RUBINA’S RADAR | FROM RED SOLED LOUBOUTINS IN NEW YORK TO THE CANNES RED CARPET IN THE FRENCH RIVIERA

RUBINA’S RADAR 

Fashion’s boldest bodies and brains know how to work the fiery haute month of May, especially on the French Riviera. The 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France is on fire, the summer temperatures notwithstanding, with beautiful and glamorous women walking the red carpet in breathtaking couture and bespoke jewels at the world’s biggest playground for photo-ops. Cannes is truly all about women, with men in tuxes running behind them, holding up their dresses and patting and settling them down to picture perfection. And what’s the most photographed fashion parade in the world without a wardrobe malfunction, inadvertent or otherwise? Day one saw Bella Hadid in a champagne Alexandre Vauthier gown with an underwear flash that was blinding. Eating an icecream cone in the gown after her red carpet strut, cemented Hadid’s nonchalance at the gaffe, that seemed more designed, than accidental. The red silk “barely there” gown, by Vauthier again, that she carried off so elegantly on the red carpet last year, clung on to her like second skin, with no slip up. That’s the reason Hadid stole the show primarily because nothing happened to the dress that everyone thought, or was hoping rather, would fall off her, and it pushed the fledgling model’s career forward the way it was orchestrated to. Just like this year’s “malfunction”.

Bollywood’s most poised actor, Deepika Padukone made an absolutely stunning debut at Cannes this year as part of L’oreal’s international glam girl squad. On opening gala night, Padukone looked fresh and completely at ease as she worked the red carpet statuesquely in a jewel-toned Marchesa gown with a seductive glimpse of her derrière and legs through the sheer of the fabric, for the screening of Ismael’s Ghosts (Les Fantomes d’Ismael). The following day, she wore a dark green Brandon Maxwell one-shoulder gown with a thigh-high slit for Loveless (Nelyubov) and Wonderstruck. With bold green eye makeup, green velvet heels, and her hair in an updo, it was impossible not to love her chic style, despite being head-to-toe in one solid colour.

Cannes’ most beautiful habit for the last fifteen years, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan seems to have gotten her fashion game on this time around. She pleased everyone, well almost, as she walked the red carpet in an icy blue Michael Cinco ball gown from his Impalpable Dream of Versailles collection, looking effortlessly flawless! But interestingly, about two weeks ago, Cinco, a Dubai based designer with an atelier in the Dubai Design District, was in fittings with the Swarovski heiress and singer, Victoria Swarovski for the same dress in the exact same colour, so it wasn’t exactly a couture debut on the Bollywood star. Though, Bachchan took Cinco’s creation from mere princess level to Disney queen, if there ever was one in the fairytale kingdom of dreams. Her daughter Aaradhya must have loved seeing her looking like a beautiful Elsa in the ball gown. Bachchan was definitely in a royal state of mind given her wardrobe choices thereafter, with her engine red Ralph & Russo gown on day four of the fest. It was just another red dress with frills and stones, with a clumsy fit on the sides, sans any custom couture attributes, aside from the famous face wearing it.

While in New York, Fern Mallis the award-winning creator and organiser of New York Fashion Week and now a Director of the Fashion Institute of Technology Foundation, interviewed Paris based shoe designer, Christian Louboutin. The conversation took place at the prestigious 92nd Street Y on Wednesday, May 17th, for her Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis ticketed series. Needless to add, it was a sold out event that was live streamed as it always is, for those who want to listen in. This conversation will undoubtedly find its place in Mallis’ second edition of her first book, Fashion Lives: Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis, published by Rizzoli in April 2015. It was a marvellous interaction between Mallis and the shoes designer of Egyptian and Lebanese descent, wherein he talked about his soul, and his famous red soles.

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Christian Louboutin and Fern Mallis | Photo: Michael Priest Photography

Expelled from school at age 16, Louboutin went to work as an intern at the famed Parisian cabaret Folies Bergère and did odd jobs for the dancers, but the one that fulfilled his dream was making shoes for them, he told Mallis. “I was all about shoes; I was not about fashion. I had cinema and music but not fashion. When I first started I wanted to design shoes for showgirls. But it was a very good way to learn about shoes because for showgirls, they’re very important. They have very little costumes in general, so shoes are a strength, a weapon, a posture,” he said. He was curious why all the dancers ate veal carpaccio, and he was told by them, “You’re so stupid. We’re not eating it. We’re putting it in the shoes,” rolling it up for cushioning, explained Louboutin.

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Christian Louboutin and Fern Mallis | Photo: Michael Priest Photography

At 18, an interview at Christian Dior led him to an internship with Charles Jourdan in the early 80s, wherein he learnt about the business of shoes, followed by design stints at Yves St Laurent, Chanel and Maud Frizon. Along with two of his friends, he opened the first store in Paris in October 1991, with $150,000, including the price of the lease. Louboutin found the inspiration for his trademark red soles in 1993 in red nail paint. The inspiration he describes as “a courtesan living out her life in a circus” turned his surrealistically beautiful shoes into an international success story. Known for his sky-high heels, he thinks flat shoes can be sexy, as proven by the legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot. He went on to tell Mallis that his “Love” flats were created after he saw a photo of Prince Charles staring at Princess Diana’s size 42 shoes.

Today Louboutin also has his own beauty line of nail polishes and lipsticks. “You have to give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. The red sole, which is my trademark and a sign of my ambition, started with the nail polish. It’s nice to remember in your flesh exactly where you started,” he said.

