The Lebanese designer delves into happy childhood memories, which was the only way he could extract good memories of growing up in Africa
One of Lebanon’s gifted designers, Rani Zakhem’s ready-to-wear autumn-winter 2022-2023 collection is lively, with a deeper meaning than what it might look like on the surface. It’s a cocktail of his African childhood, his mother’s black-and-white polka dot dress, and his healing in the midst of his native Lebanon’s dark days. In a time where the world has seen unspeakable horrors and continues to do so, this collection is a reminder that beauty still exists in the world.
Pulling up to Zakhem’s atelier in Beirut’s Sinn El Fil the first thing you notice is the giant structure of the building. Reaching his floor and entering through the doors is a beautiful entryway. The tall designer, reserved yet attentive is welcoming and genteel as he shows Lebanese hospitality.
“The starting point of the collection was a picture of my mother in the ’80s wearing a black and white polka dot dress by Louis Féraud in our home in Nairobi,” shares Zakhem. He lived in the Kenyan capital for the first ten years of his life. From Nairobi he lived in Mombasa, which is situated on the Indian Ocean. The Serengeti is relaxation to him, having spent many holidays in the Tanzanian sun. The colors of Africa impacted young Zakhem, which can be seen throughout the collection and several past ones. “I also paired the collection with Yves Montand’s song “Les Feuilles Mortes Se Ramassent à La Pelle.” But I actually transformed that to “Les Feuilles Vives.” Meaning, “lively leaves,” because we had a lot of trees, wild fauna and African flowers around our home in Nairobi and I used to walk around the garden and see the foliage on the grass and play with them as a kid.”
A photo album is a focal point for this collection, as it brings back in the atelier the happiest part of his life, being a child in Africa. There’s no absence of black and white polka dots in the collection. A long black dress that would go for any formal evening event includes black and white polka dot bell sleeves with a matching sash and a matching collar. The one-piece jumpsuit is eye catching with its off the shoulder on one side and poufy sleeve on the other. Animal prints offers an edgy touch. Tans, blush purples, dark purple, yellow paired with brown, and a long white kimono shirt dress is paired with brown pants and it is breathtaking.
Playing with hem lengths and using fabrics from chiffon, organza, incorporating delicate hand embroidered leaves on silk tulle, polka silk gazar on silk crape has made this collection eye catching for women of any age. Fun and classy describe Les Feuilles Vives as well. And yet in the midst of Lebanon’s most difficult years Zakhem found beauty in the ashes.
One of the most beautiful countries in the Levant is sun-kissed Lebanon. The Mediterranean Sea on one side and mountains in the distance, Beirut has a charm about it that makes one not want to leave. But the pandemic mixed with hyperinflation and an ongoing economic crisis that has left eighty percent of the nation unemployed has made the country difficult to visit or live in. And let’s not mention with horror of the August 4, 2020 Beirut blast that left hundreds dead and so many homeless. It’s a lot for a small country but in the midst of it all Zakhem and many of his fellow designers have reignited their creative edge.
“After the Beirut explosion I was on a semi hiatus for a year and a half. You have to try and forget and move forward, and the only way to move forward is to create our own bubble of beauty and give people beauty. I think the entire world is craving this. Everyone wants to see beauty and no one in the world wants to see anymore atrocities, especially with what’s going on with Russia and Ukraine. I think that holds true for the entire world, so as a creative it’s the only way to move forward and to be able to get over the ugliness Beirut and Lebanon witnessed on the August 4th  explosion- and so much scarring, hurt, and pain.”
This collection is personal and it’s palpable that it touches the soul of Zakhem. It has allowed him to evolve and to come up with refreshing ideas in the midst of global hard times.