Lebanese design star Racil Chalhoub on how the pandemic changed her outlook on creativity, management

 Lebanese design star Racil Chalhoub on how the pandemic changed her outlook on creativity, management
Racil Chalhoub was 10 years old when she told her mother she wanted to be a fashion designer. (Instagram)
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Updated 21 October 2021

Lebanese design star Racil Chalhoub on how the pandemic changed her outlook on creativity, management

 Lebanese design star Racil Chalhoub on how the pandemic changed her outlook on creativity, management
  • ‘Beirut makes me want to dress up more than London does,’ says Racil Chalhoub

PARIS: Racil Chalhoub was 10 years old when she told her mother she wanted to be a fashion designer. They had gone to see a Marinelli fashion show at the Hotel Georges V in Paris when — blown away by what she had seen — the young Chalhoub turned to her mother and said: “That’s exactly what I want to do!”

In 2015, her dream came true when she launched her line of tuxedos for women — Racil — in London. The name is not an exercise in self-promotion, but a tribute to her mother, with whom she shares not only a first name, but also a keen and quirky fashion sense. She has since expanded her line to include dresses and tops.




In 2015, her dream came true when she launched her line of tuxedos for women — Racil — in London. (Supplied)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, bringing the fashion industry and most of the world to a halt, Chalhoub — who was born in Lebanon, raised in Paris, and now lives in London, took the opportunity to pause, reflect and refocus her efforts.

Out of that time, a new collection was born earlier this year: an explosion of colors counterbalancing the black leggings and gray sweatshirts worn during lockdowns. For her Fall/Winter collection, black was replaced by brown and fresher colors, including coral, fuchsia, yellow and many more.

In her London apartment towards the end of summer, Chalhoub reflected on the past peculiar year, and discussed her inspirations and desires for her next collection with Arab News.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by RACIL (@racil)

How would you say the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your creative process and your daily work?

There are two complementary aspects in my field: creation and management — whether that’s regarding the brand, the business, the employees... The pandemic has really affected both of those aspects.

Creatively, it’s hard to stay inspired when you’re locked up at home, alone, for several months. Especially when you’re worrying about other things — the business, the employees, and family in Lebanon. So, honestly, I was facing a bit of a creative block. There are three elements that are always on my mood board: First, my mother, who is my muse and inspires me a lot, but whom I hadn’t seen for nearly a year. Second, (discos, clubs and) parties — and all of a sudden, we can’t go out. And third, the street. I walk a lot. I can find inspiration in a park or café, people-watching. During COVID, none of these three elements were present.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by RACIL (@racil)

It was only when I managed to escape from London in the summer to meet up with friends on vacation, to soak in the sun, roam the streets — when I was able to live a little again — that I found inspiration. Then I would sit in my corner and draw.

As for the management side, that was also difficult, because I came home one day and then never went back to the office. I have a team of 12 girls, whom I consider family. If I’m not doing well, the chances are they’re not doing well either.

So this period allowed me to think a lot about the structure of the company and the brand: what my identity is and where I’m heading. Coming out of all this, would I want the same thing as before? How could I adapt without losing my vision? I mean, with COVID we realized that the first thing we can live without is a suit or a tuxedo. A tuxedo is usually used to go to a gala or to a dinner, which we weren’t doing. We wear a suit to go to the office, where we weren’t going. But, at the same time, it’s what I love. It’s my brand’s DNA and I don’t want to lose that. So, why not translate it in a more relaxed way? I felt I couldn’t resume where I left off: I needed something different. So, in September, I decided to rebrand. I designed a new logo, launched new pieces, new categories and started new collaborations.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by RACIL (@racil)

I was feeling very restricted even before the pandemic. I had started this brand with this DNA and I really felt like it was the only thing I could do. So COVID was both an opportunity and a great excuse to say, “I’m going to try this, because it’s my brand. I’m going to allow myself to do it, and I’m going to see how my customers react.” And, so far, the reactions have been quite positive.

Would you say this new collection is more focused on the essentials?

For me, a jacket is essential. I’ve remained in that lane, but with different ‘essentials,’ adapted a little more to today's lifestyles. I have reduced the size of the collection, too. And I also worked a lot slower, which was quite stressful, but a lot more enjoyable as well. Before the pandemic, my days were always very stressful. It was a constant race. Then, all of a sudden, it was like we’d unplugged everything. So then we had to work out how to reconnect everything. But one thing I’m sure of: I cannot afford to run that fast anymore.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by RACIL (@racil)

We’re in a situation where we have to accept that some things are beyond our control. Before, if a delivery from a factory was late, I’d go crazy. Now I just do what I can. I can set a schedule and do everything I can to make everything work as it should, but you have to accept the slowdowns and setbacks. In the fashion business, where everything is so fast, this is refreshing.