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©Rubina A Khan 2017

Love Fuels My Soul, Says Jewelry Designer & Photographer Nadine Kanso Of Bil Arabi

Nadine Kanso is not just an artistic being; she’s a vibe. The sparkle to her vibe is as luminous as her incredible Bil Arabi jewelry designs, which I think are works of art. A celebrated photographer too, having exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the B21 Gallery in Dubai, Kanso was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon and lived in Canada and the Czech Republic after her marriage and has been living in Dubai for the last 16 years. She started her jewelry line with the idea of demystifying the presence or absence of a ring on a finger, that declared a marital or single status. And she chose to say it in Bil Arabi (which literally means In Arabic) with a handcrafted ring in 18K gold back in 2006 with a “noon” or “N” in the English language.

A proud Arab, the culture and heritage of her roots drove her to create a contemporary visual language for the world through her jewelry. An incarnation of the Emirati expression of endearment, Fdeytak, turned into a bangle studded with rubies, diamonds and emeralds that was auctioned off at Christie’s Dubai. The Bil Arabi line today, a decade after its launch, includes rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants and cufflinks that draw on the inherent beauty, calligraphic shape and lyricism of the Arabic alphabet in Yellow, White and Rose gold, along with precious and semi-precious stones.

Rubina A Khan spoke to Nadine Kanso on a sun-dappled Sunday afternoon at her office in the Dubai Design District:

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Nadine Kanso

Are you the only jewelry designer in the world who does Arabic calligraphic designs on metal?
I was the first one to start the Arabic  letter in jewelry and I have used words like Hubb which means Love and Bhibbak which means I Love You which no one had really used or done before. Designers had done non-religious verses, sayings and proverbs from the Arabic language, but not the Arabic letters. So I sort of dazzled it up with my designs and made the Arabic language more contemporary.

How did you decide upon this as a career?
I’m an artist photographer and I did a photo exhibition called Meen Ana which means Who I Am and it was about the Arab identity. This was it after the 9/11 when we were looked at and perceived in a bad way, which unfortunately, still stands today. I showcased people from the region from the Arab world in my photographs in a different way, with a different view. People from different backgrounds held up sentences in calligraphy that I wrote saying My Love is Arabic, My Language is Arabic, My Future is Arabic, Talk to me in Arabic with collages. A Saudi with blue eyes and blond hair was holding up a sign saying I Look Arab but don’t judge us. So from here, I felt I needed to do something that is more spread out globally because photographs showcased in a gallery can only be viewed by a certain number of people and the reach is limited. I did cushions, scarves, teeshirts… and then I said to myself “why are we wearing Latin letters and not Arabic ones” and that’s how the first “Noon” for Nadine started and Bil Arabi was born.

What about the Arabic script fascinates you the most?
I have nothing to do with religious stuff. I’m a proud Arab and I try to keep my work and designs related to our heritage, culture and our Arab roots and the language we speak. That is what is the most fascinating part to me. There are two ways to look two ways to look at my collection – you have some designs wherein I do my own calligraphy and then there’s the classical font – I use both and people have appreciated both styles.

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The City & Birds is a limited edition, 18K Gold Handcuff, made by Nadine Kanso for DRAK / Dubai Design Week 2015, reflecting the contrasting elements of Ras Al Khor, the oldest industrial area of Dubai and its flamingo reserve and the Burj Khalifa symbolising the concrete development in the country

What is the most unusual request you have received for a custom Bil Arabi design?(Laughs) A couple of words that are slightly risqué that were made into a pendant and a ring. And we did it in diamonds as well.

From making only rings, you now make all kinds of jewelry today. Is it both for men and women?
We just launched a men’s line a year ago. It’s a silver line, so the price point is different and it is more accessible. The font is designed by me and another designer from Milan, Italy who happens to be my cousin and it is more modern and contemporary. Even if you read and write Arabic or you don’t, it’s very difficult to make out that the font is in Arabic letters.

Where can one buy Bil Arabi?
Bil Arabi is mostly available in the GCC but I would say Dubai is the home and heart of Bil Arabi. This is where I live and this is where I started. It’s available in Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdales Dubai and Sauce which is the first store I started with and they promoted me so well and pushed me and were very supportive of the local talent. Then there is SAKS Bahrain, Eye Candy Oman and in Saudi Arabia, we do pop-ups and anywhere else in the world too.

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An 18K gold handcuff designed by Nadine Kanso for DE.Fash.Struction 2015 (Telling Stories Through Fashion) outlining the UAE’s rich pearl diving heritage, using deconstructed diving nose clips, UAE pearls and gold wires for the contemporary design called ‘Taba’ meaning dive in Arabic

What is the source of inspiration for your collections?
It is about being proud of who we are, today and yesterday, and I try to make the world look at us Arabs in a different way with everything I do.

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An 18K Gold Evil Eye Handcuff from Bil Arabi

What makes you the happiest?
I find great joy in what I do and I love seeing my kids following their dreams.

What feeds your soul, to fuel your creative energy?
Love fuels my soul and creative energy. For me, the basic thing is to love life and to love everything you do. Love for me is very important, in all its forms. From loving a person to loving what I do, it all has to be very positive and fulfilling. This is where things come from and creativity comes. It’s hard to be productive when you’re sad, at least for me.

What about misery creating art and artists?
This is so typical, people thinking that you should not have money to be an artist or that you should be sad in order to be creative. I mean why?  These are connotations that applied to artists a long time ago and they were right at the time, because they felt that way perhaps, and thats’s what fueled their creativity, but that does not apply to everybody, especially today. I should not be begging on the streets to take a picture. Come on! In my photography, a lot of socio-political things form the base of what I do, but alongside that, there’s always a twist of a hopeful future in all my work. In my black and white photo series, there was a splash of color somewhere in the picture which was my way of expressing that there was hope for a better future for Lebanon. You have to always hope, otherwise it does not happen.

©Rubina A Khan 2016