Sometimes I’m reminded of the simple pleasure of dressing up while intending to dress down. Being put together in a casually modern style while borrowing a little class from yesteryear is practically elusive when considering some of today’s trends — and I think few designers grasp how women still seek that in their everyday wardrobes.
Ronald Abdala gets all that though. A young Lebanese designer who’s studied at Lebanon’s S Mode fashion institute and worked with Rabih Kayrouz for several years, Abdala stands out from a crowd of aspiring designers.
“I design for a very specific woman, who doesn’t want to be noticed as much but doesn’t want to pass by unseen. She’s fashion forward, she likes to look different yet very feminine and very refined. I design things that would look sexy on, but on the hanger do not seem sexy. It’s sexiness through the actual shape of the dress versus slits.” Clothes are intended to metamorph once worn.
He designs ready to wear items that are feminine, yet there’s edge in each of his collection’s concepts: a little toughness which pleasantly surprises. An embroidered spinal cord on the back of a dress for example, a jacket, which has been perfectly cut to accentuate a waist, brings out a very subtle sexiness in another collection.
So far, Abdala has released six collections and each has had a theme. Put a Smiley On, Xray, Divinity, Cinema, SIMulation and IN BLOOM incorporate eveningwear, casual cocktail attire and ready to wear.
“I don’t follow norms, I don’t think that nothing is allowed. Everything can be done in my books, it just depends on the technical aspect of it, which is where it gets tricky…Everything I do now is molding, but I find a more interesting message to deliver about the dress by focusing on the technical aspect.”
Abdala understands the power of imagery. His first collection was a series of animated cartoon faces, heavily embroidered with pearls or sequins in bright colors, a collection conceived after the 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon. It was a political statement made loud and clear through t-shirts and art.
But with a background in graphics equipped with much creative talent, today Abdala works on more extensive collections and completes his designs by staging his own shoots. His catalogue and lookbook’s artwork continuously expose the themes of his collections through their final graphic presentation.
The Xray collection glamorizes the human anatomy, its shapes and patterns are intended to resemble intricately-beaded rib cages, spines and hearts but also lend themselves to accentuating a wearer’s feminine contours. Quirky does not lend itself to kitsch or morbidity, there’s definite humor but original thought here. It’s a touch Victorian, a touch Jack the Ripper but reminds me of the way Vivienne Westwood likes to play with such themes. His clothes are artful, silhouettes and shapes combined with interesting shades of color, there’s a clear avoidance of cliché.
“I believe in collaborations, but it’s hard to find people you want to work with who have the same image as you. The collection was such a simple concept, but it was the after work that gives it all away, that gave it the impact.”
Of the Cinema collection, the most striking designs are that which meld satin with menswear’ button-down shirts forming long evening dresses seemingly referencing old 1920s glamour and the grace and style of a particular silver screen icon. Had Katharine Hepburn lived today, she would be seen wearing a dress by Abdala in line with her iconic take on menswear as women’s wear. The collection seems so appropriate for a modern retelling of The Philadelphia Story.
Each collection has forced Abdala to develop his designs and reconsider not only his technical skills as a designer but also the women he aims to dress. “I find that as time goes by and I evolve, I design for a different audience every time. You still feel it’s me but it changes from collection to collection.”
He explains that what can be seen as extensive creativity and reinvention does not often work in his favor as a designer, people often like to identify a particular look from a designer’s brand. Nevertheless, his newest collection IN BLOOM plays with his usual drapery while taking the goddess trend a bit further. Call it a futuristic goddess if you will.
But status quo throughout Abdala’s collections is his ability to somehow maintain a very structured appearance to each of his designs while still allowing his clothes to fall in a flattering manner onto a woman’s body. Focusing and working with cuts as opposed to embellishment, the wearer herself is intended to add a unique dimension to the story.
Meziara Center, Bloc B, 5th floor
Zouk Highway, Lebanon
1051 Quartier des Arts, Saïfi Village, Beirut, Lebanon
Rib cage dress from the Xray collection.