Taking things day-by-day, not knowing what tomorrow holds, and realizing you can’t control everything… Would you say that resembles the Lebanese outlook?

That’s the Lebanese attitude, indeed. We still live day-by-day.

Do you still have a strong bond with Lebanon?

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by RACIL (@racil)

I was born in Beirut, but I grew up in Paris and I didn’t live in Lebanon for long. But my family is there. I have lots of friends there. It’s a country I adore and which touches my heart infinitely. Before the pandemic and the various crises affecting Lebanon now, I would always take my dresses, my tuxedos, and my heels when I visited Beirut. I knew there would be great parties; that we were going to go out and see people. Beirut often makes me want to dress up more than London does.

I definitely think Lebanon influences me. I like the attitude of Lebanese women, who like to go out, to look beautiful, to dress well. They have this glamorous side.

So, you take inspiration from France, Lebanon and England?

Yes. I think every country has offered me something different. I have a very Parisian side to my everyday look, which is both a little nonchalant and quite chic at the same time. Fashion in London is very funky and colorful. You can really express yourself. There is a great contrast between French and English looks. All of that mixed together gives something quite unique, which I try to represent with Racil.


Tuwaiq Sculptural Symposium reflects Vision 2030 aim to transform Riyadh

Tuwaiq Sculptural Symposium reflects Vision 2030 aim to transform Riyadh
Updated 4 sec ago

Tuwaiq Sculptural Symposium reflects Vision 2030 aim to transform Riyadh

Tuwaiq Sculptural Symposium reflects Vision 2030 aim to transform Riyadh

RIYADH: Two sculptures glisten in the sunlight in an outdoor space in JAX, the recently developed creative district in the industrial zone of Diriyah, just outside of Riyadh. They are part of the third Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium held under the theme of The Poetics of Space, which featured 20 works by Saudi and international artists focusing largely on the interplay between light and shadow.

Some of the large abstract sculptures appear to undulate like waves with their curvaceous forms while others challenge the surrounding desert landscape with their bold geometric forms. Saudi artist Wafa Al-Qunibit’s work Allah is representative of her desire to speak to both the Saudi and international community through intersecting and overlapping circles carved into marble depicting the name of God in Arabic. Karin van Ommeren’s Awareness Stone was created to symbolize eternity through a composition that has no beginning or end.

The 20 sculptors were chosen out of 418 applicants from 71 countries. The selected artists came to Riyadh, where they all created their works over a period of three weeks from Nov. 15 until Dec. 5 from giant blocks of black and white pearl marble imported from Oman. The resulting works are exhibited on site in JAX for four days until Dec.10.

What was crucial to the initiative was the element of cultural exchange — uniting artists from around the world in Riyadh through creative dialogue with the end goal of beautifying the city of Riyadh.

HIGHLIGHT

Artists Anna Korver, Haider Alawi Al-Alawi and Kim De Ruysscher announced as winners of the 2021 symposium

The symposium was organized by Riyadh Art, dubbed as one of the world’s largest public art projects of its kind. It is also one of Riyadh’s four megaprojects launched by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, on March 19, 2019. An integral component of Saudi Vision 2030, its mission is to transform Riyadh into a sustainable and environmentally friendly city.

“We tried to update the project this year to make it bigger and more international through workshops and panels and educational programs,” Sarah Alruwayti, architectural project advisor at The Royal Commission for Riyadh City responsible for Riyadh Art, told Arab News. “We aim to create a cultural platform not only for visitors but also for sculptors from around the world to engage with each other. We need to get our talents out into the world and the rest of the world needs to learn about us more.”

“We have 12 projects under Riyadh Art, of which two are annual and 10 are permanent, all of which add a lot of value to the economy and society as they focus on developing roads and bridges and they all encompass art,” Alruwayti said. “The projects work to beautify Riyadh—Riyadh is already beautiful but we are working to add more artistry to the city reflecting Vision 2030’s aims to transform the city into a gallery with no walls.”

Ali Jabbar, the curator of the Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium, founded the event three years ago in cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Culture. The first and second symposia, in 2019 and 2020, were held in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter.

This year marks the first time that the symposium takes place under the umbrella of Riyadh Art. Jabbar, with the help of five heads of international museums, including Eike Dieter Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and Cristiana Collu, the director of Rome’s Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, chose the final selection of 20 sculptors.

“The Tuwaiq symposium is the largest one in the world now in terms of organization, size and quality of sculptures and their artistic and technical value,” Jabbar said. “It has placed the Saudi sculpture scene in the world map.”

The winners of the competition were announced on Dec. 7. First prize was awarded to New Zealand artist Anna Korver for her artwork entitled The Lighthouses triptych, which fused abstract geometrical forms with multiple cultural associations, suggesting female figures. Second prize went to Haider Alawi Al-Alawi of Saudi Arabia for his approach in depicting the landscape through a fusion of abstraction and figuration. His sculpture entitled Beauty evokes the Saudi landscape, featuring the sun, wind and sand. Third prize went to the Belgian Kim De Ruysscher for his Unseen, depicting a figurative form covered in what appears to be a kind of drapery, exploring the concepts of illusion and perception.

