Recently voted by the organisers of London Fashion Week as one of the world’s top fashion buyers, HIP’s owner and mother of three, Rania Shahin, spoke exclusively to Enigma’s Managing Editor Amy Mowafi about her new found international purchasing power while Fashion Director Maissa Azab rummages through Rania’s incredible closet of clothing candy to showcase just a few of this fashionista’s fabulous wares…
Rania Shahin knows good clothes. And so say the achingly glam girls and guys behind London Fashion Week (LFW). Ever since our own Egyptian glamazon flung open the doors to her beautiful fashion boutique HIP three years ago, the organisers behind the annual fashion extravaganza have been watching her closely from their Dior-draped Ivory Towers. And here’s what they’ve learnt: Shahin has an almost clairvoyant ability to know what and who is going to be hot and happening months before the rest of us; she can spot the next fab and funky designer a mile off. So when we mere mortals were still harping on about Dior and Chanel, she was already stocking her sassy store with pieces from the likes of Matthew Williamson, Mario Schwab and Zac Posen. Three years ago, the type of cutting edge, underground street-borne designers that Egyptians had to travel for, read up on and seek out are now regular fare for her cool clients. She does the hard work for them, trawling the world looking for the different and the dazzling and the results are always on the mark. It’s all the very opposite of the Gucci-Pucci-Fiorucci over-branded ostentation Middle Eastern women are unfairly famed for. She buys for the modern Arab women, global and gorgeous, sleek and sophisticated; the lush international ladies who have long been inducted into the world of pared-down perfection. So perhaps it should come as little surprise that this year, the organisers of LFW bestowed her with the most fabulous of sartorial honours – she was named one of their top fashion buyers in the world. And she’s the only person from the Arab region to have been awarded the accolade. She was invited to London as one of their VIPs for the week where she was expected to put her perfectly manicured finger on the pulse of fashion’s future.
“I was holidaying on the North Coast with my family when I got the call,” says the yummy mummy. “And I didn’t quite understand what they were saying or even believe it!” It wasn’t until she received the formal e-mail detailing the list of exclusive fashion shows and glittering designer after-parties she was expected to attend, that the penny finally dropped. Over the course of her career at HIP, many of the designers she had chosen to stock at her store – including Erdem, Afshin Feiz, Roksanda Illinic and Yigal Azroël – had become amongst the world’s best-selling designers, winning numerous awards at LFW. And she’d marked them out for stardom long before most of the world’s fashion leaders even knew their names. “According to their survey, 84 percent of the brands I stock are amongst the best-selling brands stocked by shops like Matches of London, Soho in New York and Mirage in Monaco.”
And that’s no easy task when you’re operating with none of the leverage that large and famous department store buyers have at their disposal. When Shahin first started she had to scour out the contacts for herself, suffer through endless hours of googling and languish on long flights to meet designers in order to convince them to let her stock their wonderful wares. Three years ago she was forced to play by the fashion establishment’s arrogant rules. Today, following the LFW accolade, big name designers are lining up at her door, vying for a piece of the HIP action. They have to fit into her crammed diary, on her own time and not the other way around. Because they now know that if Shahin likes what she sees, they’ve got themselves guaranteed direct access to the big spending Arab fashionistas. And who doesn’t want a piece of that pretty pie? “What’s even better is that I am no longer obliged to stock as much I used to,” she says. “Now I just go and pick the
select the pieces I like which my clients can mix and match with my other in-store brands. I don’t have to cater to a designer’s particular ‘story’ for that season. They are finally giving me the things that I want, no questions asked. I no longer have the drama that I used to have.”
Back in London, she’s become an LFW favourite. “It’s an added value to them that I keep going back to London and that I don’t just do the regular shows in Milan, Paris and New York,” she explains. During her wonder week in London, she picked out picture-perfect pieces from a host of upcoming designers including Heidi Klein, Fisco, Liberty of London, Lotus, Prairie New York, Cory Lynn and Zufi Alexander, as well as vintage pieces from India. “The whole idea is to introduce newer and smaller designers to Cairo; the funky stuff which few in Egypt stock,” says Shahin. “People are beginning to understand that it’s not about the logo; it’s about the cut and the fabric. We all go to the same places all the time and we want to look different and special. The pieces I stock allow my clients to do that and mix and match to create a unique look.”
Shahin buys for her clients the way that she shops for herself, with an eye for the unique and unusual. “It’s not just about personal taste though,” she adds. “You’ve got to have an appreciation for a lot of different styles and sensibilities and understand what your clients will go for.” She’ll have particular women in mind when she’s at the shows or out on her professional shopping trips; picking pieces she has a hunch they’ll fall in love with. “You’ve got to have a great eye and you’ve got to be quick,” she says. “You have to imagine how a piece will be worn and what sized woman it would look good on. You also need to have a keen understanding of women’s bodies and what suits them.”
The future is set to be even more fabulous for this top-notch buyer. She’s opening a new store in 2009 with a cool new concept and hot, new location; the details of which she’d like to keep under wraps for now. And her entrepreneur husband, Mourad Sami of Sangria and Abu El Sid fame is putting the full force of his support behind her, egging her on to develop HIP into a global franchise. “He’s always pushing me,” she says. “Whenever I’m pondering on a new idea, he’s the one who pushes me to execute and do it big! But as a mother of three, it’s getting harder and harder to juggle everything.” Which is why, when it comes to her long-haul buying trips, she’s in and out quicker that you can say “That looks fabulous darling!” in order to spend as much time as possible at home. “I’ve learned to be very quick when it comes to my choices because I refuse to sacrifice time with my kids,” she says. “I manage my schedule very carefully because that’s the only way I’ll be happy and continue to love my job. Plus I always make sure afternoons are dedicated entirely to my family. It’s only my social life that suffers when there’s pressure from work!” In fact, Shahin turned up at September’s London Fashion Week two days late in order to celebrate her twins’ birthday. Yet it certainly doesn’t look like she’s about to put her Manolo-clad feet up anytime soon. As she says, “The more I buy, the more I love buying. That is the best part of my job.”