Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 April 2020

Why Lebanese designer Hussein Bazaza doesn't work for the hype

As he launches a new e-store, the designer talks about imaginary friends, feeling overwhelmed and his unmistakable aesthetic

Lebanese fashion designer Hussein Bazaza has launched an e-shop. Courtesy Hussein Bazaza
Lebanese fashion designer Hussein Bazaza has launched an e-shop. Courtesy Hussein Bazaza

“Work is my happiness. I don’t work for the hype, I work to be happy,” Lebanese fashion designer Hussein Bazaza tells me. Having spent much of the past decade being feted, he is well aware of the scrutiny that comes with a much-lauded arrival in the fashion world.

Bazaza graduated from the French fashion institute Esmod in 2011, before interning for couture house Maison Rabih Kayrouz and joining the studio of the famed Elie Saab. He was then hand-picked by The Starch Foundation (a project set up by Kayrouz to hothouse new Lebanese talent) and showed his first ready-to-wear collection in 2012. It was so well received that he went on to open his first showroom at the grand old age of 23.

In December 2013, Bazaza was voted “best upcoming Middle East designer” by 44 worldwide editors of Elle, and two years later bagged “best emerging designer” at The Middle East Fashion Awards. That same year, he was named as one of Vogue Italia’s “Who’s Next?” winners, while in 2016 he won the inaugural DDFC Fashion Prize, with his winning collection going straight on to Farfetch.com. Forbes Middle East put him on its 2018 Arab 30 under 30 list, and in 2019 he was a finalist to receive support from Fashion Trust Arabia. Not a bad few years, by anyone’s standards.

During this upward trajectory, Bazaza fostered a reputation for slick, tightly tailored womenswear that resides somewhere between evening glamour and hard-edged daywear. An economy of line, with vivid patterns and sharp cuts, defines his highly recognisable aesthetic, which seamlessly shifts from feminine lacework to re-thought tartan crafted by a bold, fearless hand.

Now, as a new decade unfolds, Bazaza is embarking on a different venture, with an eponymous e-store that is going live this month. “I needed to launch a platform to feature pieces I love to create, but that didn’t fit in my main season collections,” Bazaza explains. “My main collection is more about merging ready-to-wear with couture, while these are casual pieces, to purchase on the go.”

Bombers. Courtesy Hussein Bazaza
Sketches of Hussein Bazaza's bombers. Courtesy Hussein Bazaza

As is to be expected, Bazaza shunned the standard format of an e-store and instead spent six months crafting it just the way he wanted. He then filled it with a can’t-buy-anywhere-else series of bomber jackets aimed at attracting both brand devotees and a new audience alike.

“The Bombers Project came about for two different reasons. Firstly, I wanted a single item to be the focus of the e-store’s launch, and since designing outerwear is a personal favourite of mine, I opted for jackets. And a jacket is easy to purchase online without the need for a fitting,” he explains.

“Secondly, as a fashion house, I wanted to present a clearer approach towards sustainability. The prints are made of entirely recycled fabrics, which means that some designs are going to be limited because they are produced from our re-used old stock. Being able to communicate this on our own platform was important to us,” he elaborates.

The resulting patchwork jackets carry a retro, almost 1980s feel that triggers a pang of nostalgia, with brash patterns (think diagonal stripes, flames and even a blizzard of colours) and unmistakably capped sleeves. That same discipline drives Bazaza’s latest ready-to-wear collection. Entitled Portu, it is a structured journey in which evening gowns are cut from rip stop nylon, and heavily embellished asymmetric skirts are teamed with overprinted, almost masculine, kimono-sleeved shirts.

“I have to experiment with something new in every collection, be it a fabric I’ve never worked with before, or a technique I’ve never tried in the past. It is my way of always challenging myself to evolve. Portu’s main inspiration was my childhood imaginary friend coming back to life, so I wanted the pieces to be much less formal, while keeping a statement look.”

With time, I have learnt that it is not all about the buzz. It took me a while to differentiate between what puts me at ease and what doesn’t.

With more years of experience under his belt, Bazaza is now able to step back and re-evaluate the fashion industry with a certain candour and wisdom. “With time, I have learnt that it is not all about the buzz. It took me a while to differentiate between what puts me at ease and what doesn’t. Being constantly in the spotlight is not what I am looking for, and is not a measure of success to me,” he explains.

“I have developed a trademark style that differentiates me from the others, so when someone sees a piece, they can tell it’s a Hussein Bazaza. That to me is a greater measure of long-term success. I am so grateful that my clientele remain very appreciative of my work, regardless of all the hype.”

That hype undoubtedly made Bazaza famous, but also created problems in the beginning, setting the bar unrealistically high for what could be expected of a new label. “It was rather overwhelming,” he admits. “I had a new style to present to the Middle East that was far from typical, but which thankfully people really appreciated. Winning awards felt incredible and miserable at the same time. It gave me great motivation to believe in myself and to launch my brand to professional standards, but I was a one-man show, handling everything.

“Everyone thought Hussein Bazaza was an up-and-running company with a big team and a huge factory. So that is when I got a good taste of the intense pressure of the fashion industry. Honestly, I actually made up a fake personal assistant and manager to sign off all the emails.”

Updated: March 12, 2020 12:35 PM

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