Meet Fawaz Al Yaqout, the Creative Force Behind Khalayat

  • Publish date: Thursday، 23 June 2022
Meet Fawaz Al Yaqout, the Creative Force Behind Khalayat
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Written by: Noura AL-Swaiti

Photography: Patrick Sawaya

Meet the fashion designer deconstructing traditional tailoring techniques to create collections deeply rooted in modern Kuwait. We caught up with him after his recent participation at OUD Fashion Talks.

Fawaz AlYaqout was born in Kuwait in 1990 to a Kuwaiti father and Swiss mother. Since a very young age, he developed a passion for art, design and architecture. After acquiring his BA in graphic design in 2012 he was determined to pursue his dream to become a fashion designer. He completed his training in fashion design and technique at the renowned Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale in Paris in 2014, which is specialized in preserving the French patrimony of Haute Couture.

Fawaz Al Yaqout

1. What made you get into the fashion design field even though you studied graphic design at first?

First let me explain what got me into graphic design to begin with. After graduating high school in 2007, Graphic design had just opened up as a major in the American University of Kuwait (AUK), and the idea of specializing in a creative field in a private liberal institution attracted me very much. At the time, it was a fresh and new field to the market, and not many people understood what it was, or the potential and impact it will have in the very near future. It was a great apprenticeship experience, which I enjoyed very much, as it enlightened me and pushed me to dive deeper into my artistic and creative side. Being exposed to art history, branding, visual communication, in addition to, mastering technical skills such as digital illustration, and photo editing gave me a substantial base of knowledge that supports me till this day with my fashion career. For instance, I have always taken advantage of drafting my fashion patterns digitally for more accuracy and efficiency.

Moreover, after graduating with a BA in Graphic Design, I realized that I always had a bigger dream and a bigger vision to what I would like to do in life with creativity. The idea of developing corporate identities for different clients and businesses just seemed too flat and ordinary for me. In fact, growing up, I was obsessed with architecture, and had dreams of pursuing it professionally, especially since as a teenager, I was what you would call a Sims kid. I was however, intimidated by the intense math associated with it, which is why it didn’t occur to me to study architecture earlier in life.

Nevertheless, something about the fashion scene, Paris, and modeling was calling me for years. I suppose I should blame my big ego, naïveté, and my yearning for escapism for pushing me further into it. At first I tried to model in Paris but had no chance as the market was overly saturated and I wasn’t permanently residing in the city at the time.  So I thought perhaps I should channel my love for architecture and creation through fashion. And the fast paced process of fashion design in comparison to architecture just appealed to me more because it meant I could create and see results faster, and change things more frequently so I don’t get bored easily. The social aspect of fashion which would allow me to see my designs worn by individuals who appreciate my vision and philosophy also seduced me. It just seamed as a very rewarding and life fulfilling endeavor to me. So at the age of 22, I said to myself, it’s never too late to do it. I applied to the Ecole de la Chamber Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne—now part of the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM)—because it was renowned as the best fashion school specializing in preserving the French patrimony of haute couture. And I was lucky to be one of the 100 accepted applicants that year.

I am grateful for choosing this institute in particular, as it offered a very intense program, concentrating on technical and theoretical modules, including draping, pattern drafting, garment construction, textile design and theory, styling, illustration, live model drawing, and costume history. 

2. You’re both the creative and the business head of your company. How do you balance your time between the two?

My passion for this industry is so strong that I had to do whatever it takes to be in it. To me, being a one man show means I have to accept a slow but certain incline curve when it comes to the growth of my business. However, I truly believe that for a designer to excel in such an unforgiving industry, it is absolutely indispensable to join forces with a partner who would take over the burden of the business side of things. It is what I am on the lookout for at the moment. 

From my experience, it is very difficult for a creative to stay on top of every department, be it finance, accounting, PR, and marketing as there is only so much time left to spend in the atelier or the design studio. And today, it is more so difficult than ever in the history of fashion, with the emergence of social media and e-commerce, which form one of the most prominent pillars for the success of any brand. At the same time, there are many advantages and perhaps shortcuts to success that shouldn’t be missed with modern technology and artificial intelligence. We just need to work harder and stay tuned in with the latest advancements in the industry.

