundation, a non-­profit organisation that helps launch emerging Lebanese designers.

Kayrouz, founder of Maison Rabih ­Kayrouz, was officially listed this season for the first time alongside the French houses on the haute couture calendar, and he is also Kadi’s mentor. He later sat in the front row at his ­protege’s debut. “It has been a great experiencehe really is a ­gentleman,” says Kadi. Also on the front row that evening were ­influencers and ­bloggers Camila Coelho, Lana El ­Sahely, Nathalie Fanj, Fajer Fahad and Olivia Palermo, who was ­wearing one of Kadi’s beaded, patchwork ­jackets over a pair of jeans.

Kadi says he has grand plans for his house, such as ­launching ready-to-wear, but, after the rush of post-show congratulations and packing-up, he admits that all he wants now is “just to sleep”.

Updated: February 16, 2019 01:17 PM