Lara Khoury is leading her eponymous label to broad horizons. Her three signature fashion lines have traveled from America to the Middle East, all the way through East Asia.
Lara’s story is one of transforming constraints into opportunities. She grew up with a penchant for mathematics, architecture and fashion. Her aunt who owned a maternity clothing boutique inspired her to explore her fashion interest.
After two years of classes at ESMOD in Beirut, she completed her studies in Paris. In summer 2006, she came home for vacation, and had to remain in Beirut due to the war and an expiring visa to France. Lara joined the house of Elie Saab working in couture and ready-to-wear, which gave her access to the industry’s behind the scenes. In 2008, she was ready to launch her own label.
Amidst a chaotic political environment, her conceptual show in an old renovated house in Batroun created buzz and caught the eye of Rabih Kayrouz. He contacted her for a project intended to shed light on emerging Lebanese designers. First a fashion show in Faraya Mzaar brought together the selected designers, then the Starch Foundation came about offering a unique opportunity for talented young creators to showcase their work to clients and the press.
A few months later, the designer decided to open her own atelier and showroom. She initially envisioned it in an abandoned factory, but having no means to rent such a large space, she transformed her own studio apartment in Gemmayzé. Wooden doors found in the streets of Beirut were converted into raw looking parquet. The furniture and setting is movable; the open space encompassing the atelier and office during workdays can be clustered and freed up for appointments and events.
In 2013, when Marseille was the European capital of culture, Lara was invited to represent her country at the Maison Mediterranéenne des Métiers de la Mode. The exposure to leading fashion houses and top-notch speakers complemented her creative background with a solid business foundation enabling her to take her brand to international markets. She now sells her collections in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates as well as in the United States, Japan and Ecuador, and more recently in Iran.
Lara Khoury started with women ready-to-wear and launched SOW her couture signature in February 2015 then her men collection last October. The designer defines her style as experimental and minimalist. She galvanizes silhouettes through volumes; oversized tutus contrast with tailored tops and intricate pleats structure flowing dresses. Her fabrics are soft and delicate; muslin, cotton, tulle, satin or organza and she leaves trims with an unfinished feel embracing a natural look.
The men collection echoes women’s ; independent, daring, and comfortable ; a collar with no reverse, modernized proportions for jackets, shirts and pants and fine fabrics of linen and wool. For her SOW couture collection she presents four bridal dresses along tailored men suits. Lara stays true to her effortless look; her customized gowns are an airy and graceful alternative for brides to dance the night away on their big day.
Kamsyn sat with Lara for a fresh & quick talk on her Entrepreneurial debut: insights on the challenges faced and eventual initiatives that could boost fashion entrepreneurs in Lebanon.
Were you encouraged to pursue an entrepreneurial path or was a more traditional role expected of you?
When I grew up, wanting to be a fashion designer was not well regarded by society, but my parents encouraged me to embrace what I liked. I could not have been fulfilled with an office job, I had the desire to work independently and express my own point of view. Even though sometimes at the beginning there was some criticism, envisioning my goal kept driving me.
What advice would you give to women looking to launch their own entrepreneurial venture?
It is a difficult choice to be an entrepreneur. Follow your instinct and passion, and if you love what you do, there will be ups and downs but do not get discouraged. I personally learned while doing and acquired a maturity that I did not have at the beginning, now I am more careful with my choices.
What initiative can you think of to support women entrepreneurs in fashion in Lebanon ?
Fashion is a challenging field in Lebanon. We lack a federation that could help structure the sourcing of fabrics, organize an official fashion week or provide financial and managerial support to emerging talents. The opportunities here are lead by private initiatives, and family support was key for me.
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Kamsyn, July 2016
Article originally published in Kamsyn – July 24, 2016