What strikes one most when they meet the effervescent Razan Suliman is her absolute passion for her work. It is evident in everything she does – the time she spends sourcing the right fabric, the hours behind the research to support her vision for a collection, the meticulous detail with which everything is designed and her involvement with every aspect of her business. Very importantly, she is unafraid to ask for direction or help when she knows she requires it.
It is this dedication that has seen her brand FanillaCouture go from strength to strength in five years, creating for itself a niche clientele, while also expanding its client base – from clothing for women, to accessories as well as clothing for men and children.
Razan started with T-shirt collections sold through her internet-based company, and now the collections, which include kaftans, dresses, modern galabias, travel kimonos, sweat pants, sweaters, hoodies, passport covers, mobile covers and much more, are sold in various boutiques across the GCC.
FanillaCouture (‘fanilla’ is Arabic for t-shirt) collections combine the best of both classic and chic. Razan personifies Arabic pop culture and fashion iconography in her trendy matchless designs where her philosophy is to preserve the Arabic culture with a hint of fashion, and this is extraordinarily achieved with the remarkable mix of cultural elements, vivid colours and high quality fabrics.
Razan is a self-taught Saudi graphic designer based in Doha who has been a prominent player in the creative industry ever since she introduced her label in 2011. Despite having studied information technology, her passion for graphic and fashion design made her change careers and her unflinching commitment has seen her sustain herself and succeed in an extremely tough industry globally. Her next big dream is to showcase FanillaCouture on an international level and see non-Arabs wearing clothes that reflect the rich Arabic culture.
“I never went to design school so I supplemented this with design books and online tutorials where and when I could…I believe talent is talent, regardless of degree or lack thereof”
BQ Plus catches up with this young designer who is clearly very focused on this dream. She is soon off to Dubai to participate in Fashion Saray, a four-day exhibition, and showcase her collection to a global audience.
In the last five years since inception you have released nine collections. Interestingly, and rightly for the region, they don’t follow the typical western ‘four seasons’ pattern. How do you plan collections and their release?
Every time we have a new collection, we get inspired by something new, it’s hard to explain but honestly I get inspired by the weirdest things, for example this Ramadan collection was totally different from any other collection. We wanted a change therefore we named it “Change is good”.
The collection brings together the worlds of traditional Khaliji gypsum “naqsh plaster carving” and the botanical gardens crafted in Portugal. Those patterns are traditional geometric patterns , they were used to create naqsh panels but did not use particularly accurate geometry, and this created many panels with considerable visual energy which would not have been the result had the geometry been set out accurately. The Kaftan flows gracefully to a voluminous fancy dress creating a supremely flattering silhouette.
You have moved from T-shirts to men’s collections to accessories even. What is next in terms of expansion of your product portfolio?
I am hoping to be able to make polo shirts, men’s shirts, maybe someday even suits for men. I would like to even maybe have my own fabrics, I mean the sky is the limit!
Where do you source fabrics and other materials from?
“Fabric is usually the first thing I will work with when designing a new collection”
We are always trying to improve our fabrics, our last collection was made in Portugal. First of all, as a designer I don’t go to fabric stores to get my fabrics, I buy them from manufacturers, wholesalers, or agents. In fact, fabric is usually the first thing I will work with when designing a new collection, as fabrics are usually chosen before the collection is designed or they’ve even begun research.
Like fashion companies, fabric companies will create collections, but they work a season ahead of the designers (as the designers need a season to work with the fabrics to create the clothing.) I think it is interesting that fashion design is actually quite limiting, because designers can only work with fabrics that exist and are available.
Very few fashion brands actually create their own fabrics, usually this is only done by large sportswear companies that need specialist fabrics, Nike, for example. Luxury brands are able to request special prints, colour combinations, or dyes, but they will rarely get a fabric specifically created and woven for them.
I love the work of Dolce and Gabbana, I love Versace patterns, I love when Valentino does prints, and on the wild side, I love Marcelo Burlon County of Milan. I love how Balmain infuses the master’s architectural lines with a fearless use of colour and a sexy, modern vibe.
Any celebrities you have designed for? What was the experience like?
Some celebrities wore some of my work, but it wasn’t designed just for them, maybe one day.
Do you do custom-design work or just create your own collections?
Currently I design everything, I look forward to the day when I have my own design team.
Fanilla Couture won the National Brand of Qatar award at the 2015 Middle East Luxury Lifestyle Awards. How did that feel? Have you won other awards?
It was a very surreal experience. Overwhelming and incredibly exciting! Winning this award has given me so many opportunities and it has been a great platform for me to promote my work. Most importantly, it gave me confidence and belief in my abilities to move on to the next step in my career.
Is it a challenge running a business in Qatar?
It sure is!
Where in the GCC is your label available?
My label is currently available in nearly all the GCC countries – Qatar Duty Free at Hamad International Airport in Junction Boutique; 51 East Lagoona Mall Qatar; Salam Stores the Gate Mall Qatar; Salam Stores (The Mall) Qatar; Salam Stores WAFI Mall Dubai; THOUQ boutique Kuwait; Boutique Muscat, Oman and De Jjoie boutique in Jeddah.
A lot of naysayers will comment that you don’t have a degree in design. What is your answer to them?
“I started my own business after being tired of working for others who dictated my time, vacation, and pay”
I started my own business after being tired of working for others who dictated my time, vacation, and pay. I knew I could do better, so with that conviction and tenacity I set out on my own. I was relentless and eventually it paid off.
To back up, I never went to design school so I supplemented this with design books and online tutorials where and when I could. I learned almost everything on the job; that’s right, I am self taught! Because of this, some may feel inferior to me, it drove me to be fearless. Foolish sometimes, too. Apparently I had something to prove. Overtime, I developed a distinctive style, found client niches, and now have a thriving business. I believe talent is talent, regardless of degree or lack thereof.
On a personal note, I’m an absolute proponent of going to design school if you have the ability/opportunity/funds to do so.
Any words of inspiration for upcoming designers and entrepreneurs in the region?
“If you’re not good at business, then find someone you can trust that can bring that component and help you out”
Regardless of how we define it, success can feel like a fleeting and often elusive target. It takes confidence, passion and drive to accomplish your goals and to recognize success when you’ve achieved it.
And most importantly, it’s not just about the pretty drawings and the samples that you create. If you’re not good at business, then find someone you can trust that can bring that component and help you out.
What do you do to relax?
I try to relax; I am usually trying to figure out what to do to relax. I struggle with not being able to switch off.
Your favorite restaurant in Qatar and abroad.
I love The Market at the W Doha. Abroad, it’s hard. I am a food lover I can’t pick favourites.
Your favorite holiday place.
I like London – it has a bit of everything. If you want to relax you can, if you want to shop you can, if you want good food it’s there.
Your favorite designer.
Currently I’m in love with Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana as they have made a trademark of their surnames which is known throughout the world, easily recognizable thanks to its glamour and great versatility.
Your favorite perfume.
My favorite perfume is Addict by Dior and Chloe Love Perfume by Chloe for Women.
Your favorite film.
I love movies from the early 90s late 80s like You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, The Wedding Singer.
Your favorite car. What do you currently drive?
I love the Porsche, and that’s what I drive.
How do you spend your weekends?
I try to relax but I am usually working even on the weekend, I try to catch up with my friends as much as I can.
This article is from BQ Plus’s Issue 5 – September/October 2016.
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