Dubai is channeling its potential as a prime fashion hub of the Arab world by leaps and bounds. It’s transforming the lives of the indigenous people in a big way as their passion for style reaches a robust scale with an enviable difference. Also, it’s attracting influential players of the fashion world who know how big is this opportunity for them. While their presence has kick-started a fashion revolution, it’s the local heroes who are creating a stir with their extraordinary work.
Out of this thriving industry in the region comes a smart, dynamic accessories designer named Nathalie Trad whose design is admired for its sculptural outlook and has been able to build a strong following as a result.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, we meet her to explore the rapid success of her brand and what made her design clutches in the first place.
The idea for creating them came to her since she had been looking for something challenging in her life. And she saw it in the way accessories especially handbags were being made which she thought needed a whole new approach.
“Accessories design gave me the puzzle I had been seeking: how do I take classic shapes, ubiquitous in our natural environment and radically transform them, thus deconstructing and redefining the boundaries of fashion aesthetics. I didn’t want to just create accessories, I wanted to create edgy statement sculptures that would allow whoever was wearing them to stand out and make her own statement in style,” she says. “I wanted to push the existing boundaries of accessories and re-create what we already know. I let my imagination take an unrestricted journey of its own to tackle the puzzle and it led me to handbags.”
Eager to experience the fashion world from an early age, she set off for Paris, where she enrolled at ESMOD, earning a BA in Fashion and Accessories Design in 2007. While there she landed an internship at the house of Yves Saint Laurent, still under the helm of Stefano Pilati. By the time she got there it was a very different place from when Mr. Saint Laurent was designing. “Fashion’s landscape had changed in the last few decades from small enterprises to large corporations, and I wanted to gain experience at a top fashion label to understand how the business of fashion really works,” she says.
In 2008, she made her way to New York, where she received a BBA in Design and Management from Parsons. This time around she decided to work at an emerging label, Proenza Schouler. She knew no two fashion labels could be alike, and it was important for her to gain a grasp of the nuts and bolts of working in a much smaller business and understanding the challenges they face. It was also an opportunity for her to focus on her number one passion, which is designing accessories, working closely with Proenza Schouler’s accessories designer, creating shoes, handbags and jewelry.
“Both New York and Paris are fashion capitals and so, living there, you are inherently surrounded by inspiration. From a designer’s perspective, these two cities definitely serve as a breeding ground for creativity as you are constantly exposed to the world’s biggest and most cutting-edge fashion houses and artists,” she tells us.
In her view, this means one as an emerging talent gets to reflect on, absorb and take stock of what he or she sees — not just big statements on the runway, but also street trends — then they redirect this new flow of energy into their own work. “It also pushes you to expand the realm of possibilities with your extraordinary designs and create truly innovative pieces. So, in a way, I would say that my time there did more than just shape my collection and my vision, it gave me a strong foundation,” Trad says.
X factor of her designed clutches
Her aim when designing is to first and foremost create unique sculptural pieces that invite curiosity, fusing contrasting material combinations in the right proportion. This is what makes her work so riveting. “I love to mix natural materials with more industrial ones such as brass, stainless steel and copper. I would say the general vibe of my design style is architectural, avant-garde and highly geometric,” she says.
“I like to think of my creations as architectural works on a small scale. I look to architecture from a physical aspect: geometry, proportions, ergonomics, and structure for inspiration but beyond that, I study architectural principles and ideologies as a means to create context and drive my process.”
Famous names from the world of architecture like Louis Kahn, James Stirling, Walter Gropius, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid are some of the architects whose aesthetics and philosophies have impacted her design thinking and some of her most endearing pieces.
However, she wants to make one thing clear that there is no direct relationship between a specific architectural design and her clutches. That being said, the Polygonia and Opiona clutches of hers embody a concept frequently applied by Zaha Hadid: “There are 360 degrees why stick to one?”
“This principle of multiple viewpoints also known to cubists is what I strive to apply in my designs. What I love most about these pieces in particular is that they morph into completely different pieces every time you look at them from a different angle or perspective,” Trad says with vigor.
Her beautifully designed clutches are made using the best of material she gets such as shell from the Far East region, a treasure trove of exquisite materials. Then, she complements them with other materials like wood, stone, resin, brass, copper and stainless steel creating a marriage of seemingly incompatible materials that end up harmonizing beautifully. “The richness of these materials perfectly mirrors my inspiration and work perfectly in line with the vision I have for my clutches,” she says.
It’s her surrounding environment that she thinks is her muse. So is the case as she explains, “I’m inspired by everything that I see in my day to day life and by my travels. I constantly push myself to observe and scrutinize my surroundings, and to constantly question and reinterpret what I see. In order to do so I like to go by the motto: “Smell with your eyes, hear with your nose, see with your ears and taste with your hands.”
The colors also underline the charm of her clutch bags. When designing a collection, she attempts to infuse color without it being excessively overpowering. There is a sound rationale behind her doing so. “I tend to stick to neutral, often monochromatic tones and introduce bursts of color through shell and metal variations,” she says. “I also use a small amount of colored resin in a hue that will complement the other clutches in the collection.”
Every beautiful thing one aspires for in life comes after a lot of hard work. This is true of Trad’s sculpturally advanced clutches based on their varied designs and patterns. The research and design process takes her team about a month from start to finish. Once they have their final sketches, they then send those to their workshop to start creating the first prototype.
After this initial implementation, each prototype requires at least four weeks to be meticulously crafted. This involves creating and curing a mold, preparing each piece of shell, inlaying, lining and applying the finishing touches. “Once the piece is put into production, each clutch takes approximately two weeks to finish. This process is masterfully executed by artisans who have been taught a craft that’s only passed on from father to son, through the generations,” she says.
As today’s fashion becomes more global in taste, the differences are also petering out. So she believes when she adds: These days, there is no difference in the handbags Arab women and their western counterparts carry. “When designing, my muse is always the modern woman of today no matter where she is from. She is a woman fluent in the art of design and who isn’t afraid to be her true self. She is a strong, independent and an avant-garde woman with a style of her own,” Trad admits. “She carefully chooses the pieces she wears because they are an extension of who she is. She is someone whose style parameter isn’t defined by the current trends of the season and doesn’t blindly follow, she is followed.”
From Princess Deena Abdulaziz to Sienna Miller, Razane Jammal, Mary Katrantzou and Olivia Palermo to Leandra Medine they have all been in love with Trad’s superb bags. “It’s always an honor to see Deena Abdulaziz holding one of my clutches. In the future, I would love to see Amal Clooney with one of my pieces,” she says.
Whatever collection she comes up with is a true reflection of her identity. Her aesthetic is undeniably middle-eastern with western touches, a marriage of East and West. “I was born in Lebanon but grew up in Dubai. My cultural heritage is embedded in me. It’s running in my veins and fully imprinted on my identity. It’s intangible and hard to define but it’s my core and the basis of who I’m. This is where my passion for design was born. When I create accessories, my personality seeps into every aspect of my designs,” she expresses.
As for the future plans of her brand, she looked quite excited but didn’t reveal too much. She wanted us to be amazed by what next she brings up. “My plan for this year is to expand the presence of my brand both regionally and internationally while staying true to my design philosophy. I just want to keep bringing in new, unexpected and intriguing clutches and more,” she says.
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