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Rani Zakhem – the Art of a Gown


Candice Martini

BEIRUT, Lebanon — I, like many other women, have found myself wandering amongst the sublime ball gowns on display in Harrods, Selfridges and others. Surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of gowns, I find my back straightening as I begin to imagine wearing one of those dresses. My dream continues into a Viennese ball room, but I am abruptly brought back to reality by a: “Would you like to try it on?”. My heart is screaming yes, but my head goes: no, no, no!

While we all can image the gown in use, we never really ask ourselves what lies behind the creations of such wonderful pieces. To explore this question we look behind the scenes at the latest Couture Autumn/Winter 2013-14 collection of Lebanese Designer, Rani Zakhem.

Rani Zakhem
Rani Zakhem – Dress Ruffle Daze

Rani Zakhem: the Inspiration

All gown collections have a starting point. For Rani Zakhem, an architect who pursued a degree in fashion design at Parsons the New School for Design in New York, the inspiration for his latest collection draws from a time where femininity and Hollywood glamour were idolised, the great 1930s – his muse: Judy Garland.

“I was inspired by the Van Cleef & Arpels’ Art de la Haute Joaillerie exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. While the concept started to shape and manifest into something else, I kept in mind the original starting point.”

Rani Zakhem: the Hardware

Rani’s Couture collection of nine opulent gowns has two overriding themes. An architectural effect achieved through net-shaped silver embroidery, geometric details and difficult ensembles as well as a notion of stardust represented by multi-coloured stones and a wide array of inserts.

“The most difficult dress to make of this collection is the ‘Peplum and Glitz’, a one sleeved mint green gown featuring a mix of lace, embroidery, Chiffon, Organza and nude Tulle to make the transparency more visible.”

By using Diaphanous fabrics, Tulle, Chiffon, Taffeta, Organza and Mikado coming from France, Italy and Switzerland combined with a meticulous embroidery featuring Pavé sequins, silver to pink sheen beads, glittering stones and Siamese sapphire blue intricate beadings, these gowns can take from one to three months in the making, depending on its complexity. A wedding gown could take even longer!

Rani Zakhem
Rani Zakhem – Dress Diamond Rush
Rani Zakhem
Rani Zakhem – Dress Gem Affair
Rani Zakhem
Rani Zakhem – Dress Rosebud Blossom

The Challenges

Rani Zakhem, who has dressed many celebrities like Carrie Ann Inaba for the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, leads a team of fifty people including ten embroiders who work together on the patterns, the sewing right up to the finishing of a gown.

“We discuss the functionality of the dress and envision who could or should wear these gowns as our goal is to dress all type of women – tall, short, voluptuous, etc. Women choose my designs as they find that the silhouettes are flattering: the dress keeps its shape and silhouette on any female figure.”

There are three major challenges that you will face in the making of a gown as Rani explains:

  • Fabrics limit your interpretation in terms of weight. Most of the times, it does not really translate the message you want to convey.
  • Time is never enough. The handwork takes most of your time and the finishing touch!
  • The acceptance of the collection, thus the general consensus and the blessing to your designs.

Rani explains that it is very difficult to sell a gown as a lot of money is involved in this investment. As he beautifully states, “Buying a gown is like a love story. It does not come easily and you have to fall in love with it”. More importantly, “Women should always feel comfortable with what they dress otherwise it is difficult for them to shine and be themselves”.

“Buying a gown is like a love story. It does not come easily and you have to fall in love with it”

Rani Zakhem
Rani Zakhem Behind The Scene – Dress La Gilda
Rani Zakhem
Rani Zakhem Behind The Scene – Dress La Gilda
Rani Zakhem
Rani Zakhem – Dress La Gilda

Next Steps

This ambitious Lebanese talent is still exploring new markets such as the American and the European ones, so one of his priorities for next year is to focus on these markets and in line with this project, he has recently presented this collection during the Paris Fashion Week. Rani is currently working on a floral themed bridal collection as part of his Spring/Summer 2014 collection. For this project, Rani sticks to tradition embracing whites and ivory tones. A must-see collection for all of you brides to be!

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