The blast that rocked Beirut on August 4 echoed not just across the Levant, but across Europe, too, triggering an outpouring of support and aid.
And, as part of its spring / summer 2021 fashion week, the Italian city of Milan reached out to Lebanese designers affected by the explosion, in what it dubbed a "gesture of solidarity".
“Lebanese designers are important this year, and we needed to give them space because they are in a very tough time, and we believe fashion should be there to help them," explained Carlo Capasa, chairman of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI), the governing body of Italian fashion.
That help came in the form of a specially created digital platform, meaning that Lebanese labels were showcased alongside the big Italian names of Valentino, Versace and Giorgio Armani for the very first time. Spotlight on Lebanese designers offered a tangible way for the “next generation of Lebanese talent” to connect with a new and wider audience.
A total of six labels were chosen for the platform, including the house of Azzi & Osta, whose couture collection was almost finished before the blast tore through their showroom, and unisex brands Boyfriend and Roni Helou, who both lost their showrooms in the blast. Menswear name Emergency Room Beirut was included as was the womenswear label of Hussein Bazaza, and the jewellery duo behind L’Atelier Nawbar.
Asked to create a short film each, the brands were able to highlight their new collections or pieces that had survived the blast. Here's a closer look at what each label showcased.
Hussein Bazaza’s film was shot by Samir Siryani, and focused on the intense emotions triggered by the explosion, including fear, panic, anxiety, confusion “and the most dominant of all ... denial".
The model in the film wears layered, heavier pieces, because as Bazaza explains, “in the emotional sense, 2020 has been a cold year. We had to create outerwear to portray the need for more cover-ups against the cold and against danger".
Azzi & Osta
For its film, the duo of George Azzi and Assaad Osta took centre stage. In what should have been a celebration of the brand's 10-year anniversary, the designers tried to remain upbeat, outlining the inspiration behind the label and its devotion to savoir faire.
Helou, meanwhile, created a film to showcase the RH2021 collection as well as a recurring theme in the label's work – environmental damage. Its film focused on the pollution of Lebanese waterways and how, as Helou explains, “rivers are no longer able to adequately support their aquatic inhabitants, transforming what is naturally a source of life into an agent of illness and death".
Despite having its showroom destroyed in the blast, the label reaffirmed its commitment to using only deadstock fabrics, and to “support our local community by working with tailors and artisans from all over Lebanon".
Amine Jreissati, founder of the men's label, starred in his own film, modelling his own designs. As the camera captures the simple cuts of the clothing, which follow the brand's ethos of "minimal, subliminal, gender invisible", it is impossible to ignore Jreissati's wrist swathed in bandages, due to injuries sustained in the explosion.
The duo behind L’Atelier Nawbar set out to showcase the jewellery brand's unique style. Relatively unscathed by the explosion, it has committed to giving a percentage of all its sales to fund aid programmes in Beirut, and has even turned some of the glass that blanketed the city after the blast into a new range of pieces.
Emergency Room Beirut
Emergency Room Beirut presented a vision of reality as felt by those affected by the explosion. “The words expressed by these people who come from different paths of life, are a testimony of the year 2020 as experienced by the residents of Beirut,” explains the label's founder and designer, Eric Mathieu Ritter.
In the short film entitled Not a fashion movie, real people voice their frustrations, giving vent to their fears and shattered futures. "I am beyond angry," says one. "I thought it was the end" explains another, while a third says that she is "not OK". Visceral and raw, and in the the three languages of French, Arabic and English so widely spoken across the country, it lays bare the difficult task facing residents of the destroyed city.