Saturday, May 17, 2014

Beirut/NTSC gets personal with Jo Baaklini

I knew it was bound to happen, but little did I expect it to be today. As I passed by Starch today in Saifi Village in Downtown Beirut, to inspect the Jo Baaklini collection for Spring Summer 2014, the person sitting behind the counter was none other than Baaklini himself! The occasion presented itself to banter with him, fresh from his success at Fashion Forward and him being the "it" boy of the moment following a catwalk show which basically sent a splash through the audience and a shock waves back home - the combination of stripes, watermelon prints, and sun jellies proved too irresistible.
Baaklini himself, in person, though, is more monochrome in appearance, "it's like a uniform I have, I put anything on top of anything, they match and I am ready do start the day and be on the go" - the "uniform" in question though is quite a somber affair contrasting with the freshness of the collection. "But if I am to spend a day at the beach, yes, I would really dress that way" he says pointing to finely tailored pair of pants which when cuffed reveal an inner layer of fruity print textile.
A graduate of St. Martin's in London, Baaklini said in many interviews that he "ended up in fashion" however, talking to Beirut/NTSC he was more analytic "I think it was a build up, bit by bit I found myself going there." Then comes the inevitable question of the influences, he had mentioned Rabih Kayrouz - the man who mentors the Starch designers - however, I also felt a hint of Martin Margiela - the clothes were too versatile, too studied, with a hint of mischief - Baaklini neither approves nor disapproves but his wry smile is very telling on the comment.
Surprisingly for a "new" designer (unless you count his sketching, graphic, and visual efforts), the collection has a very unified feel - quite minimalist and well-tailored on one end, but also refreshing and breezy on the other. Actually, if there are to be put in a repertoire, the clothes fall into the pop-kitsch movement, a bit of naivete thrown all over them, but that would be simply scratching the surface. Baaklini shows me the intricate details and the layers on top of one another so that when folded, the sleeves with take a different color or pattern. Feeling an element of androgyny in this, Baaklini indeed assures me "save for certain pieces such as the dresses, most of the collection is quite unisex".
Jo Baaklini lookbook, photo credit: Tarek Moukaddem
Having seen the lookbook, I asked about specific pieces, Baaklini - as if shy about the success of the collection - mutters that "we sold out from a lot of pieces, we are restocking right now". Certainly nothing to be ashamed of. This being said, the textile is not printed in Lebanon, "we are still not up to the standards of printing here, and Lebanon does not offer the right infrastructure as to developing something sustainable and solid. I love Beirut, but it is such a volatile city. On the other hand from all this tension a certain creativity is bound to come by".
Asking about a specific piece, the blue-striped shirt with the watermelon print at the bottom, Baaklini says that "it was a limited edition, only 5 of those were done. By limited edition I mean whereas the textile is available this particular combination within this specific design is now exhausted."
"I really wanted to avoid the Lebanese cliches of summer, that's why I went all fruity, some of the references even pertain to Cyprus", said Baaklini as to his designs, so far he has been stocking exclusively in the Starch shop in Beirut, "but we are expanding, there will sales abroad" proving that the collection has a an appeal outside the immediate Lebanese surrounding - something he had an avant-gout of with his catwalk smash hit in the United Arab Emirates.
Baaklini is nothing if not inquisitive. At one point, Beirut/NTSC became the interviewee instead of the interviewer. But idea exchange with someone this creative, specifically someone who translates personal remembrances so well in fashion design is a delight in itself. And if there's something we wish for Jo, it's that he would go one to create "a bigger splash"! 
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