Sunday, September 29, 2013


Dresses by Beirut-based designer Sandra Mansour (Photo: J.M. De Clercq)

Even before Paris Fashion Week began, there were the sounds of warfare. Former top models Naomi Campbell and Iman fired off the first salvo, criticizing selected companies for not using enough black models.

A Mansour guipure and lace short dress 
Then last Thursday, on the third day of the event, two topless activists from the radical feminist group FEMEN invaded the runway at designer Nina Ricci’s show, apparently protesting against the exploitation of women’s bodies. According to some reports, one of the activists got more than she expected when a model punched her before the security guards moved in.

That same day American designer Rick Owens caused a commotion when he used normal-sized “stepping” dancers from U.S. sororities to present his 2014 spring/summer collection.  The models stomped down a two-sided staircase and onto the catwalk, their faces deliberately angry and defiant, while the backing music throbbed to their faux-war dance.

Things were oh so much quieter at the showrooms! During the week, designers from around the world who aren’t mounting catwalk spectacles rent showrooms to present their products to buyers and the press, and the atmosphere is a far cry from the frenzy of the “defilés”.  One of these designers is Sandra Mansour, a talented Swiss-Lebanese designer whose “more is less” motto sums up the elegant simplicity of her creations.

The clothes are designed and created in Lebanon, by a team of 15 people, and the process starts with Mansour sketching rough drafts of prints and patterns with pens, colouring pencils, and watercolour paints. The drawings are then transferred to the computer where they are further worked upon before Mansour’s team of seamstresses and tailors make the ideas come to life.

Sandra Mansour in Paris (Photo: J.M. De Clercq)
All of the designs on the fabric are original, Mansour said in an interview, in contrast to the practice by some designers of buying ready-printed material. For Mansour, this is essential as it adds a strong artistic element to her collections.

In fact, her first love was art, she said. But her parents did not see this as a viable career, and so she studied business. The couture came after she did an internship in Beirut with Lebanese designer Elie Saab.

“It was like a dream,” Mansour said. “In the morning, I was with the commercial team, and in the afternoon, I worked with the haute-couture department. I learned so much.”

After the internship, she studied fashion design at the Paris branch of the prestigious Instituto Marangoni for one year and then started her own line of clothing, combining her business background and her love of art.

A Mansour maxi dress with belt
Mansour plays with the contrast of simple cuts and elaborate materials and colours, and she says she works to highlight the beauty of a woman’s body, enhancing the form. On a blue strapless maxi dress, for instance, she will place a gold belt to draw attention to the waist.

One quickly notices the luxurious fabrics used, including gazar, guipure lace, crepe, tulle and silk. Then there is the embroidery which attests to the artisanship of her team.

“Everything is made by hand,” says product manager Tracy Moussi. This also goes for the wedding dresses and gowns, which attract a large clientele in Lebanon and other countries in the region.

Mansour says she would like to do runway shows and perhaps one day enter the spotlight of Paris Fashion Week. But given her background, for her it’s more about the art than about the noise and spectacle. - J.M. De Clercq & L. McKenzie