The next Tuwaiq Sculpture Symposium will take place in 2022.


Indian film director honored to be chosen at RSIFF 

Indian film director honored to  be chosen at RSIFF 
A still from the Indian film Paka. (Supplied)
Updated 5 min 38 sec ago

Indian film director honored to be chosen at RSIFF 

Indian film director honored to  be chosen at RSIFF 

JEDDAH: On the eve of the Arab premiere of his debut feature, “Paka (River of Blood),” which is screening in competition at the Red Sea International Film Festival, writer-director Nithin Lukose spoke of the “honor” of his film being chosen for the event in Jeddah.

“We are honored to be the lone Indian film to be selected for the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival 2021,” he said. “Being selected in the Competition category, among 16 films from around the world, is a dream come true for us.”

“Paka” is the only Indian film in the Malayalam language selected for screening during the festival. It will have its Arab premiere on Dec. 9 at Vox Cinemas Al-Balad at 6:15 p.m. with a second screening at 2:15 p.m. on Dec.12 at the same venue.

The plot of “Paka,” which stars starring Basil Paulose, Vinitha Koshy, Nithin George, Abhilash Nair, Athul John, Jose Kizhakkkan, Mariyakkutty and Joseph Manikkal, revolves around two feuding families and a young couple that tries to overcome their families’ hatred through love. The film is produced by Raj Rachakonda and Anurag Kashyap.

Lukose, who is in Jeddah for the screening of the film, said he hopes Saudis and the Indian diaspora will pack the cinema during the screenings of the film. “It will be highly encouraging for us,” he added.

Sharing his thoughts on his experience of the festival so far, the filmmaker said: “Initially, we didn’t have any clue how the inaugural film festival would be but we were blown away by its scale and grandeur.”

Lukose said his knowledge of Saudi Arabia was limited before the event but he was quickly overwhelmed by the warmth of the greeting he received from the city and its people.

“Apart from the film festival, we were lucky to be given tours of the historic parts of Jeddah, museums and other places,” he said. “This helped us learn more about Saudi Arabia as a country, as well as its culture. The hospitality extended to us is outstanding.

“We hope more beautiful and unique movies will come out of Saudi Arabia that will tell more about its history and rich culture, which the world knows little about.”

The Red Sea International Film Festival, which began on Dec. 6 and continues until Dec. 15, will screen 138 films from 67 countries in 34 languages.


Ithra announces 3 Saudi films, training programs to elevate local talent

Ithra announces 3 Saudi films, training programs to elevate local talent
Updated 20 min 12 sec ago

Ithra announces 3 Saudi films, training programs to elevate local talent

Ithra announces 3 Saudi films, training programs to elevate local talent
  • ‘Sea of Sands’ and ‘Valley Road’ to release in 2023; ‘Anti-Cinema’ in post production and expected to hit international film fests soon

JEDDAH: The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) discussed its three new films at a press conference at the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival on Wednesday.

The conference was attended by local and international press. The center was represented by Tariq Khawaji, Ithra’s chief librarian and the program’s cultural consultant and supervisor of the reading program, and Majed Samman, Ithra’s head of performing arts and cinema, who is also a Saudi filmmaker, producer, actor and editor.

The three movies under the Ithra production banner include a feature film, “Sea of Sands,” by celebrated Egyptian screenwriter and producer Mohamed Hefzy, a leading figure in the industry in the Middle East and Africa who has written, produced and co-produced nearly 40 feature films in Egypt, the US, the UK and the Arab world.

The second film is “Valley Road,” a Saudi film, including its cast, crew, and location. It will be filmed in Faifa and Soudah in the southern region of the Kingdom by the award-winning Saudi independent filmmaker Khalid Fahad.

The third is a feature documentary called “Anti-Cinema,” about the Kingdom’s cinematic heritage, directed by Ali Saeed and Hassan Saeed. “Sea of Sands” and “Valley Road” are both scheduled for release in 2023.

Samman, who is the producer of “Sea of Sands” and “Valley Road,” told Arab News about “Anti-Cinema,” a documentary that brings Saudi Arabia’s film history to the big screen and is a winner of the Ithra Content Commission Initiative, currently in post-production and expected to hit the international film festival circuit soon.

“Anti-Cinema will be the most controversial piece non-Saudi viewers will ever watch. It tells the history of cinema from the 1940s and 1950s all the way until the Red Sea Film Festival today. So, for us, and especially for our era, people will say, oh my god, I remember this, I remember that, it’s very nostalgic.”