3. How has your multicultural life—Kuwaiti/Swiss heritage, significant time in Europe—influenced your career?

Growing up, I was blessed to be able to travel frequently to my mother’s hometown in Switzerland. and there, I was always taken away with the beauty of the alpine landscapes, the architecture, and the inspiring moments I spent with family. My grandfather owned and ran one of the most renowned architecture firms, which built countless houses and chalets in the Gruyere region, and my grandmother was an art historian. My great aunt who was a textile designer and antique collector also had a great influence on my upbringing. I could not describe just how much joy I felt whenever I visited her in her beautiful home, which she designed herself. It was surrounded by an equally picturesque garden overhead by a variety of trees including cherry, walnut, and apple. And in her basement, she had advanced weaving machine, where she was commissioned to design and produce handcrafted textiles as complex as jacquard. Needless to say that most women in my family possessed excellent tailoring skills. I still remember when I was told about how my great aunt made her own cream tailleure suit for her own wedding, and how it was impeccably tailored to perfection. 

Furthermore, her nephew, which is my mother’s cousin, is a world class fashion photographer based in Milan—Toni Thorimbert. I really enjoyed going through his book, which I often found on coffee tables at relatives’ homes. His photographs filled the pages of Vanity Fair and other fashion magazines especially at his peak in the 90s, and he still continues to produce campaigns for big brands like Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, and Diesel to name a few. He is also often commissioned to take portraits of major celebrities, Jennifer Lopez is amongst the most unforgettable ones. 

Nevertheless, I also have a very strong connection to my Kuwaiti and Arabian side. In fact, this is the side where I would like to concentrate on more as I see a great deal of potential to develop and modernize our Kuwaiti culture through fashion. This very idea is actually the thesis behind Khalayat. Our mission to reinterpret traditional Kuwaiti garments into avant guard fashion expressions that speak to a global audience can be seen throughout our collections, In 2016, we started with the dishdasha, and made it into a gender fluid linen dress cut with kimono sleeves and mother of pearl buttons. And as we progressed, we kept exploring other staples of our heritage such as the bisht, thowb, and sadu weaving.

4. Where do you look for creative inspiration?

I love it when in am presented with a challenge, such as when a client requests an unprecedented piece for a particular function. It pushes me into a whole process of designing that evolves and grows out of a single idea, and I get a lot of inspiration along the way. I am a big advocate of “form follows function.” In other words, I love working with boundaries and respecting rules, and the rest is up to me to unfold my vision and express my fantasies through what I believe is a great product. A lot of my inspiration comes through practice and refining my craft. I enjoy exploring new silhouettes, and complex but sleek ways to construct a garment through fine tailoring. I believe that this is what gives a product its unique spirit and makes it so effortless and flattering to the wearer. 

But to honestly answer this question, I get most of my inspiration when I meditate and contemplate. Whether it is when I am in a fully relaxed state, in full silence before bed, or when I am listening to music throughout the day. Music plays a big role in helping me dream and envision beauty in all its forms. 

5. What have been the most difficult challenges you’ve faced?

Finding myself lonely and isolated without many people who understand what I do or how much time and effort I put into my work, is probably the most challenging aspect I face. It has been very hard to find enough support to sustain the researched and conceptual work that I enjoy doing because of my current geographical situation. I often get compared to a lot of fellow locals in the fashion industry who are commercial, profit driven and unsustainable. In addition, I receive a lot of negative feedback about the brand’s price points even though they are very well calculated and perhaps even underrated for the high quality products they offer in return.

