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Lebanese-born designer Rana Salam talks about Syrian lingerie industry and design in Arab world.

Summary: Lebanese-born, London-based designer Rana Salam recently told an enthusiastic AUB audience to embrace their local culture while creating international designs.

Lebanese-born designer Rana Salam talks about Syrian lingerie industry and design in Arab world

Lebanese-born, London-based designer Rana Salam recently told an enthusiastic AUB audience to embrace their local culture while creating international designs.

In fact, Salam, had built her success by using Middle Eastern pop culture to create designs for a diverse group of clients, including the British Harvey Nichols department store, the Victoria and Albert Museum and designer Paul Smith, in addition to leading Gulf fashion retail stores such as Villa Moda and Boutique 1.

In a provocative and entertaining lecture on her soon-to-be-released book, The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie, as well as her design work, Salam engaged her audience for a full two hours, late on Friday [Oct 31] evening. The lecture was organized by the Department of Architecture and Design at the American University of Beirut and held in the department's Architecture Lecture Hall.

Salam has been running her own London-based design studio for over a decade, specializing in brand creation, re-branding, and producing distinctive designs. Her work has been exhibited in Lebanon, Dubai, and the UK.

"Rana's work is controversial," said Leila Musfi, the department chairperson, in her introduction of the artist. "Over the years, she has managed to develop a unique language using pop art artifacts which she uses in the most challenging and sometimes intriguing way."

Indeed, Salam's career took off after she started collecting scrap from the Arab world, including discarded old cinema posters and food wrappers, using them in collages to create new posters and other design items. "Initially, my work was not well-received in Lebanon, as it was considered an act of collecting garbage," she said. "But once it was legitimized by the West and displayed in Harvey Nichols windows, things changed."

Salam's message to young and up-and-coming designers was "not to underestimate the power of fashion in promoting culture," as people don't only buy the designs but also "the visual culture" of the Middle East.

Later, when Salam embarked on a different project that involved researching the lingerie industry in Syria, she discovered so much more than skimpy underwear. "When we're designing, as Arabs, I have always thought that we should look within us," she told the audience of mostly-students. "And when I did that, I was very surprised."

Indeed, when she shared some of the photos and reports about the Syrian lingerie industry which is highlighted in her book, even the audience was surprised.

Salam and her team's research revealed a large industry that caters to an imaginative, yet under-the-covers, sexuality in the Arab world: Glow-in-the-dark underwear, singing thongs, G-strings-in-a-tea-bag, were only some of the colorful designs--all created by men--that Salam shared with her audience, who would often break out into amused laughter.

2008 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

2008 Al Bawaba (Albawaba.com)

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Publication:Albawaba.com
Date:Nov 3, 2008
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