Rami Kashou is a Palestinian American fashion designer who has designed gowns for Penelope Cruz and Kim Kardashian.
He grew up under military occupation in the West Bank, spending hours sketching to escape.
Kashou incorporates embroidery by Palestinian women and other motifs to pay homage to his homeland.
This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Rami Kashou, a Palestinian American fashion designer. The essay has been edited for length and clarity.
There were lots of limitations. There were curfews where schools would be shut down and we weren't allowed to leave our house. It was during those times that sketching fashion designs on my school notebooks became my way of coping with the trauma of that type of collective punishment.
I wanted to become a designer ever since I was 7 years old. I spent hours in my room sketching. Sketching is like creating a different reality than the one that was inflicted upon me and every other Palestinian citizen.
Aside from a very dark and dull reality, design became my creation of a world of beauty, of imagination, of the hope that one day, I'd get out of there and make my dream of becoming a clothing designer come true.
Making clothes as a kid living in the West Bank
Even when I was younger, I was fascinated with fashion. I watched a show called "Style with Elsa Klensch" religiously. When I was 5 years old, my mother died from a blood clot in the brain. My grandmother wore black for over a decade, heartbroken by the loss of her daughter.
But I remember every weekend, when I spent a night with my grandparents, I'd grab my grandmother's hand, take her to the closet, and push the black dresses to the side. I'd pick the colorful ones hidden in the back and ask her to wear something colorful.
I designed clothes for my younger sister's Barbies and dolls, and hand-made outfits for my paper dolls.
In the West Bank, making your own clothes was a way to be fashionable because we don't have much access to the rest of the world. I grew up around women who loved clothes. When I was 12, I went to the local seamstress with my stepmother and her friends. They would bring yards of fabric and I'd design their ensembles, and the seamstress would make them into real outfits.
Discovering freedom in America
I moved to America after graduating from high school with the blessing and support of my family, which has been a true privilege. Coming from the reality I was born and raised in — where you might live two hours away from the beach, but you're not allowed to go because of military checkpoints — I was shocked to learn that this wasn't the way the rest of the world was.
In the US, I realized that they do have access to a life of freedom, of movement, and people can thrive career-wise and live without constant threat or interruption.
I didn't finish design school and instead decided to establish myself through retail. I started a boutique in Hollywood, and it grew from there. I started dressing celebrities like Paris Hilton, Penelope Cruz, and Kim Kardashian on the red carpet.
Paying homage to my homeland
I've lived in two different worlds — two different countries and cultures. When you're living in the diaspora, you end up in a sort of in-between space.
My style embodies the strength of the women I grew up around. There's a lot of poetry in the movement. I like to use soft and fluid fabrics that come to life when worn. Draping comes from a culture where women drape themselves in fabric, whether it's a shawl, a veil, or a long dress. That element of formality is mixed with a global sensibility, inspired by the US and the red carpet.
In the past five years, I consciously decided to imbue my culture and roots into my designs. During the pandemic lockdown, I worked with a group of women refugees to hand-embroider a beautiful tree of life motif. I wanted to share how we document our heritage, our surroundings, and our history through the art form of embroidery.
I also wanted to connect the women through the creative process and for the women buying these pieces to learn more about Palestinian culture aside from the headlines in the mainstream media. It's a form of reconnection with my own roots and identity, too.
Sharing more about my Palestinian identity and culture is also sharing that there is beauty everywhere in the world, and it also exists in Palestine.
Read the original article on Business Insider