Inside fashion designer Lama Jouni's Dubai studio, white walls are crafted from luxurious panels reminiscent of Parisian interiors, and clothing is displayed on black bars suspended from the ceiling. The right side of the room is sectioned off to house the designer's production facilities and a fitting room, while Jouni's office is situated at the back, bordered by glass walls. It is decorated with Plexiglas picture frames, a black and gold trinket box adorned with a tassel, and a trio of white candles. A vintage sewing machine sits in a corner, next to a mood board covered in faint sketches.
It's a juxtaposition of contemporary and classical styles, and this element of contrast is also reflected in Jouni's designs – specifically in her latest collection, which was inspired by the history of her home country, Lebanon. "I wanted to embody how the colonisation of the French affected Lebanon and the identity of the Lebanese people," she says.
Asymmetry and ruffles are given a grown-up edge in her autumn/winter 2017 range, which comprises both street wear and formal wear, from hooded sweatshirts to gowns. "In the collection, you have a lot of contrast between the florals and greens of Lebanon, and a lot of the other side of Lebanon, where you're in your car and you look around and the houses are really messed up," Jouni says.
Inspired by a war-torn community that has famously managed to maintain its spirit, and is known for being fun-loving, glamorous, creative and ambitious, utilitarian cuts are brought to life with glamorous gold touches, while embroidered floral motifs sprout from hemlines of sheer black chiffon. The colour palette is mature and sober, with crimson red and sage green breaking up the jet-black attire. Slouchy black hoodies are embroidered with "Mille Neuf Cent Quarante Trois 1943" – the year that Lebanon gained independence from France, and white T-shirts are emblazoned with "Liberté!".
They're sentiments intended to evoke a celebratory mood, perhaps loosely inspired by Dior's range of feminist T-shirts that have launched a worldwide style craze since debuting on the runway in September last year.
Minimalism is at the heart of Jouni's aesthetic, and it shows in her personal style. The designer wears an all-black three-piece outfit consisting of a V-neck T-shirt, wide-leg trousers and an asymmetrical blazer. Black and white Converse Chuck Taylor shoes, a handful of silver rings and on-trend red-orange eyeshadow complete her look.
Jouni says she designs for women who seek clothing that is simple, minimal and practical, with a hint of glamour. "I'm trying to create a brand that caters to women who work, who are independent and who spend their own money, and that's why the clothes are affordable. The most expensive piece is Dh3,000 – and it would be a gown, or a cocktail dress that has a lot of work," she says.
Jouni moved to Paris at the age of 17, where she studied fashion at Esmod, Parsons and L'Istituto Marangoni. "I was really young – 17 – when I moved, and I had no background in street fashion or art or anything. So I got to learn a lot more about history, photography and styling," she says. She remained in Paris and interned with multiple brands such as Reed Krakoff and Rad Hourani. She also worked at Balmain as an assistant patternmaker in the label's atelier.
"I got to know everything – to draft an entire collection, from sketching, to digging into the archives, to seeing it on the runway and assisting on the catwalk – I literally saw the entire process," she says. "And that's when I felt like okay, enough. I spent two years doing unpaid internships, and it takes a long time to build a business, so I thought, let me start now while I'm still young."
Jouni, who was raised in Saudi Arabia, now had to decide where to base her brand. "I'm Lebanese, and honestly my country is not very stable. Staying in Europe is very difficult for a Lebanese to start a business there, not because its competitive but just because of paperwork," she says. "My family lives in Saudi Arabia, and there is no way I would go back, especially after living in Paris for eight years. In Dubai, the industry was growing, and I wanted to grow with it."
Jouni set up her base in Dubai Design District (d3), participated in four seasons of Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD), and was selected last year as the winner of an initiative that enabled her to show at London Fashion Week. The contest was a partnership between FFWD, FAD Institute of Luxury Fashion & Style Dubai and Fashion Scout, and was a part of FFWD's Epic X Samsung programme, which aims to empower emerging designers in the region.
"It was crazy – my first European runway show. The exposure was great, and it opened a lot of doors for me."
She won't be participating in October's edition of FFWD as she is travelling to Paris to showcase her spring/summer 2018 collection in showrooms after Paris Fashion Week. Although she is based in Dubai, Jouni's aspirations point to the creation of an internationally-recognised label.
"My vision for the brand is to build and create an e-commerce [platform] that can reach customers inter-nationally, and then set up my first shop in the UAE or Lebanon," she says.
"Then, one day, I'm hoping I can sell the brand to a private equity company that will turn it into a franchise, and have it everywhere in the world. That's the end goal – to have Lama Jouni in every corner, in every place in the world."
[ Tracking the fashion rise, fall and return of the tracksuit ]
[ Where to buy the Lancôme X Olympia Le-Tan collaboration in Dubai ]
[ More than skin deep: has the UAE caught up with trend of natural skincare? ]