the Louis Vuitton Foundation Prize

Syrian designer Nabil El-Nayal on his second try at the Louis Vuitton Foundation Prize

更新日 2017年06月13日

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Friday will be a tense day for London-based Syrian designer Nabil El-Nayal and the seven other young finalists of this year’s Louis Vuitton Foundation (LVMH) Prize.

El-Nayal will have just 10 minutes to present his ­autumn/winter collection at the Foundation LVMH in Paris to a jury of some of the most illustrious names in fashion including Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Phoebe Philo and other artistic and creative directors of LVMH brands, chaired by Delphine Arnault, executive vice president of Louis Vuitton.

"The main thing is to thoroughly enjoy the process," says El-Nayal, who doesn’t sound in the least intimidated by the prospect. "To have the opportunity to meet a panel like that is so rare, and to be able to show how far we have come is a moment to be proud of."

El-Nayal, unlike some of the other candidates, knows what to expect because he was shortlisted for the prize in 2015, just missing out in the final.

"They thought that creatively the ideas were relevant and right for the market, but there was no business – and they were right," he says.

This time he returns with a two-year old business, in partnership with his friend Jennifer Davies, and ­stockists that include Harvey Nichols in Kuwait and Doha, and ­Dover Street Market in Tokyo.

What stood out for the industry experts when he was one of 21 shortlisted in 2015 and this year, and in ­particular for Karl Lagerfeld, was El-Nayal’s concept of blending 16th-century Elizabethan silhouettes with modern ­technology – notably sonic bonding, which is used in sportswear and 3-D printing.

"I am interested in techniques that are used for ­performance but applying them for aesthetic reasons," says El-Nayal.

The 31-year-old designer admits to an obsession with history, particularly the Elizabethan period, so ­voluminous shirts, dresses and coats trimmed with giant pleated ruffs and furbelows are integral to his ideas.

However, he uses sonic bonding to seam garments ­rather than a conventional sewing machine.

This fascinated Karl Lagerfeld, who in 2015 was so ­absorbed by a particular white shirt that used sonic ­welding to bond layers of white fabric together for the stiff pleated ruffs that he ordered one for his right-hand ­woman, Amanda Harlech.

"He was my first serious client and I thought if it is good enough for Karl Lagerfeld then it will sell," says El-Nayal.

The "Karl shirt" as it is now affectionately dubbed, has sold well. The icing on the cake was when a photograph by ­Lagerfeld of Jerry Hall wearing the shirt appeared in ­newspapers around the world last year at the time of her wedding to Rupert Murdoch.

In 2010, El-Nayal was the first to use 3-D printing ­techniques in a Royal College of Art MA show, and was so intrigued by the technique and applying it to his fashion that he is doing a PhD on it, alongside running his ­namesake fashion label.

He came across the 3-D printing department while he was at the RCA and scanned the frame of a valuable Elizabethan mirror to produce 3-D replicas, pieces of which were used for the embellishment and scaffolding of that MA collection.

His current focus is on historic silhouettes in billowing fabrics with extravagant ruffs, cuffs and sculptural frills using cotton organdie, tulle and sportswear mesh. The processes are complex, he had to train seamstresses in Elizabethan dressmaking techniques – craftsmanship that is expensive – the "Karl shirt" costing £800 (Dh3,796), while a dress might be £4,000.

"A customer might wear a shirt informed by technical ideas and Elizabethan ­research and put it with jeans – I think it works well in that sense and I enjoy seeing that," says El-­Nayal.

His aesthetic seems a world apart from his ­upbringing in Aleppo, ­except maybe the voluminous silhouettes.

"I think the way Syrian people wear their clothes is very dramatic without them even realising it," he says. "Volume is key, but also the way they clash colours and prints together and silhouettes."

Culture clash has informed his style. His ­parents met when his Syrian father was studying for a chemistry PhD in Sheffield, England, but had to return to Aleppo to run the family textile shop.

"My mother arrived in Syria pregnant with me, with bleach blonde hair and skinny jeans," says El-Nayal. "She was faced with not only the heat but the culture clash, however, she is the kind of person who likes to embrace what’s around her.

"She would wear fabrics from the ­textile shop and my Syrian grandmother would make clothes for us."

A childhood spent playing around mountains of textiles led him to school in England at 14 and fashion colleges in Manchester then London, along the way earning many prestigious awards before receiving a British Fashion Council Scholarship to the RCA.

Maybe the LVMH Prize will be added to that list of successes. We will know on Friday.

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