Beirut’s young designers are taking over part of the city’s main souk to show off their creativity and restore a culture which took root before the devastating Lebanese Civil War, which raged from 1975 to 1990.
Khan Al Joukh is the name of a new initiative aiming to breath life into the shopping area, by offering rent free spaces to designers to work in and sell their creations.
The project was created by developer Solidere, a company set up to co-ordinate the reconstruction of Downtown Beirut.
The seven pop-ups in the Gold Souk vie for space with high-end brand stores such as Emporio Armani and Louis Vuitton, in an attempt to introduce local talent and flavour to the wealthy elite that patronise the area.
Prior to the conflict which lead to an estimated 120,000 deaths the area was a vibrant place for commerce.
When peace came it was left in a devastated state and then bulldozed to create a shopping mall, which attracted international names.
Khan Al Joukh says it wants to restore the local atmosphere of the area by creating a fashion and textile destination with boutiques and workshops.
Chrystele Karam, who trained as an architect, is the founder of Blocksfini, which designs and makes modular furnishing.
One of the designers invited to take part in Khan Al Joukh, she sees the new initiative as a link to the past.
“Things are made in front of you and that was an aspect of the souks that was lost when the mall was created,” she said.
“Things are more alive now. It is giving a new aspect to the souk and I think it is very good for the collective memory of people who used to love Beirut for its old souks. Now they can see that coming back.”
Other designers involved include Creative Space Beirut, which offers opportunities to aspiring designers who lack the resources for formal study.
“We offer a three-year programme. The students each design and produce one collection per year and display them during an annual fashion show which takes place in November,” said Karina Goulordava, outreach manager.
Alongside is a studio housing both Sahar Hafda’s Paper Objects and Stephanie Nehme’s Fabric Textile Studio.
Nehme said: “My collections here are examples of my early patterns printed on 100% natural fabrics using eco-conscious inks and dyes. These patterns are printed in Europe then brought back here.
“I invested in Fabric Textile Studio in the hopes of starting a print-on-demand service in Lebanon, where the customers can order samples of the available textiles or customize their own ideas.”
Also taking part is The Starch Foundation, which promotes new fashion brands and Gray Gardens, which designs plant pots.