HAVANA, CUBA: Trance and glitter in Laila Chaaban’s eyes promise of a purposeful fashion designer, paving her way into fame. Born in Havana, from a Lebanese father and Cuban mother, the young artist gathers inspiration from everywhere and everything around her. Chaaban’s journey speaks of a strong woman challenging art.
ORIGINS AND DECISIONS
Chaaban’s parents met when Akram Chaaban, her dad was studying medicine in Cuba. The family went to Lebanon when she was a year old and lived there until she turned five years old. The little girl back then learned Arabic before learning Spanish.
Although she has fashion illustrations since she was 10 years old and she tends to love design more than anything else, Chaaban says that “she did not choose to study fashion design.”
“It was a frustration for my math teachers that I always wanted to design, and they repeatedly told me I had to be an engineer,” she says. For them, it was a waste of time for Chaaban to study something creative rather than rational. “I’m glad I didn't listen to them,” she says.
However, the 20-something fashion designer is in love with industrial design, especially furniture design. She majored in industrial design, and specialized in fashion.
In school, Chaaban did not consider herself a very creative person, but she believed that anyone can create his/her own creative process. “So going back, I didn't choose, I just had to study fashion design,” she said.
Little Layla with her father in Baalbeck castle, Lebanon.
Inspiration is crucial for artists, many say. Yet a cosmopolitan mix led Chaaban to not be aware of what inspires her. Her three nationalities Cuban from her mother, Lebanese from her father, and Spanish, from her mother’s family, led her to have “no nationality at all”.
“It's kind of interesting, it's like I don't feel completely from one place nor consider myself from one nationality,” she says. “So my inspirations and interests can come from any place, I don't discriminate,” Chaaban adds.
For her, the concept of borders doesn't make any sense. She just looks at people as individuals. Sometimes, she’s inspired by Japanese art, and at other times by African clothes, Indian structures, European baroque, Russian constructivism, South American use of colors, and the inspiration follows. “Anything from everywhere gets mixed up in my mind. In one word, it’s eclecticism,” she says.
Chaaban admits though, she’s a lover of traditional clothes.
The port, the concepts of a city by the sea, that which is open to the rest of the world, adventurers, and travelers, could be the only thing she can think of as an inspiration.
It’s the sea and inspiring waters that make her dream of a smooth world, void of any borders.
This photo shows Layla with her mother in front of the National Capitol Building in Havana, Cuba.
ART = PASSION
Having parents from different places though is “kind of cool” for her, since one will have more options, and have more freedom in choosing who she wants to be.
Chaaban does not consider herself belonging to any specific school, but she admits she’s a little minimal. “I always try to find balance in the pieces I make,” she says.
Wide interests, with art, in general, being her top passion, cinema as a hobby, and traveling, constitute a very positive personality. One might think it’s contradicting to do yoga, practice boxing, and read at the same time, yet Chaaban does all of that, in addition to dancing.
“It feels great that I get interested in a lot of things,” she says.
The journey ultimately matters for the young woman, who finds joy in learning new things when she’s in the middle of a project. “Investigating and finding new ways to solve problems and inspiration is amazing,” she says.
There isn’t any specific type of cloth Chaaban uses, yet she prefers natural materials over those that are man-made. “I love how fresh they are,” she says.
The use of cloth depends a lot on the concept. In her last project, she wanted to use materials entirely from Cuba, so she only used white linen, which is one of the very few fabrics produced in Cuba.
FROM JOURNEY TO GOAL
Ambition is not a big concern as long as the spirit is ambitious. For now, Chaaban knows she wants her own space, store, and workshop.
“I plan to enjoy the journey and not have a specific goal. I think I like where I'm heading and I'm not in a hurry,” she confidently says.
Yet, she seems to be doing fine, with a successful show that recently took place in Havana at a hotel called Manzana Kempinski, 250 guests, most of them part of the societe of Havana.
“It was ok, for a person like me there are always hundreds of things going wrong,” says the tough critique of her own self.
Her two contributions to the fashion show included her own brand, “Capicúa”, and another collection she designed for another Cuban brand called “Rox950”, which contracted Chaaban to design their first fashion collection.
“Both are totally different but it was really fun doing them at the same time. I felt like two different persons sometimes,” she says.
The highlight of Chaaban’s 2018 fashion career is a dress she designed for a Cuban singer called Telmarys. The singer was nominated for the Latin Grammys.
Although she did not win in the end, it was a very big accomplishment to be nominated.
“I met her through a friend a week before the gala, and she told me she had to have four dresses for different ovations and she wanted to wear clothes by Cuban designers but she only managed to find 3 dresses she liked,” Chaaban mentions.
After the singer asked her to design a dress to attend the Latin Grammys, Chaaban suggested designing a dress according to her own taste, and it wasn’t any problem if she did not like it.
She wore it for the opening gala,” Chaaban said.
Designing that dress spread Laila Chaaban’s name in Havana.
“It's weird because I'm not famous or anything like that,” Chaaban says, showing a low profile personality, caring about her own interests and dreams, no matter what fame might mean.
Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations — Naya Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.firstname.lastname@example.org
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