BEIRUT: Sandy Abdel Nour, a 36-year-old debonair fashion designer, is aiming to take the Lebanese market by storm with her new name-brand evening wear and bridal collections, after placing her previous work under other name brands and retailers across Europe, the Arab region and both the Americas.
Nour said of her early interest in fashion, "I've always had an artistic side I wanted to explore, and coming from a family that supports any decision that makes me happy both pushed me forward to keep going while simultaneously fostering a motivation to succeed."
As long as she can recall, she has been artistically inclined, while also having a practical state of mind about reaching goals; she graduated with a degree in business marketing from the Lebanese American University in 2001 but opted not to enroll in the university's fashion design program sponsored by Lebanese designer Elie Saab.
"I wanted to fully understand the fashion industry, and having the business know-how while also adding my own artistic touch created a balance that I advise every up-and-coming designer to have," Nour told Annahar.
Soon after graduating, the designer opened a small boutique in Kaslik, hand selecting pieces from across Europe which she considered would be a good sell within the Lebanese market.
However, at the age of 24, the fashion enthusiast decided to shutter her shop and travel to Milan to join the prestigious Istituto Marangoni School of fashion, where the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, and other world-renowned designers had learned their craft.
"Milan was an amazing experience, the program was not only educational , but the fact that you're living in the fashion hub of the world and studying with the best brands gives you an added sense of motivation," Nour says, adding, "However there was rigorous competition between everyone just like any other industry out there, since only one or two designers will shine between a pool of thousands."
For the Lebanese designer, the program gave her the practical knowledge to organize a collection while balancing it between what the designer wants and the expectations of the market. It also taught her how to stay up-to-date with worldwide trends.
"At first every designer thinks that they're entitled to create whatever comes to their imagination and just go with it, but designers need to learn how to link the mood and theme of their collections with the needs of the market," she explains, while adding that students learned not only how big brands develop a collection but how fast moving successful brands such as Zara mold their lines so quickly.
After earning her MA from Istituto Marangoni in 2005, Nour decided to come back to Lebanon to jump right into the field by opening her own atelier in the Metn District's town of Jdeideh despite the unstable political and security situation.
"When I came back to the country, it was in such a dramatic state, but I pushed on and decided to launch my first collection with a team of two people with no regard for the unstable political situation," Nour said.
Her first collection was accepted in Paris Fashion week's exhibition in 2006. Fashion Week's exhibition is a section within the show where handpicked designers showcase their work for buyers who work for major boutiques and department stores around the world.
More recently, Nour has focused on building her own brand, and for the first time, is launching a namesake line of bridal and eveningwear. The Nour bridal collection makes its debut this month, to be followed by her evening-wear line in the near future.
Fashionistas noted for Annahar that the collection reveals a certain ageless effortlessness with a touch of sophistication, making a bold statement in the bridal scene and democratizing the traditional wedding dress.
"This 'reinvention' of the traditional bridal gown allows the bride to start her wedding with the customary full gown and end the evening on a more edgy and younger note with either the option to have a mini-skirt or shorts all in one gown," Roula Rbeiz, an attendee of Nour's namesake bridal line's launching event, told Annahar.
"Although I previously created a nameless brand to venture into wholesale, I've learned that, especially in the fashion industry, people want to put a face on the work being shown to them," Nour said.
The Lebanese fashion designer is determined to launch her first name-brand collection in Lebanon since "this is my country and I see so much potential here, and from a fashion perspective we are still leading the rest of the Arab world due to people like Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad who paved the way for local designers."
Nour also highlighted that Lebanon – in comparison to other countries – still possesses a heavy culture in wedding planning and considers it to be a huge event, which in turn displays a huge need for occasionwear and bridal wear in the market.
However, she noted that the region has a key weakness, primarily when it comes to providing educated labor – in terms of sewing and texture knowledge – in parallel with the emergence of multiple fashion schools in Lebanon which renders designers to outnumber the labor force.
"If we want to reach the same top notch quality in sewing, fabric, and textures, then there has to be a number of sewing schools set up around Lebanon to properly teach and perfect the craft," she added.
Her only advice to younger fashion designers is for them to have a passion for it and willingness to put up with a tough pressure and working environment. "They need to be willing to start again, and again and again since nothing will work from the first time; fashion design is a hassle, a commitment, a lifestyle and demanding," Nour told Annahar.
Annahar's "Faces of Lebanon" is an occasional series that takes a look at the talented young people who work, study, live, and dream of a future in Lebanon. We encourage you nominating candidates and telling us their story. Send your nominations to: Facesof.Lebanon@annahar.com.lb
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