Rani Zakhem is a fashion innovator. His philosophy of fashion is a glamorous realistic concept. For that reason, he has become a darling in the fashion elite. His luxurious trademark has taken its way onto everyone from Hilary Duff to Sandra Bullock. Zakhem is known as the creative driving force behind timeless elegant pieces influenced by his Lebanese and Kenyan background.
Like many significant talents in the field, Zakhem’s love for fashion began at a young age. During his adolescent years, the visionary talent was a faithful Vogue and Vanity Fair reader. He knew his purpose in life was to be a designer. Zakhem dedicated himself towards his goal after graduating from the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York City. Since then, his brand has expanded into several lines including ready to wear, couture, and bridal. In this candid interview, Rani Zakhem tells Wassila Ayoub about the timeless beauty of his latest collection and what sets him apart from other designers in the realm.
As a Lebanese raised in Kenya, how did the aesthetics of your surroundings inspire you?
Being born in Lebanon and raised in Kenya, I did not have the luxury of walking into a bookstore and buying fashion magazines. I would always flip through my mother’s Vogue and Vanity Fair that my dad would bring back with him from his business travels and feel so ecstatic – a cornerstone that urged me to venture into the world of Fashion.
Ever since I was a child I would always re-arrange and re-module the furniture around my parent’s house, scrutinize my mother’s outfits and always offer my opinion about what she is wearing! This I believe is how I realized my talents.
It has been specifically said that your specialty is the ultimate dress that highlights a woman’s silhouette. How accurate is this?
Very accurate. I always make sure to inform my clients that the dress should reflect a woman’s personality and attitude. Confidence is key!
Giuliana Rancic wearing Atelier Rani Zakhem at The 2017 Golden Globe Awards
Your designs have graced the bodies of many A-list stars. How important do you think celebrity support has been in building your brand?
Celebrity placements have always proved to be successful to my business. It generates brand awareness and ignites interest amongst clients towards the brand which always translates into sales.
Lately, you’ve been making headlines for dressing celebrities on the red carpet. What do you feel you bring and/or present to this A-list clientele that perhaps other designers don’t?
I take pride in the overall exquisite fit that the brand offers and of course, my signature corset, plunging necklines and thigh-high slits. The brand offers a new print every season that is produced in-house which also offers the celebrity a personal touch of the designer’s ‘home’.
Can you guide me through the process of designing one of your dresses?
It all starts at Première Vision, the fashion industry’s most important fabric trade show. There, you’ll find a wide range of fabrics which kicks-off the very first stage of the creative process – textile research. Although it differs from one designer to the other, but I believe it is very important to walk into PV with a concept, or you can get very distracted in there.
Moving forward, and in compliance with the collection research done in-house, we build a mood board of imagery that captures the feeling of the collection and what myself and the design team is going after - Inspiration trips are often a starting point for many collections and seasons, especially for Ready to wear. The design team and I also spend days and days scanning trend forecasting databases for predictions on what colours, silhouettes and fabrications will be popular in the coming seasons.
Once the concept is finally developed we start building the pieces by sketching and also draping fabrics on a dress form or live model. Usually, a heavily draped garment must be worked out on a form, while a tailored piece might work better if it is first done as a flat pattern. At this point, we would typically have a pattern cut and that is when we go through the process of fitting on a muslin, it is truly all about refining, refining, refining! You might design 60 silhouettes and then refine until you get down to the strongest pieces to create the entire collection. Ultimately, the end result of a collection is about creating desire whether it’s a commercial or conceptual piece; it’s about the connection between the product and consumer.
What’s your latest collection influenced by?
The Couture SS17 celebrates Dalida and The Disco Years; Roulette, paillettes, vedettes, the luxurious aura of the 70s and 80s pivots around this trilogy
Looking back at your collections, one can’t help but notice the timeless beauty of each creation. How do you achieve this element of timeless style and avoid having your designs dated or trendy?
Eternal beauty is a moto I cherish and live by; it is the first thought that crosses my mind when designing a collection. A dress, gown, silhouette (you name it!) must always carry a timeless and elegant feel with it, otherwise, you will be compromising on the most crucial aspect of a woman – femininity.
If you were to go back to any era and pursue the same profession, what era would you choose and why?
1920s – for all the bling, tassels and fun.
What would you consider to have been the most challenging aspect of your life’s work so far?
Maintaining a consistent brand image and persona; a fundamental essence to the success of any business.
Do you have anything you want to say to the fashion forward women who comprise our readership?
Dress to impress your own self and cherish what makes you feel happy.