Lebanese design star Racil Chalhoub explains how the pandemic has changed his view of creativity and management
PARIS: Racil Chalhoub was 10 years old when she announced to her mother that she wanted to be a fashion designer. They had gone to see a Marinelli parade at the Hotel Georges V in Paris when, blown away by what she had seen, the young Chalhoub turned to her mother and said: “That’s exactly what I want to do!
In 2015, her dream came true when she launched her line of women’s tuxedos – Racil – in London. The first name is not an exercise in self-promotion, but a tribute to her mother, with whom she shares not only a first name, but also a keen and quirky sense of fashion. She has since expanded her line to include dresses and tops.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, shutting down the fashion industry and most of the world, Chalhoub – who was born in Lebanon, raised in Paris and now lives in London, took the opportunity to make a pause, think and refocus your efforts. .
From this time, a new collection was born at the beginning of the year: an explosion of colors counterbalancing the black leggings and the gray sweatshirts worn during confinement. For its fall / winter collection, black has been replaced with brown and cooler colors including coral, fuchsia, yellow and many more.
In his London apartment in late summer, Chalhoub reflected on the past year and discussed his inspirations and desires for his next collection with Arab News.
How would you say the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your creative process and your daily work?
There are two complementary aspects in my field: creation and management – whether at the level of the brand, the company, the employees … The pandemic has really affected these two aspects.
Creatively, it’s hard to stay inspired when you’re locked away at home, alone, for several months. Especially when you care about other things: the business, the employees and the family in Lebanon. So, honestly, I was facing a little creative block. There are three things that are always on my mood board: First, my mother, who is my muse and inspires me a lot, but that I had not seen for almost a year. Second, (discos, clubs and) parties – and all of a sudden we can’t go out anymore. And third, the street. I walk a lot. I can find inspiration in a park or a cafe, by observing people. During COVID, none of these three elements were present.
It wasn’t until I managed to escape London in the summer to meet up with friends on vacation, sunbathe, wander the streets – when I was able to relive a little bit – that I found inspiration. Then I would sit in my corner and draw.
As for the management side, it was also difficult, because I came home one day and I never returned to the office. I have a team of 12 girls, which I consider to be a family. If I’m not doing well, chances are they are not doing well either.
This period allowed me to think a lot about the structure of the company and the brand: what is my identity and where I am going. Coming out of all this, would I want the same thing as before? How could I adapt without losing my vision? I mean, with COVID, we’ve realized that the first thing we can live without is a suit or a tuxedo. A tuxedo is typically used to go to a gala or dinner, which we didn’t do. We wear a suit to go to the office, where we weren’t going. But, at the same time, that’s what I like. It’s the DNA of my brand and I don’t want to lose it. So why not translate it in a more casual way? I felt I couldn’t pick up where I left off: I needed something different. So in September I decided to change my name. I designed a new logo, launched new pieces, new categories and started new collaborations.
I felt very restricted even before the pandemic. I had started this brand with this DNA and really felt like it was the only thing I could do. So COVID was both an opportunity and a great excuse to say, “I’m going to try this, because it’s my brand. I’ll allow myself to do that, and I’ll see how my clients react. And, so far, the feedback has been quite positive.
Would you say this new collection is more focused on the essentials?
For me, a jacket is essential. I stayed on this path, but with different “essentials”, adapted a little more to today’s lifestyles. I also reduced the size of the collection. And I also worked a lot slower, which was quite stressful, but also a lot more enjoyable. Before the pandemic, my days were always very stressful. It was a constant race. Then all of a sudden it was like we had unplugged everything. So we had to figure out how to reconnect everything. But one thing I’m sure: I can’t afford to run that fast anymore.
We are in a situation where we have to accept that some things are beyond our control. Before, if a delivery from a factory was late, I would go crazy. Now I just do what I can. I can set a schedule and do whatever I can to make it work as it should, but you have to accept the slowdowns and setbacks. In the fashion world, where everything goes so fast, it’s refreshing.
Take things from day to day, not knowing what tomorrow holds, and realizing that we cannot control everything… Would you say that this sounds like the Lebanese vision?
This is the Lebanese attitude, indeed. We are still living day to day.
Do you still have a strong link with Lebanon?
I was born in Beirut, but I grew up in Paris and I did not live long in Lebanon. But my family is there. I have a lot of friends there. It is a country that I adore and which touches me infinitely. Before the pandemic and the various crises affecting Lebanon now, I always took my dresses, tuxedos and heels when I visited Beirut. I knew there would be big parties; that we were going to go out and see people. Beirut often makes me want to dress more than London.
I really think Lebanon influences me. I like the attitude of Lebanese women, who like to go out, to be beautiful, to dress well. They have that glamorous side.
So, are you inspired by France, Lebanon and England?
Yes. I think every country has given me something different. I have a very Parisian side to my everyday look, both a little nonchalant and quite chic at the same time. Fashion in London is very funky and colorful. You can really express yourself. There is a great contrast between the French and English looks. All of this mixed together gives something quite unique, which I try to represent with Racil.