Harper's Bazaar Arabia: What was the main reason behind this creative collaboration?
Rula Galayini: Together with two of Beirut’s budding creatives - fashion designer Hussein Bazzaza, and photographer Rudolf Azzi - we took to our favourite streets to tell the story of ‘our Beirut’ in all of its creative wealth, retracing many of our childhood memories along the way.
HBA: Who are your favourite Lebanese designers, and why?
RG: Hussein Bazaza, whose clothes I’m wearing for this shoot. I can truly relate to his fresh approach to edgy femininity and intricate layering. Furthermore, I feel like our brands marry so well together which is testament that we are on the same creative wavelength. Naturally, I also have an immense amount of respect for Elie Saab who has literally put Lebanon on the global fashion map. And last but not least, Rabih Kayrouz for his fabulous pleating techniques, use of traditional fabrics and understated refinement.
HBA: Do you feel like Lebanese designers are supported in the region? And internationally? What more do you think could be done to help further their pursuits?
RG: Until about four years ago, we saw very little support given to Lebanese designers, or Middle Eastern designers as a whole for that matter. However I see two new significant signs in Dubai that the region's creative talent is of growing interest. And of course, Dubai is the region’s only true gateway to the rest of the world. So as Dubai moves in that direction, we all get to reap the benefits.
Firstly, the creation and continued growth of fashion platform Fashion Forward that has proved instrumental in giving local brands both regional and international visibility, as well as bridging commercial gaps. Furthermore, Fashion Forward organised their first showroom in Paris last fashion week, which was truly a milestone in shedding global light on Middle Eastern talent.
The second substantial advancement is the growing retail support of the likes of the Chalhoub Group who are allocating significant buying budgets to local brands, giving them prime retail space and investing great efforts in solidifying long term partnerships with them.
HBA: Why was it important for you to have a brand that was “Made in the Middle East”?
RG: I not only want to overturn all the negative misconceptions about our region, but I also want to be able to expose it in a more positive light, using the tools I know best, which happens to be design. I also feel an obligation towards contributing to my economy by engaging local craftsmen and manufacturers. Rula Galayini makes a modest contribution today but will hopefully grow to make a substantial difference in the wellbeing of Lebanon’s creative industry.
HBA: How would you describe your signature aesthetic?
RG: I design ‘dynamic accessories for a real life edge.’ Dynamic because they are adaptive, empowering and versatile for the multifaceted contemporary woman of today. And the ‘real life edge’ because they are made for women of the real world, who not only question the status quo but are constantly on a quest for positive change.
HBA: What are the benefits?
RG: In order to create a brand, one must really have a distinctive edge. A fundamental difference between just creating bags and creating a handbag brand, is defining a clear distinctive edge that can be ownable. In the early years of Rula Galayini (formerly known as Poupée Couture) there was a lot of creative experimentation before defining our brand promise and carving out our signature aesthetics. That process took time and immense patience, but now that it’s well defined it resonates and leaves a strong impression.
HBA: Where do you source your materials from?
RG: The hardware and woodwork used in my designs are all fully sourced and crafted in Lebanon. The leathers however, come from anywhere from Lebanon to Italy to Bali.
HBA: What has been your biggest international achievement so far?
RG: Having one of my designs featured on British Vogue's top 100 Best Bags List a few years ago. The featured design came in at number 14, right between Yves Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney. It was also the only non-fashion powerhouse on that list.
HBA: What do you have on your to-achieve list?
RG: Now that’s an ever-growing list! For every point that gets checked off there are a dozen more that continuously get added on. For the immediate future, I’m focused on solidifying a network of retailers in all the major cities of the Middle East. In parallel, I’m working on establishing a greater international presence. In the long term, Id like my designs to be in the closets of as many standout women in this world as possible!
HBA: What is your favourite restaurant in Beirut?
RG: Onno. It’s a tiny Armenian restaurant with about three tables that serves delicious home-made food, and simultaneously feeds the belly and soul.
HBA: What is your favourite store in Beirut?
RG: Piaff boutique, which is located in Beirut’s Clemenceau neighbourhood. Piaff houses an eclectic selection of emerging apparel and accessory designers from around the world.
HBA: What is your favourite hidden gem in Beirut?
RG: The Roman baths in downtown Beirut sandwiched between today’s governmental buildings. Roman Berytus Baths is an ancient Roman bath site inside the Roman city of Berytus.
HBA: What is your favourite cultural location in Beirut?
RG: The American University of Beirut (AUB), which incidentally is where I received my degree in graphic design, and met my husband. But that only makes me love it more than I already had. AUB, founded in 1866 is by far the largest patch of green in Beirut, (250,000 m2 to be exact) located on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, making it a rare geographic location in Beirut. AUB alumni have had a broad and significant impact on the region and the world for many years. That they may have life and have it more abundantly’ was our Alma Matar that continues to resonate with me to this very day.
HBA: What does Beirut mean to you?
RG: Beirut is such a crazy little city, so vibrant with its people, its history, its differences, its complications and its relentless joie de vivre. Beirut is home, but a kind of home where as much as I think I know it, I discover there are so many more things I don’t know about it. Beirut is a sensory overload, in every way possible, and an infinite source of inspiration for both myself and my brand.
All images by Rudolf Azzi. Rula wears Hussein Bazaza in the images with her own bags.