Samar Khalil, the lovely Lebanese lady behind the London-based fashion brand ‘Kushion’, caught up with Enigma’s Travis Randall to talk haute couture and her hot company’s quick rise on the fashion scene.
It all began with a seemingly innocuous obsession with tracksuits. It was the perfect apparel for the mother of four who relished her daily school runs and trips to the gym and was looking for something comfortable that fit her cosmopolitan chic style. Yet even the most haute couture tracksuits didn’t satisfy Samar Khalil’s criteria for superb quality casual wear, so she created a company to produce what was missing: something stunning yet comfy… like a cushion. “I love tracksuits, so that’s what I started with. And it’s all about the fabric and the fit,” she said while we chatted in her Great Portland street showroom on an unusually sunny London afternoon. Capitalising on quick success, Khalil formed a creative partnership with the talented designer Olga Papadopoulos and it wasn’t long before Kushion’s tracksuit designs stretched to include a whole range of women’s apparel; from elegant evening wear to more casual wear for nights out on the town. But there was always one golden rule – comfort was essential no matter how classy or contemporary a design was.
The brand might only be four years old, but Khalil has been stitching her ideas into creative fashion for years prior, “When I was just a teenager, I used to take vintage clothes and create new designs out of them for my friends and myself.” An interior design and sociology graduate from Richmond College in London, her fateful move to England happened by chance when her family was visiting from Lebanon and the war broke out, preventing them from going home. After university, she married a successful Lebanese investment banker and busied herself raising her four kids – the oldest of whom is now 24 years old. During those years she established herself as an integral part of London’s fashion scene and Arab-Anglo society. Yet Khalil takes success in her stride. Though her work comes with a lot of glitz, she insists, “I don’t like the glamour and the big events. I’m too tired after work and running after the kids to go to parties. Usually it’s just a lot of fake pretence anyway.”
So Khalil prefers to focus on her artistic craft and shies away from mass-market distribution. “I love the feel of fabric, and I buy a lot of art and attend art exhibitions for inspiration. I love whatever is uncommon, daring and innovative. I love to combine the contemporary and the feminine. Too much contemporary fashion isn’t flattering to a woman’s femininity and too much feminine clothing is just vulgar. I strike a balance that enhances both.” But it’s not all about the final product on the runway or in her client’s closets. Khalil dresses the likes of former Miss UK Liz Fuller and Hot Gossip writer Sally Farmville in clothes that are not only ravishing but also socially responsible. “We only use UK silks, even though they are far more expensive because I have an ethical problem with child labour in places like India and China and the abusive factory practices they have.”
When she’s not working hard, working out, or spending time with her kids, Khalil sticks to more intimate affairs at one of her favourite restaurants. And today Kushion fashion can be found in over 150 stores worldwide. The huge success of Kushion’s recent New York fashion show resulted in an impressive account with Neiman Marcus in the US to compliment the countless boutiques that carry Kushion around London, Lebanon, UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Spain, Greece and Russia.
“When I was just 11, I imagined a whole life designed by me,” she says with a youthful grin, “And when I create, I can close my eyes and picture the clothes.” In the next few years of her 10-year plan, Khalil envisions two flagship stores and a range of accessories. Next will be a perfume and a possible furniture line. “I imagine a woman in a Kushion evening gown, lying on a Kushion couch wearing our perfume,” she half whispers with a far away look, “That’s the Kushion lifestyle we’re creating.” If things continue at this rate, she won’t have to close her eyes to see these visions for much longer. And fashionistas better keep their eyes open for Khalil and her growing Kushion fashion line…