Fawaz Al Yaqout

6. What has been your proudest moment or a time you were particularly excited about someone wearing your designs?

Khalayat’s launch in the spring of 2016 marks one of my proudest moments throughout my journey in fashion. Prior to launching the collection, which was comprised of 4 kimono dishdashas in 4 colors of linen, I took as much time and effort as I can not only to refine the product, but also the brand’s presentation and image. The theme of our first look book revolved around the idea of a modern minimal geisha with a Kuwaiti twist. I made several copies of the handcrafted, linen covered book, and distributed to friends in the industry, and boutiques where I’d like to showcase the collection. And only a few days later, I got a phone call from the owner of a boutique that fitted the image of the brand and had a sophisticated client base. It made me very proud to hear from her how much she was in awe at the level of refinement and craftsmanship behind every detail, and the fact that it was an all Kuwaiti brand. I was further sure about my success when the 16 one-of dresses didn’t last one month before they were entirely sold out. Most of them were bought by the owner’s discerning friend who fell in love with the linen kimono dishdasha and made it into a staple of her wardrobe. 

Moreover, in 2018, Khalayat was invited to be part of a ramadan caftan showcase at AlOthman, which is Kuwait's first high end fashion store. , The exhibition carried the theme of sadu—a primitive Arabian weaving style, typically known for its geometric patterns . It was a great opportunity for me as it pushed me to conduct research om the matter and have a modern take on it, And the first Khalayat sadu dishdasha was born—a funnel necked contemporary dress with a sadu pattern hand embroidered in metallic threads. Alongside it, we introduced sheer oversized dresses with metallic trims, inspired by the thowb—a Kuwaiti garment traditionally worn by women for dancing ceremonies. The collection was entirely hand crafted with finesse, and with the highest quality fabrics in pastel colors juxtaposed with metallic details. Multiple pieces were sold to members of royal and ruling families across the Gulf, and the store was very happy to announce to us that our collection was the first to be sold out within days of the launch. 

7. What do you aspire to do next with your brand?

Since many years, I have been dreaming of diversifying into daywear, and evvningwear. I would love to create clothes for a more modern lifestyle and getting into tailored suits and high end ready to wear. I’ve been working on a collection that fits this description, however, the prototypes are still in toile form and patterns. In other words, they are in development stages. It is only a matter of time until I find a way to regain my stability to be able to execute such a big step that would require financial backing and advancements in the workspace. Although, I’m not sure if I want it to be introduced under the label of Khalayat. Perhaps it is about time that I launched my very own brand named after myself, which is what I’ve been meaning to do since I began my fashion journey.

8. Do you think you’ll be committed to the traditional fashion calendar or do you prefer to work on your collections at your leisure?

If the opportunity rises, and I am able to participate in international fairs and fashion weeks, then why not! It would actually be a dream come true. I just hope that I would find the right path and balance so that I can enjoy my work and most importantly, enjoy life. I am also a big advocate of sustainability and slow fashion. So I am not necessarily convinced that releasing more collections per year and selling high volumes is the right thing to do unless there is a demand for it.

9. When you’re not working, what’s your favorite way to spend time?

I find a great deal of pleasure and piece in nature, whether it is by the beach, the woods, or the mountains, and surrounding myself with the good company of friends and family. If I am traveling in an urban area, you’d likely find me in museums, art galleries, or taking long walks for window shopping and observing architecture. This is why I love Paris so much. You can't go wrong with the food, and it offers so much beauty in its architecture and charming parks.

10. Your favorite fashion designer of all time and why?

I could not name one fashion designer to be my favorite but a few true couturiers who are each great in their own way. I look up to McQueen as he was a true master of Savile Row tailoring, which I have so much respect for. His work speaks for his immense talent of merging pure tailoring with complex constructions and complex emotions. Galliano, on the other hand, probably took fashion to its highest level in history, especially during his golden years at Dior. I could watch his Dior haute couture shows over and over without getting bored. And each time, I discover something new, leaving me wondering just how did he ever do that with just the simple idea of a bar suit. This brings me to one of my biggest obsessions in fashion—the new look. I love learning about Dior’s process and how much architecture and precision it involves. Moreover, I could not finish this list without mentioning Ralph Rucci, who I admire for his sleek and contemporary silhouettes. As a fan of funnel necks, it is a signature touch of his, which is not easy to master when it comes to draping and pattern cutting.