Sat in a café a small walk from his store on Mount Street in Mayfair, Rabih Kayrouz is taking a break from the building work at his new London store. With only two days to go, it is still a work in progress. But Kayrouz himself is a vision of serenity with an almond milk latte in hand.

“I’m comfortable enough not to be there,” he explains, “because everything is settled. Everything. I just need to sort out a few little details.” The store will be his first “proper” one outside of Paris and Lebanon. “Anyway,” he continues, “the store is not really about a rack of clothing, it is about a whole universe.”

The space itself is surprisingly large, consisting of four interconnected rooms. The plan is to have a mixture of couture and ready to wear alongside bridal pieces and temporary exhibitions by local artists. They have even constructed a minimalist Lebanese house in one of the rooms.  “It’s about the whole atmosphere and the whole experience. And we wanted to start allowing other people feel this experience, this world.”

Although Kayrouz might be a fashion designer, in his own words he “Hates fashion!” So, what does he like? “Clothes. And I like women. I like to make them a real wardrobe that they can wear for a long time.”

“I take my fabric and I create and I sculpt. I am inspired by women, how they are sitting, moving, it is inspiring. This is why I am a designer, a couturier, not a stylist.”

Following the civil war in Lebanon, Kayrouz came to Paris first to study at L’École de La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Pairsienne before working for both Chanel and Christian Dior Couture.  Upon his return to Lebanon he started crafting bespoke pieces, first for friends, later for Middle Eastern royalty and Beirut’s high society.

“This is really where I learnt,” he explains, “that it is not only about the dress itself. Sometimes when it is beautifully done and perfectly done, you feel good, so you look good. Even now when I put clothes on the mannequins in the studio for fittings I always ask it ‘How do you feel?’”

In 2008 he returned to Paris to set up Maison Rabih Kayrouz and also co-founded a non-profit organization called the Starch Foundation in Lebanon. At the time this was to help young designers promote their debut collections, but as a result of Lebanon’s growing economic crisis the foundation now mainly works with manufacturers and artisans.

“I think,” he says, “for each place that I am in I need to feel responsible and to live in the right way. You cannot be like a drop of oil in water. You have to be more connected to what is going on.”

Kayrouz’s designs have been described as ‘wearable couture’ or demi couture’. But this is because he doesn’t “do all the different collections. I do just one collection, presented in Act One and Act Two, like a play, with some couture pieces, and some ready to wear pieces.”

And anyway, he says, they are really not that dissimilar: “It is the same process. Let’s say this shirt would be done in four steps. I am still doing it in four steps. But instead of you trying the first three steps, there is somebody trying it for you. And then you come to the store and then there it is. And if I design something and when I start making it realise that it is maybe a bit too complicated, too precious, as well in terms of time, it becomes couture.”

“Today you can look at so many labels and you can feel the multi-brand manager saying, ‘You should do that many shirts, that many skirts, those pants and then add those shoes. We should do this because that is what is trending.’ And then suddenly it is nothing! You don’t know who did what. I hate this uniformity and I do not even consider myself an avant-garde!”

“But what is nice now that I have this store, is that I can experiment differently.”

Maison Rabih Kayrouz opened last Friday and is located at 24 Mount Street, Mayfair W1K 3AH.

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