Only a few days have passed since Maison Rabih Kayrouz presented its spring/summer collection at Paris’s Couture Week but there is no time to wind down. Beneath the high ceiling of his showroom, Kayrouz and members of his team are observing a flowing dress worn by a model. Around them the atelier is alive with the clatter of sewing machines.
It’s no coincidence that the Paris office feels theatrical: it used to be a playhouse where, in 1953, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was first staged. It later served as an art gallery before becoming the base for Maison Rabih Kayrouz in 2009. His staff has grown from two to 30 members in 10 years but Kayrouz still refers to his team as “the family”. “I would love to always keep this feeling,” he says. “Even if we had hundreds of people here.”
When Kayrouz started out – as a one-man operation – he had to think as a businessman as well as a designer. He has a flair for both: his ready-to-wear line is carried in 50 shops worldwide. With more staff he can now devote himself to the clothes. “I respect the people who are working with me,” he says. “But at the same time I can fly my own way.”
Attention in the fashion industry is often skewed towards big-name creative directors but Kayrouz insists on keeping the word “Maison” in the company’s name. “This maison is all the team – it’s not only my job,” he says. “I ask myself: would I cook for this person? Would I like to share a meal with them? Then I realise if this person can fit in this company.”
Lebanese designer Kayrouz moved to Paris in 1990 to study at the Chambre Syndicale de le Haute Couture. After training at Dior and Chanel, he launched his own maison in Beirut in 1998. “It was the end of the war, a beautiful moment,” he says. A decade later, though, he brought the company to France. “I missed Paris. Beirut was too small,” he says. “I was hit by the haute couture knowhow of France; I wanted to discover it again and work with it.”
Mathilde Respriget Chef d’atelier, ready-to-wear.
“I’ll give her the attitude I want the clothes to have and ‘pouf’! She makes it happen.”
Geetali Lele Production manager.
“She’s a perfectly organised person who makes miracles. We design and prepare but she has the baby to deliver.”
Ursula Bignon Chef, La Mama.
“She makes sure that everyone is happy with good food and desserts – and she prepares cakes for birthdays.”
Caroline Bouquin Technical and quality-control manager.
“She is here to follow up on detail. She has a sharp eye.”
Marie-Cristine Violon Head of accounts and administration.
“She’s just amazing. I totally trust her.”
Clara Mignard Commercial co-ordinator.
“She has such an elegant way to present clothes.”
Cécile Bonneau Chef d’atelier, haute couture.
“I thought when I met her, ‘With her I will have beautiful clothes.’”
Sophie Lecoq General manager.
“She and her husband are partners [of the business]. It is beautiful to have someone that can manage with you.”
Agate Fert Petite main couture.
“She was here as a trainee, working and studying at the same time, and then joined us in January. She’s so passionate she would never want to leave.”
“I met her in Beirut in 2003 and she has been a blessing ever since. She has no official job title but she’s always here – and she has the best place in my heart.”
Heba Menassa Head of the studio.
“She was the second person to be hired – in 2009 – and she’s still here. She knows everything about the studio.”
Elodie Paul Sales manager.
“One of the beautiful stories about the company is that so many people start as trainees.”
Flavie Costamagna PR and press agent.
“We call her Ab-Flav. She’s not our press agent – she’s our press angel.”