Much of this year’s discussion of first lady fashion has revolved around Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, but let’s not forget Queen Rania, globe-trotting philanthropist and wife of Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Model-gorgeous herself, and as much a fan of French couture as is Bruni-Sarkozy, Rania has worn wide belts and safari jackets by Yves Saint Laurent, gowns by Armani Privé and satin sheaths by Prada.
But lately, she’s also been ordering clothes from Rami Kashou, the Jerusalem-born, L.A.-based designer and former “Project Runway” contestant.
It was Rania’s assistant who discovered Kashou, e-mailing him through his website after reading about the designer in a Jordanian magazine. “I think a lot of people found it refreshing to see a Palestinian portrayed in a different way,” Kashou said of the publicity surrounding his time on the show during 2007-08.
The designer put together a proposal, including sketches, fabric swatches and a personal letter. And before long, he was on his way to New York to meet the queen. The two reunited in September, when he delivered the draped, dark green gown Rania wore to co-host an event called the Important Dinner for Women, which rallies women around the topic of maternal mortality.
“I didn’t know how it was going to be,” he said of their first meeting, “But the ice broke as soon as she came out into the hall and shook my hand. She was so humble and so focused and interested. Then the king walks in, and it was one of those moments you remember forever.”
Rania’s style is elegantly conservative. “She can wear something open, but she can’t wear something strapless. And she loves my draping -- the thing they beat me up for on ‘Project Runway’ takes me to the queen of Jordan!”
Not that he has any regrets. “The exposure is the reason why so many doors have opened and are still opening,” he said.
Last week, Kashou debuted a new ready-to-wear collection for spring 2010, his first in a year. But instead of showing it on a runway, he showed it online at www.ramikashou.com, in a seven-minute film titled “Between the Lines.” Although it took months to complete, the film was shot in a single day, with the help of a creative team that included director Stuart Lessner, who has made music videos with Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and others, and director of photography Robert Gantz, who has worked extensively in the commercial field, notably for L’Oreal and Revlon.
Kashou is certainly not the first fashion person to dabble in film, and 2010 is likely to bring many more. Designers Gareth Pugh and Hussein Chalayan have shown collections in film form. Luxury brands have enlisted filmmakers to make commercials. David Lynch recently worked with Marion Cotillard on a Lady Dior campaign. And the Tom Ford-directed feature “A Single Man” opened in theaters this weekend.
“It has always been in my mind, but I had to wait for the right time and the right collection,” said Kashou, whose studio is at Sunset Junction. “Film has a longer shelf life. It’s an ad campaign in motion, not just a seasonal collection that is done the next day. I wanted to create something that would resonate with a larger audience, that would go beyond clothes to become a piece of art.”
The collection was inspired by architecture, specifically Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the film has the same fractured feeling as the building’s style. Mirror images accentuate the graphic lines of a black-and-white shift with a single sleeve, a black mini-dress with padded shoulders and an overgrown checkerboard print blossom at the hip, and a white gown with a bodice folded like calla lilies.
“While I was working on this collection, I watched a lot of YouTube clips of [Frank] Gehry talking about his work. I wanted the clothes to be editorial but wearable, organic but with architectural details,” he said. (Kashou’s prices range from $3,500 for a ready-to-wear dress, to $15,000 for a custom wedding dress.)
“That white gown with the single draped shoulder, I made that with her in mind, though probably without the marabou feathers on the bottom,” he said of Rania.
Next, he’s looking to expand his bridal business and open an online store. Later this month, he will travel to Dubai to plan a special event for the spring. “I’ve had a lot of interest from that part of the world,” he said. “I know it’s not an ideal time, but I shake it off. There’s always going to be someone looking for the finer details.”