Emirates Woman met with a fashion icon in London
At 07.50 on a brisk and cloud-covered morning in London, the English sky didn’t look too dissimilar to Dubai’s in a sand storm. Grey and all-encompassing. I had flown in from Dubai for a fleeting trip and I was set on some welcomed change in weather. But wishing for good weather in Britain is like banking on winning the lottery – it’s a loser’s game. As the doorbell rang at the Langham Hotel’s Infinity Suite, in glided Tania Fares, the Lebanese-born co-founder of the British Fashion Council Fashion Trust, among a fleet of other merits. Quiet, sweet and a little unaware of her surroundings, she wasn’t ‘with us’ initially. She stared down at her phone, reading a message, pardoning her pulled focus. Once she had answered her caller she acknowledged us all with a warm introduction and I led her over to hair and make-up.
I proffered her coffee. She nodded intently, confessing she was tired and needed time to wake up. Since Tania is constantly on a different time zone, she spends much of her time playing catch-up. Living between London, Los Angeles and Lebanon, she is always on the move. She admits London always feels homely, since she spent 16 years living in Knightsbridge with her family. As the interview proceeded, I simply asked her to talk about herself – we know very little of her.
Tania started at the fashion label Lulu and Co. as the co-founder, where she single-handedly witnessed the obstacles all designers face. “Lulu was a great inspiration to me and she loved to support emerging talent.” Lulu was the founder of Fashion East, a non-profit designer support and showcasing scheme, who opened the doors for Roksanda, Simone Rocha and JW Anderson. Tania has always been extremely passionate about helping young designers. “I went to the BFC (British Fashion Council) and told them that I would like to start an initiative to support emerging designers – that was in 2011, and the rest is history.” With the Fashion Trust, Tania knew she would be travelling a lot so she partnered up with Steven Kolb at CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers America) and opened the trust in the US, and then it only felt natural for her to bring the trust to the MENA region – her real home: “I am very excited to be starting the Fashion Trust in the MENA region.” Omitting any patrionising undertones, she notes that the Arab world has changed alongside the fashion world. She admits that the Arab community are ready to support emerging designers now.
For many people Tania is not someone who is in the public eye. She is somewhat of an invisible presence who, at the same time, has played a crucial role in the makings of the next-best designers of our generation. Think of her as the silent confidant, friend, financial aid and true supporter to anyone emerging in the world of fashion. Tania is an integral part of our industry.
It was a rare treat to get her alone in a hotel room for three hours. As she caffeinated herself, Tania’s warmth and charisma filled the room. Her dulcet Lebanese accent verified her roots. I had called upon all her friends to loan clothing: Mary Katrantzou, Rosetta Getty, Christopher Kane and Nicholas Kirkwood. She looked at me very matter-of-factly as she stated: “Being Lebanese, of course, I have always wanted to bring the fund to the MENA region – it has been brewing in my mind for a long time.”
It was at a celebratory event for her book: The London Uprising, 50 Fashion Designers, One City, which her proud aunt put together (“she insisted on it, it was amazing”) where the seed for the idea was first planted. “So many young Jordanian designers came and asked me if there could be a fund in the MENA region. Since that time I had been thinking about it.” The new craze in fashion has been to bring inclusivity to the fore by nodding to parts of the world that have historically been left off the style map – the Arab world is one of them. The runways have seen many hijab models now taking centre stage and redirecting the narrative.
Tania feels it is now time for the region to evolve creatively. She projects: “It is definitely time for a much larger spotlight on the Arab world.” Being born in Lebanon she explains: “It will always be home for me. If anyone asks me where I am from I will always say Lebanon. I am very proud to be Lebanese.”
As we finished hair and make-up, it was time to dress Tania in something beautiful. She welcomed the opportunity to wear her clothing from her friends. Once we started to shoot there was a sense of shyness, as Tania isn’t used to being in the spotlight. She managed to relax in front of the camera, even though she admitted she wasn’t one for photos and did not have an Instagram account. A fashion contributor to British Vogue and a friend to the reputable editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, to name just one of her fashion posse, she is incredibly down-to-earth, which was refreshing to see and feel, as she claimed “the era of the diva is over.”
We touched on the anonymous Instagram account @fashionassistants, which laments and lampoons the state of affairs in the fashion industry. It’s an affecting and often humorous look at the treatment of ‘intern 1 no name’ (as the bio goes) by the fashion elite – a part of the industry that is increasingly coming under fire and is slowly changing for the better. She firmly agrees this kind of fashion world is well and truly over. “We must produce and we must deliver, but there is a way to treat people,” she insists.
We turned our talk to Fashion Trust Arabia and how much creative talent there is in the UAE. She tells me about the initiative in detail and confirms an exciting partnership. “This trust has been set up to support young designers financially so it will also give them access to the system, to the panel and the judges. We have an amazing executive committee and we are partnering with MatchesFashion.com, so whoever wins the trust will be sold on site.” This is such an incredible platform for anyone who has the creative drive to succeed in the fashion industry. The application process is simple: each designer will need to send their lookbook to the panel. They are on the hunt for people who are determined and extremely passionate. There will be five winners and Tania wants the entire Arab community to apply so the fund can showcase how passionate and creative this part of the world is. There are a few fashion favourites sitting on the panel – being that she is incredibly personable, Tania listed them all on a first-name basis; Olivier Rousteing for Balmain, Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino, Zuhair Murad, Ruth Chapman and Sara Sozzani Maino. It is a star-studded list so whoever wins the award will be in the company of the greats.
As we finished up, Tania took another call. She slipped into her mother tongue of Arabic as naturally as she exudes her generosity of spirit. In the closing moments of the shoot, we sat once more to hash out our remaining thoughts on the fashion industry. “I think when you see people that are extremely talented, then you really want to support them, it is exciting. I love discovering young designers, it makes me feel good and I try to attend all of the student shows so that I can discover designers who have a different view on things.” As she wrapped up her last sentence, she jolted out of her chair because her driver had just arrived and a lunch date awaited.
For me Tania Fares is a rarity in a frivolous industry. I walked away feeling humbled by someone so influential, yet so willing to help people go beyond their limits and shoot for the stars.
To see the full photo shoot, pick up the November issue of Emirates Woman
Details: for more information, visit fashiontrustarabiaprize.com
Media: Emirates Woman