Ever since he was young, Abbas Harajli seemed destined to be a fashion designer. As a young boy in Lebanon, he was fascinated by the world of art, sketching and drawing whatever was on his mind. His favourite pastime was to play with his mother’s scarves, turning them into creative gowns for her to wear. As he grew up, his boundless imagination would transform his sketches and his mix of colours into beautiful artistic outfits on mannequins, eventually leading to what became his path to designing haute couture. eniGma’s Laila Rostom spoke to Harajli to find out how this all came about.
In 2008, Abbas Harajli enrolled in Esmod Fahion University in Beirut, majoring in Fashion Design. During his second year of college, he took the bold step of opening his own fashion house. While it was a risky challenge Harajli was surprisingly able to launch his first ready to wear collection at that time. Eventually, as a professional designer, he would turn to haute couture, which he found to be a more practical path for his fashion production in his hometown of Beirut. In 2015, Abbas presented his first haute couture line in Paris. Since then, his name brand has become recognized internationally.
Like other designers, Harajli’s design process starts with a mood board where he collects all the elements he sees fitting into his theme, and then creates design samples for his collection. His inspirations usually follow real life elegant public figures with an attitude, such as the late movie icon Elizabeth Taylor and Egyptian actress Soad Hosny. However, Harajili believes that what really distinguishes him from other designers is his technique of mixing fabrics. He explains, “I always mix my fabrics. I once put leather with chiffon, two fabrics rarely ever used together. I really like using lace in my dresses too. Sometimes, other fabrics don’t go well with lace, but I still try to find the right way to use lace in a way that would complement the dress. It’s just like mixing colours, only with fabrics.”
Harajli’s signature piece from his 2015 collection was worn by Yemeni singer, Balquees Fathy, and it was his golden ticket to widespread success. The hit dress was handmade with several fabrics and with a beading structure. He smiles as he recalls, “Balquees wore it in more than five Arab countries, after that we received several orders from clients in the Gulf region requesting the same dress.”
He explains, adding, “My source of inspiration is always the woman herself. I always think of what a woman needs; how I can uncover her inner beauty and expose it. To me, it’s not a matter of a woman’s figure, rather, how I can understand a woman’s body. At the end of the day, the woman completes the dress, not the other way around.”
Harajli’s special perception of designing for the woman is demonstrated in his work with Tunisian actress, Dorra, for her shoot for L’Azurde, the jewelry brand. His challenge was to keep his designs conservative and yet still capture Dorra’s identity. He explains, “I created outfits that fitted Dorra’s personality and L’azurde found my designs to be fitting their criteria for their brand too. The ads were launched in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many Middle Eastern countries. After that, I became inspired to dress Dorra. She was very satisfied with my work and how I was able to reveal her personality in the outfits.”
In a fast paced and competitive industry, Harajli has already proven himself and established his own brand. The challenge for him is how to continue growing and staying on top in this difficult industry. Harajli explains, “In haute couture, customizing for clients is what it’s all about. I’m going to be going back to Pret a Porter soon, but only after rigorous studies. We already started from there, but the pace is so fast in the fashion industry, we’ll have to see how it goes. We’ll definitely hold something like a gala in Egypt next year, as the country is always on our minds.”