Sunday, September 13, 2015

Boutique Hub: Minimal Is The New Black

Boutique Hub owner, Cynthia Chamat
Boutique Hub is home to the beautiful creations by Cynthia Chamat, self-taught Lebanese fashion designer. Her pieces are minimalist and very unique, reminiscent of a calm, serene feeling with her chosen palate of earth colors. 

As she watched and learned from her father, a fashion retailer himself, Cynthia finally took the long road through the fashion industry after pursuing Law, Politics, and Communications. Her boutique is now located in Sodeco, Beirut, and she is always ready to style you from head to toe with her very unique style. 

If you're into simple yet classy and chic fashion in every earth color imaginable, Boutique Hub is the place to go!

Check out an interview with Cynthia about her journey and work, below...

  • ·    How did you learn to design and create clothes?
I am a self-taught designer. I sketch, I style, and I do the modeling. But I have yet to learn to sew and make patterns. The fact is I never really learned to design as I specialized and worked into totally irrelevant fields before: Law and Political Sciences, then Communication Strategy. My Father, a fashion retailer with a career path that dates back to the glorious 70's where he worked with brands such as Ezzeddine Alaya, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Thierry Mugler, however always sensed in me a strong eye for style, hence he exposed me to the world of fashion retail. I guess I simply watched and learned from high-end Italian, French, and Japanese end-products.
  • ·      Why did you decide to become a fashion designer? Was this the path you always wanted to take?
I never decided to become a fashion designer. Life did! I was dying to go to fashion design school, but I was so terrified to fail, so I took another path. Somehow my friends always knew I was meant for design. Even my Dad stopped talking to me the Summer before I entered Law school -- True story.
Then life kept forcing me to take turns until April, last year. I was still just a country brand representative for a high-end international fashion brand, handling for my Dad two local mono brand stores and a (master) plan to take over the Middle East -- ha!
But never had it occurred to me that I'd actually be forced one day so soon to break my dealership with that brand and think of a plan B.
When that happened, the timing was really bad, SS14 season had started and I had no source of merchandising anymore. As time passed, the stores’ monthly rents were due one after the other, and shortly after I completely ran out of money. I was so broke I could not even take the risk of applying for bank loans and so traveling and importing new brands became out of the question.
I was so desperate that even my mother, whom had always been skeptical about the design world in Lebanon, and had purely corporate high hopes for me, instead decided to challenge me by lending me a small amount of money merely enough to locally produce 60 pieces. And I won the challenge. Although my 'collection' was tremendously late, the end-result was overwhelming. Clients kept asking for more. Why? Because, for once, I was able to tailor-make to their exact needs and expectations while keeping my stock at zero.
To wrap it up, I simply had no other choice but to become a fashion designer and you know what? I can finally say I now know what I am doing, and it is exactly what I should be doing and I think I know where I could be heading next.

  • ·      What is your favorite part about what you do?
Dealing with people, my teams, and clients. Oh, and breaking every rule they probably teach you at business schools - ha!
I've been working hard to establish a fair business. Every person involved in the process is fairly remunerated and constantly thanked and reminded of how important their role is and that there shall not be success if we do not all succeed together. Most have taken my approach for granted, but then again, that's how I have so far been able to discover the bad seeds fast and efficiently move forward leaving them behind.
The other group of people I have and simply love to deal with on a daily basis are my clients, because I believe as a designer and stylist I have the duty to empower the people that I dress.
I use a lot of psychology in the way I choose to position and conduct my relationship with my clients. I have this idealistic approach to business where I refuse to see clients as sacks of money. Instead, I make sure to go that extra mile, a costly one on the short term, but definitely a winner on the long run, where I choose to be as flexible as possible with my pricing, customization, aftersales service, etc.
Humor is also a great ingredient to my recipe. Everyone that steps out of my shop must leave it feeling (even) better than before they stepped in.
  • ·     What are your inspirations for your line?
I guess I had always had a thing for the marginalized and I’d always end up swimming against the waters to make it right for them.
My devotion became even fiercer when I became one too as I gained 4O KG in one year and barely nothing would fit me anymore. Everywhere I'd go, people would tell me, “Sorry we do not sell your size”, and I was only in my late 20s.
By the time I lost the weight, my mom started going through menopause and I watched her tiny body transform into an unusual shape and no matter what she did to go back to her 'old self' nothing would do. She had to accept her new looking self while she was still the same on the inside.
Shortly after I was 'forced' to design so I guess those two experiences have profoundly marked me and become my main inspiration.
Middle-aged and large(r) women's curves, that's my challenge.
Which explains why I tend to look for natural or high-end (cold) synthetic fabrics and prioritize deconstruction.
  • ·      What is your technique for designing and creating your pieces?
Due to the dramatic lack in local fabric choices, I tend to have the process backwards.
I start by visiting the fabric merchants where I get to touch and feel the fabrics that are available, and that's how I design, accordingly to what I am able to find. Every piece of fabric talks/suggests to me a specific design.
I know it may sound absurd, but I do not function in collections. I have new arrivals every two weeks. I'd hate to bring to life something that is meant to die shortly after. I tend to design timeless basic pieces that I revisit with a twist or multiple functionalities. And eventually every piece adds up to the previous pieces so that the result is constantly expanding revisited wardrobe essentials that I can keep reproducing for as long as I may need.

