I’m far more obsessed with Renaissance Renaissance‘s beautiful collection than with most of the spring-summer 2023 offerings coming from big names. Picture this: a rebellious princess running away from her palace by the sea. She’s traversing the desert at dusk, desperately seeking a city where she’ll meet artists, writers, poets – free spirits who will release her own and unfetter her from the rigidity of tradition. This is the story Lebanese designer Cynthia Merhej conceived of while working on her delightful spring collection. This princess is detached from European traditions – rather, she comes from Tunisia or Morocco, she’s running away to a place like Cairo, and her path is guided not by European medieval signage, but by Jinns and Arab symbols (as illustrated by a print, shown in look 12, created by a friend of the designer’s and inspired by the mythology of the Arab desert). “I wanted to go back to the root of the brand, back to my narrative roots as a storyteller. I always found it easier to express very complicated ideas in a simplified way, a simple story,” Merhej said. The complicated idea du jour? “The brand is about this tension between tradition and wanting to be a free spirit,” Merhej added, referring to her mother and herself as an example of this push and pull, but noting this dichotomy can also exist within one person.
The designer’s lineup for spring includes a recently launched category called Atelier, under which she’ll produce one-of-a-kind pieces. Each garment is made in Beirut in her atelier using couture techniques. Merhej said that now that she’s established the commercial portion of her business, she wants to make sure she continues to push herself creatively, while at the same time finding ways of nurturing the decimated fashion industry in Beirut, currently in a state of rebuilding. The pieces are also sustainable in that they’re made from deadstock materials. The first of these pieces opens the lookbook: a naturally dyed cropped cardigan knitted in a large gauge with mohair and tulle yarn by Lindsey Smith, a collaborator. “The idea was to create these kinds of knits that look like they’re degrading, the leftovers of her dress that was falling apart,” Merhej said in reference to her princess and her arduous journey. Another piece is made by hand layering pieces of lace her mother has been collecting for 25 years. The most striking item in the collection is a reversible coat as seen in looks 3, 7, and 9. One face is taffeta, and the other is covered in gathered tulle. The coats underwent a few experiments like tea dyeing or sun drying, all to give them the texture and softness of a lived-in piece. Elsewhere, in the ready-to-wear, Merhej explores her tulle fabrications, most notably on a skirt made of cotton and covered in tulle, which she also designed attached to a ribbed knit top as a dress. Other highlights include ankle-length linen skirts, a pleated button-down shirt fitted at the waist (a common focal point in Merhej’s work), and a rounded kimono-sleeve tailored jacket, which is returning from last season given its success. Again, this is a truly beautiful collection, with subtle echoes of 1990s Comme Des Garçons and Romeo Gigli.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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