Hands Up: Rabih Kayrouz

January 24, 2022
Courtesy: Laurence Benaïm

The Coiled Gesture

These dresses that swirl in the light are not ruffles, not frills, but suspended arches – lines rounded by the hand. This season, for once, Rabih Kayrouz has chosen to present his collection on the Parisian Right Bank. Here he stands in a Haussmannian flat, at 244 rue de Rivoli, where under the classical mouldings and panelling, a hundred or so models (ready-to-wear and haute couture) spread out as if the walls had vanished. 

For Rabih Kayrouz, the hand is a heartfelt affair: “I work simultaneously on drawing and form; I draw gestures that reveal the look, the silhouette; and at the same time, I work on the models with fabric.” He adds: “Movement is key; I like to envelop a body, and I still draw. It’s a combination of the two.  Once the shape is defined, I choose the fabric alongside it. Everything complementary. Then we move on to the execution. I work with extraordinary seamstresses, some of whom are more versed in structured pieces, while others prefer things that are more ethereal,” Rabih Kayrouz explains. “I don’t distinguish between ready-to-wear and haute couture; the exceptional side comes from the fabrics,” he says, showing a jacket that is entirely covered in rhinestones. “The same jacket exists without the embroidery; that’s the difference between the essential and the exceptional. He singles out two dresses: one is made of muslin and lurex with hand-cut threads that cannot be industrialised. “What I like most is playing with construction. In this collection, miles of cords are laid entirely between two pieces of tulle; all the fabric has been shaped by the ateliers, which represents nearly two hundred hours of work.” 

Kayrouz displays another dress, the same one, but completely different. “Here, the light effect gives an illusion of shading, whereas the cords are white and wrapped in black tulle,” he notes. The process is first and foremost sensual. “I choose my fabrics by touching them, I form my models on the mannequins. The hand is essential. It’s not a job that can be done with one’ s mind. The hand must meet our imagination. I like fabrics that feel alive. The wordless conversation begins. “I take the fabric and wave it to see how it reacts; the way it vibrates, I must hear it. I like fabrics that fall without being heavy. There are fabrics that have a stiff fall, like taffeta. Here, this alpaca has some roundness, like this tiny houndstooth that turns on its own.”

He becomes even more expansive. “Any gesture is an act of love. We cook so that the people we love can eat. I make clothes for the woman I love, so that she can wear my clothes. It is an offering, a form of sharing. I don’t make clothes to look at women. I often forget that [these designs] are mine. Hence my desire not to dictate anything,” say Kayrouz. “To reassure ourselves, we pass our hands over each other’s shoulders. It’s nice that the hand can go everywhere, without any obstacle.  I don’t like ornaments. When adding a feather, it’s to create air rather than adorn. When I inspect a finished garment, it must be impeccable in its fit.  There are dresses that don’t show up beautifully on a hanger, that are a rolled-up gesture. I look at them as a beautiful fabric. And there are clothes that need to be tried on to come alive again. They must be held in the hand. And then they live on as feelings.”

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