Nathalie Trad by Charney Magri
Smart and dynamic, Trad was looking for something challenging in her life and found it in giving accessories, especially handbags, a new dimension. “Designing accessories was the answer, especially in terms of how I take classic shapes that are ubiquitous in our natural environment and radically transform them, thus deconstructing and redefining the boundaries of fashion aesthetics,” the Dubai-based Lebanese designer says.
“I didn’t want to just create accessories. I wanted to create edgy statement sculptures that would allow a woman wearing them to stand out and make her own statement in grand style.” In effect, she wanted to push existing boundaries and re-create what was already known. “I let my imagination take an unrestricted journey of its own to tackle the puzzle and it led me to handbags,” Trad, who describes herself as a “clutch architect and alchemist,” adds.
Learning from Top Fashion Capitals
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 Yves Saint Laurent, under the helm of Stefano Pilati. “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 ho w the business really works,” she says. By 2008, she had received a BBA in Design and Management from New York’s Parsons The New School for Design.
This time around she decided to work at the then 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, designing accessories, by working closely with the accessories designer. “New York and Paris are fashion capitals 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,” Trad says.
As an up-and-coming talent, she could reflect on, absorb and take stock of what she saw, including street trends, and redirect this new flow of energy into her 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 my time there did more than just shape my collection and my vision, it gave me a strong foundation,” she says.
Creating a Unique Signature
Using her unique signature style, which is punctuated with chiselled contours and bold, geometrical structures, Trad’s main aim is to create one-of-a-kind artisanal pieces that invite curiosity. Using shell as a material base gives her work a gem-like quality, and then she fuses contrasting material combinations in the right proportion to make it even more 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,” Trad says. In fact, the brunette who launched her eponymous line in 2013 likes to think of her creations as architectural works on a small scale and looks to architecture for inspiration. Beyond that, she studies architectural principles and ideologies to create context and drive her process. Famous names from the world of architecture like Louis Kahn, Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid have impacted her design thinking and some of her most endearing pieces.
However, Trad wants to make it clear there isn’t any direct relationship between a specific architectural design and her clutches. That being said, her “Polygonia” and “Opiona” clutches embody a concept frequently applied by Zaha Hadid. “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 passion.
Using the best natural materials such as wood, mother of pearl and iridescent Paua Blue, the designer, who sources shells from the Far East, creates a marriage of seemingly incompatible materials that end up harmonising beautifully. “The richness of these materials perfectly mirrors my inspiration and work flawlessly in line with the vision I have for my clutches,” Trad, who was born in Lebanon but grew up in Dubai, says. Colours also underline the charm of her clutches and she attempts to infuse them without the result 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 colour through shell and metal variations,” she says. “I also use a small amount of coloured resin in a hue that will complement the other clutches in the collection.”
A Cultural Curtsy
Inspired by her surroundings in her day-to-day life and travels, Trad pushes herself to constantly question and reinterpret what she sees, and her muse is always the modern, independent, avant-garde woman of today, wherever she might be from. “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 trends of the season and doesn’t blindly follow, she is followed,” Trad says. Plus, of course her own personality seeps into every aspect of her designs. “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 am. This is where my passion for design was born.”