Gallery Girl meets Rahel Guiragossian

Imagine wearing a dress dripping in sequins. As you move thousands of lights shimmer from every inch of fabric, making the wearer appear like a diamond. The garment commands attention, and not just because of its iridescence. Printed on top of the sequins is a literal artwork by German, Lebanese-Armenian painter Emmanuel Guiragossian, and the dress is made even more luxurious in that not a single piece of the painting was cut. Fashion designer Rahel Guiragossian employs a zero waste concept to her work, draping the fabric around the body to eradicate the need to alter any part of the textile. Heavily influenced by the artists in her family, Rahel’s collections pay homage to her family’s artistic legacy, she met with Gallery Girl to talk art, fashion and sustainability.

Fashion and art have long been intertwined. Picasso designed costumes for Les Ballets Russes, Yves Saint Laurent used Piet Mondrian’s paintings to craft dresses and Karl Lagerfeld commissioned Zaha Hadid to build the set in which his 2008 fashion show for Chanel took place in New York. Artists and fashion designers have always been friends, yet for Rahel Guiragossian, her relationship with artists as a designer is a little more intimate. Her grandfather Paul Guiragossian is probably Lebanon’s most famous modern artist. His figurative works comprised of elongated colours and thick waves of colour are instantly recognised across the Middle East, and his legacy has had a big impact on the Guiragossian family. Rahel’s father Emmanuel, and both her brothers Marc and Paul are all artists. “From an early age I was taught to look at art from all the different angles, paintings, music, dance, theatre…”, she says, “I grew up watching my father Emmanuel paint and he would teach me along the way. I had an interest at an early age to go into fashion by combining it with art.” As a result, her designs comprise wearable versions of artworks by her grandfather, father and brothers, taken off of the canvas, and transformed into a method of clothing the female body.

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Image courtesy Rahel Guiragossian

Born in Beirut in 1991, Rahel relocated to Germany with her family at the age of 14, and then studied at the Instituto Marangoni in London. “I wanted to move to a city that was unconventional in terms of fashion and art”, explains Rahel, “Then I moved to Berlin to do my master’s degree. There is something about these cities that forces you to think outside the box.” At Esmod Berlin Rahel focused on learning about sustainability. “Growing up in Europe, I was confronted by sustainable approaches in our day to day lives”, she explains, “I decided to widen my approach in fashion and do my master’s degree in Sustainability in Fashion.” It is at Esmod – where she was awarded the Gucci prize – that she found a solution for sustainable luxury, crafting “sequins” entirely out of polyester. To do this she partnered with Jakob Schlaepfer, a luxury textile manufacturer based in Switzerland. Her aim is to eliminate all hazardous chemicals within the production process, and Rahel is also collaborating with the chemical company BASF to develop biodegradable plastic.

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Rahel’s focus on sustainability also lends itself to the way she incorporates artworks into her clothes. The zero waste method ensures that the paintings are kept in tact. “By using the combination of art, fashion and sustainability, it creates a timeless design that will never go out of style, just like a painting”, she says, “My focus is to create slow fashion and go against the concept of fast fashion.” She uses the highest quality producers in Italy and Switzerland, that it would be a great shame to cut any fabric needlessly.

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Image courtesy Rahel Guiragossian

About her decision to work with her ancestors’ artworks, Rahel explains that she always wanted to be a part of their creations. “I would look at a painting that inspired me and wonder how can I be part of this work?”, she says, “How could I express what I’m feeling? That’s where the idea of using art and fashion started building up within me at a young age.” By placing her relatives’ oeuvres on her garments, she pays the greatest homage to their work. Rahel is also lucky now that her brothers are just as talented as their father and grandfather, and that she now has even more sources of inspiration for her collections. And, what about working with other artists? “I would love to work with others in the near future”, she says, “Right now I’m focusing on developing a specific style. As a creative myself, there is nothing more enhancing than working with different talents. In my opinion, collaboration is the key to the future.”

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Having lived and worked between Europe and the Middle East, Rahel has been exposed to different attitudes to both art and fashion. “European women prioritise comfortable and functional clothes, whereas Middle Eastern women can easily sacrifice functionality for aesthetics. Middle Eastern women love enhancing their femininity through their appearances”, she says, adding, “I’m fascinated by both approaches and try to use this combination by creating clothes that are comfortable and high quality, using inventions and combining it all with aesthetics.” This East-West influence mirrors itself in Rahel’s career where she has worked with Zuhair Murad in Beirut specialising in haute couture, ready to wear, bridal and accessories, while also participating in Berlin Fashion Week. Rahel has also exhibited her collection at Not Just a Label at Fiera di Vicenza and was invited as a speaker on fashion and sustainability. In 2016, she moved to Basel, Switzerland and worked as one of the designers at Tally Weijl, a fast fashion company, in order to expand her experience in the fashion industry, and has thus insights into luxury, sustainable and fast fashion. With all these experiences, Rahel founded her brand Rahel Guiragossian in Switzerland in 2018.

Most recently, Rahel exhibited her new collection at Beirut Art Fair, besides the paintings of her father, grandfathers and brothers, with the family constantly supporting one another. And, what’s next? “For the future I hope to grow my business and develop it to different stages”, says Rahel, “I would like to continue showing new ways to look at art, fashion and sustainability”.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy recently curated Perpetual Movement as part of Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival 2018 in London, which was featured in Vogue Arabia and The Art Newspaper.

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