  • ·        Who is your favorite fashion designer?
I don't have a favorite. I am very fond of relatively new designers such as Uma Wang, Junia Watanabe, Ann Demeulemeester... and of course the masters of all times like Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Yves Saint-Laurent, Jean-Paul Gaultier, etc.
  • ·    Do your designs reflect your personal fashion sense? How would you define your personal style?
Of course. I would never design something I would not wear myself.
I do not design for the aesthetics or the fashion, and I certainly do not follow trends. Comfort, mutliple functionality, and style, that's all I am in it for.
Black is very essential, but then again earth colors are too.
I am a self-made (small) entrepreneur forced to do everything myself. So I have a very hectic life with a crazy schedule.
Most of my clients are either the same or on the top of the ladder already with big families and work responsibilities.
Our clothes must be able to serve us from day to night. So timeless minimalism is a must; Simplicity and humbleness, with an edge making space for personal style.
  • ·      How do you see the Lebanese fashion design scene?
I think that Lebanon is such a small country that you have the impression everyone constantly works to be on top of their (image) game. I withdrew from that vicious circle a long time ago, but lots of talented designers still fall in that trap. Their designs reflect the society we live in instead of changing it for the better. I just wish they would just care less about the image and more about what they actually have to offer in return for the (high) prices they ask for.
Plus most renown, emerging fashion designers come from very well-off families which makes the scene look too elitist and intimidating for a talented new-comer with nothing to start with but their own talent and a tiny little capital.
What about less privileged designers? And artisans? Why would no one write or talk about them?
Of course I am proud the scene has been booming with fashion designers, but I would be lying if I told you I was impressed by more than four or five of them.
I think only a few brands are excellent with a perfect finishing, fair pricing, and well-targeted segments. And only they deserve every recognition. But then again who am I to say?
By the way, I already have the honor to be collaborating with one of them. Kristina Zouein, the brain behind Kinamania, the fantastic unisex shoe brand that is sold in Lebanon exclusively at my store, Boutique Hub. And soon Second St., the concept shirt brand, will be joining us on board too as of FW16 with a variety of 30 unisex shirts.
After all, Boutique Hub. is a collaborative designer store that aims at bringing together the most talented of the local designers scene. It can only grow from there.

  • ·  What is it like being a Lebanese designer?
While it is relatively easier to start up your own business in Beirut rather than anywhere else in the world where a stiff system combined with harsh competition can easily crush your ambitions, being a fashion designer in B-City can be very frustrating. The most challenging parts of the process? Finding quality primary sources, i.e natural or newly developed fabrics when you need them. And dealing with professional/knowledgeable workforce (speaking of that, I’m dealing with my 9th team since a year or so -- I hope I am finally on the right track -- if not, I shall keep trying until I succeed!)
Plus you have the 'made in Lebanon' challenge of quality perception. 
  • ·      Did you have any doubts before opening your boutique?
For years, I worked as a communication strategist/PR and event planner and I was really good at it... as long as it applied to my clients. I almost never applied any of my preaching for the benefit of my own business -- go figure!
Doubts? I'd call them nightmares. And they came from three places:
1. I am a perfectionist. I never had the guts to think my creations were special enough so why should I bring them to life or talk about them anyway?
2. Everybody else seemed to have it so perfect while I struggled so badly and for the record I am not quite there yet.
The capital. The image. The branding. The packaging. The photoshoots. The videoshoots. The launching events. The media kits. The super-duper showrooms. etc.
3. Despite a very successful year, with a portfolio of 1,000 sold pieces, I can still be such a shy and low profile person when it comes to promoting my work, it is almost disgusting.
Imagine I've systematically turned down every PR and exposure opportunity, including international media, because until now I don't think I am ready yet.

  •  ·      Do you have any advice for aspiring fashion designers?
Yes! 4 things actually:
Know exactly who you're designing for.
Never compromise on quality, be it the product itself or the service that you provide along with it.
Don't let Beirut intimidate you -- you don't have to have it all to have it at all. One milestone at a time.
Never rely on your PR, friends or family. Although they may wish you all the luck in the world, don't expect any of them to effectively help you stand on your feet. You are on your own; perfect the actual product and let it do the talking.

You can visit Boutique Hub's official Facebook page here, and the official My Souq page here. Happy shopping!

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