Nélida Nassar 02.17.2016
Haute couture simply refuses to lie down and die. Fashion pundits have been predicting its demise for decades, but come the next round of collections, there are always new names willing to try their hand at the arcane art of made-to-measure clothing.
Lebanon’s Azzi & Osta unveiled their own house’s first couture collection six years ago, after apprenticing for several years at fashion houses and having worked for Elie Saab, the internationally known veteran of the Lebanese fashion industry. The pair, who specializes in evening gowns, rarely use prints, preferring the simplicity of a solid-color dress. They appear to employ a conceptual and narrative approach to fashion design, with sculptural forms and a restrained use of embellishments or embroidered sequins and crystals. When Art and Culture Today had the pleasure of meeting the two partners, they delighted us with their creativity and candor.
Nelida Nassar: What is your first memory of design?
George Azzi: One of my first memories is watching the Elie Saab fashion show on TV at my grandparents’ home when I was around 8 years old. I still remember my aunts’ and my mother’s enthusiasm as they watched it.
Assad Osta: Seeing my mother making her own clothes, watching her style them, then wear them with her unique flair.
NN: Does Lebanon, your homeland, play a role in your work as designers? Is it a source of inspiration, and if so, how?
GA & AO: Lebanon plays a huge role in our work and designs, especially the Lebanon of Khalil Gebran’s writings, poetry and tales, as does Fairuz when she sings the Rahbanis’ music and lyrics.
NN: Today you work as design partners for Azzi & Osta, how did you get there?
GA & AO: We both knew from an early age that we would be designers. After graduating from ESMOD (École supérieure des arts et techniques de la mode), we completed our internships at different fashion houses, where we learned about the workings of the fashion business, because in college we were only introduced to the theory of the trade. Following our apprenticeship at the atelier of the influential visionary Elie Saab, we decided to join forces and start our partnership as Azzi & Osta.
NN: What is the biggest difference between working for another fashion design house and working for your own?
GA & AO: Working under the patronage of Mr. Saab, we had to adapt our thoughts and ideas to conform to his vision. Once on our own, our fashion education and proficiency resurfaced. Our own style and aesthetics began to take shape and we eventually forged our unique identity.
NN: What were the unforeseen difficulties when you first started?
GA & AO: We rarely faced any technical difficulties, but the political and economic conditions were quite challenging. Lebanon has always been a risky market in which to start a business; the situation is always volatile and unpredictable.
NN: How did Azzi & Osta stand out among the many local and international fashion startups?
GA & AO: The Azzi & Osta brand is inspired by chic vintage. It is very creative and sculptural, yet at the same time sharp and minimalistic. We believe that the aspects that differentiate us from other brands in the field are an emphasis on volume, strong, unusual color contrasts, and the use of traditional textured fabrics re-conceived in a contemporary way so as to suit the taste and needs of the modern woman.
NN: What is the source of your personal motivation?
GA & AO: Our motivation comes from creating innovative pieces and shapes out of ethereal ideas, watching them take form, and then seeing them adorn our delighted customers.
NN: In your opinion, how much “risk-taking” is involved in being an entrepreneur?
GA & AO: Being patient and persistent in a difficult economic and political environment, all the while maintaining the stability needed for a fashion business, is really demanding. Moreover, one of the biggest challenges is staying competitive and differentiating oneself in a saturated local market that oscillates between local designers and internationally well-known and established Lebanese fashion giants.
NN: At what moment in your young careers did you feel that you finally “made it”?
GA & AO: One of the moments that gave us much joy, and pride, was watching Ms. Tyra Banks wear Azzi & Osta on the Ellen Degeneres show, just a few months after the brand’s launch.
NN: What is your creative process? Specifically, how do you collaborate on designs with your co-founder and partner?
GA & AO: The creative process is more an art of living and a lifestyle, not only a matter of technique. We come up with new ideas on a daily basis. We brainstorm, discuss, develop and then give a form to these concepts. We always consider and respect each other’s opinions and observations and modify pieces accordingly until we reach a point of complete immersion where we can’t even recall whose concept it was originally.
NN: What is your day-to-day routine like?
GA & AO: Routine is not something that we’re used to at the atelier. Our days are always filled with surprises, bigger ventures, and emerging dilemmas. Our fulfillment and joy come from meeting our clients, exchanging thoughts with them, and handling the day to day business requirements.
NN: What are your goals for the near future?
GA & AO: Growing the brand to include a line of prêt-à-porter is definitely one of our priorities. Another goal is to showcase our collection in Europe and the Arab countries, which will allow us to meet with our customers and work with them.
NN: What are your favorite apps or devices for promoting your designs?
GA & AO: So far, our favorite social media applications are Instagram and Pinterest.
NN: What five things come to mind at the inception of a project?
GA & AO:
– Is it new to the market and creative? (Innovation)
– Does it convey who we are? (Preserve our brand identity)
– Will it be applicable in real life? (Wearability)
– Is it feasible on all levels? (Financial, technical and political considerations)
– Are we paying sufficient attention to the selection of fabrics, finishes, and embroidery, and so forth? (Quality)
NN: What does design mean to you?
GO & AA: Design is a way of life, a talent … a question of savoir faire et vivre.