He added: “But for the outside world, they would say that they had no idea they have cinemas in Saudi and I had no idea that they were making movies. It’s going to be an eye-opener for a lot of people. So it’s going to be very controversial.”

“The two films that we’re going to premiere in 2023 are the first of many films, and they’re going to be showing the world and Saudi Arabia how quality films are made. And I can’t wait for people to see it.”

We really want to give as much as possible the opportunity for these Saudi filmmakers to join an international film and expose them to the filmmaking process, and that would give them a push so they can decide if they want to be filmmakers or not.

Majed Samman, Ithra’s head of performing arts and cinema

During the conference, Ithra announced the opening of registration for a training program designed to take Saudi’s film industry to the next level.

The program aims to elevate local talent to a higher standard with international appeal. Samman told Arab News: “The program targets Saudi national talents aged 18-year-old and above. We put down eight different categories for them to join us. Participants need to submit their CV; they have to submit their previous work, their portfolio, and then we’re going to have to decide with judges.”

Samman added: “We really want to give as much as possible the opportunity for these Saudi filmmakers to join an international film and expose them to the filmmaking process, and that would give them a push so they can decide if they want to be filmmakers or not.”

The center has also opened registration for “Sea of Sands”’ shadowing program, linked to its strategic commitment to nurture and develop talent across the Kingdom’s creative industries.

Ithra Film Productions has helped dozens of filmmakers bring their dreams to life. One of the largest movie producers in the Kingdom, it has produced 20 films, 15 of which have received local, regional and international awards.

“We have produced more films in Saudi Arabia than any other entity, including 20 films to date for the past three years now, two feature films, and 18 short films. Most of these films are now on Netflix, Shahad and Saudi airlines. We want to continue making films, and mostly independent films, because like I said, we want to do the best-quality films that would cost a very good amount of money.”

Ithra is the Kingdom’s premier cultural and creative destination for talent development and cross-cultural experiences. It is an innovative and interactive public space for workshops, performances, events, exhibitions and experiences.


Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 

Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 
Updated 08 December 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 

Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s site-responsive contemporary art display Desert X AlUla is returning for its second edition in 2022. 

The event, which launched in 2020, will take place from Feb. 11 to March 30, in the Al Mutadil valley, across the Elephant Rock sculpture in AlUla. 

The list of the artists selected for the exhibition will be announced in January. (livingmuseum.com)

Desert X AlUla, which is part of AlUla Arts, will present works by Saudi and international artists. Under the theme of “Sarab,” the exhibition will explore the ideas of a mirage and the desert oasis. 

The list of the artists selected for the exhibition will be announced in January. 

In the 2020 edition, some of the artists that took part in the project were involved in the creation of Desert X installations in California, and they created artworks based on AlUla’s ancient civilizations and sand and rock formations.


Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet

Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet
Updated 08 December 2021

Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet

Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet

DUBAI: Helmed by Lebanese designer Eli Mizrahi, New York-based label Monot is proving once again that it is one of the hottest fashion brands on the scene at the moment, with a number of international celebrities hitting the Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet in sleek Monot looks. 

Models took to the red carpet — and an afterparty — in Jeddah this week wearing a variety of designs by Mizrahi, including French actress Tina Kunakey, part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik, Russian beauty Irina Shayk and South African model Candice Swanepoel.

Swanepoel brought her A-game to the red carpet on the festival’s opening night wearing an all-white look by Monot. The figure-hugging gown featured a dramatic asymmetrical train.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by irinashayk (@irinashayk)

Meanwhile, Saudi-Pakistani-Lithuanian-Australian star Shaik showed off a striking black number by Monot, complete with sheer draped material and glittering black sequins running across the length of the column gown. 

Shayk also opted for an all-black, figure-hugging look which was backless — adding to the sartorial drama of the dress. 

For her part, Kunakey donned a skin-tight black gown by the label — with a peek-a-boo cut out at the back — for a post-red carpet party.

Mizrahi is no stranger to star power and made headlines in 2020 when he enlisted the likes of British supermodel Kate Moss, Italian star Mariacarla Boscono, British model Jourdan Dunn, US celebrity Amber Valletta and China’s Xiao Wen to star in a Monot campaign shot in Saudi Arabia.

The models wore black and white flowy dresses as they walked and danced against the Kingdom’s cultural and heritage site of AlUla in the campaign. 

Mizrahi launched his brand in 2019 and debuted with “Collection Zero” in September in Paris that year. 

In March 2020, the entrepreneur-turned-designer presented his Fall/Winter 2020 pieces – from his first full collection for Monot – at Paris Fashion Week. The designer’s timeless creations were inspired by artist Lucio Fontana and architect Eero Saarinen.

The label has quickly gone on to garner a legion of celebrity fans, with US Olympian Simone Biles, model Kendall Jenner, Brazilian influencer Camila Coelho and US model Emily Ratajkowski donning Monot looks this year.