Nathalie Trad - January 2017

By Aysha Majid

Internationally acclaimed accessories designer Nathalie Trad, reveals how she creates her eponymous accessories, who she would most like to see clutch one of her creations and how a cherrypicked day for her begins and ends…

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Born in Beirut and raised in Dubai, Nathalie Trad knew from a young age that she wanted to explore the realm of design, with a tenacious aim to push boundaries and radicalise natural materials by transforming them into wearable pieces of art. With 90 percent of stores reporting a 100 percent sell-through every season, her innovative approach incorporating sumptuous materials and artisanal dexterity is garnering a cult-like following.


What was the driving force behind creating your own fashion brand?

Design has been an integral part of my life for quite some time now. My fixation with asymmetric designs (which forms the basis of my line) began years ago, in 2007, while I was still studying at Paris’ ESMOD International. This is where I discovered my personal design ethos; to take classic shapes stemming from our natural environment and radically transform them

In 2008, while I was studying in New York, I came across Albertus Seba’s book of illustrations, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities. Considered one of the 18th century’s greatest natural history achievements, the book features images of a variety of insects drawn by illustrators. Believe it or not, seeing the kaleidoscope of colors on these insects’ carcasses immediately triggered in me a creative outpouring. I vividly remember being completely mesmerised by the complex forms, shapes and patterns captured in the book. It ended up serving as an underlying theme for my collection.


If you weren't in fashion what would you be doing?

I believe I would have been a product designer or an architect!


How would you describe your own personal style and what about your brand is most reflective of this?

My clothing style is quite simple; I usually wear monochromatic or solid colours and non-figure hugging shapes. I like to make a statement with accessories. What I wear is a reflection of who I am so it is important that my look represents my personality. My clothes are usually the canvas and my accessories the paint. It so happens, that we make just the right accessories to complement a look!


Who would you most like to see wearing your pieces?

It is always an absolute honour to see women (and Middle Eastern women) wear our pieces and support our journey, no matter who they are. That being said, I would love to see Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney, Queen Rania, Sheikha Mozah clutch an NT.


How would you describe Nathalie Trad?

The basis of our brand ethos is to take classic shapes (ubiquitous in our natural environment) and radically transform them. My aim when designing is to first and foremost create unique sculptural pieces that invite curiosity, fusing contrasting material combinations that yield an overall design style that is architectural, experimental and highly geometric. In four words I would say; timeless, sculptural, precious heirlooms.


Why Dubai?

Dubai is a vibrant, thriving city and a gateway between the East and West. This perfectly mirrors the essence of my line of handbags and accessories; each and every one of my pieces draws on both Eastern and Western aesthetics, from my design background and creative process, to my contemporary influences, cultural heritage and the different natural materials that I have used. Dubai represents a city that will never cease to evolve, recreate and outdo itself and thus serves as the perfect example for me. It pushes me to expand the realm of possibilities with my designs and create truly innovative pieces. So, in a way, I would say that my time here did more than just shape my collection, it gave me a strong foundation.


What are your top three favourite places to be in the city?

For inspiration, a break and a taste of paradise, I go to Art & Flower, my mother’s flower shop, a truly inspirational place where flowers meet art. When I am there it feels as though I have travelled to another world. My safe haven is home and the beach is where you will find me on the weekends. That is where I press the reset button before the new week starts!


Which designers do you feel have made their mark in the region and why?

I truly have the utmost respect for all designers coming out of the region and there are now too many to name. But to name a few; Bouguessa, Mochi, Donna Hourani and Sandra Mansour are some of my favorites. They each have a very distinct point of view that emanates through their collections and aesthetic.


Where do you shop in Dubai?

I love going to Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdale’s and Level Shoe District.


You work a lot with natural materials, can you run us through the process of making one of your signature bags?

Yes we do! Our collections fuse fine materials and techniques to produce artisanal gem-like clutches that we hope are destined to become collector’s pieces, that are both irresistible objects of desire as well as timeless, precious heirlooms that can be passed down from one generation to the next. We tend to gravitate towards shell such as mother of pearl, the iridescent Paua blue and other beautiful species found in nature. The richness of the shell mirrors our inspiration and works perfectly in line with the vision we have for my clutches. We love to complement it with other materials such as wood, resin, copper, brass and stainless steel creating a marriage of seeming incompatible materials that end up harmonising beautifully. Each clutch is carefully hand-inlayed and all the shells are sourced from around the Far East region, a treasure trove of exquisite materials. They are then sorted through one by one to pick only the finest pieces.

Each clutch requires at least two weeks to be meticulously crafted from inception. This involves molding, curing, preparing each piece of shell, inlaying, lining and applying the finishing touches; the process is executed by artisans who have been taught a craft that is only passed on from father to son through generations.


Who/what was your style inspiration growing up?

My mother and my sister.


You've worked under mentorship at Proenza Schouler, what were the key experiences/lessons you learned from working with the brand?

At Proenza Schouler in NY, I worked in the accessories design department under the mentorship of an industry-leading accessories designer. I worked on every aspect of the creation of the accessories collections for shoes, handbags and jewellery. From the research stages, to the birth of a concept, the drawing and designing stages, the production stages. I assisted in preparation of the fashion shows and during the fashion shows. It was such a hands-on experience that provided me with the building blocks to start my own accessories line. It really allowed me to gain a grasp of the nuts and bolts of working in a small business and an understanding of the challenges I may face in the future.


How would you describe your new SS17 collection and how has this evolved?

It is very important for us to maintain the design ethos that is at the core of the brand; a philosophy that attributes innovation and the creation of unique and timeless pieces that speak to the modern woman of today. We continuously experiment with our materials and work towards discovering new inlay techniques. This truly allows every one of our collections to have a fresh perspective and offer our customers something new.

For our new Spring/Summer 2017 collection, I set off on a journey to a fictional city, a place I named Republic 406. An imagined beguiling sanctuary one could only read about in the tea-stained pages of a novel; a world so flawlessly contained, it could very well be in a snow globe. This season, my collection was inspired by a sensory voyage across the city, a universe of fantasy and paradox, where modernity and old-world glamour magnificently unite like a mirage. We brought the collection to life by infusing iridescent tones of mother of pearl with colours of tangy chartreuse, dusty rose, hammered gold accents and industrial steel.


What is your all-time favourite piece created so far?

It’s difficult to choose but if I had to pick two it would be the Opiona or the Polygonia. What I love most about them is that they morph into completely different pieces when looking at them from a different angle or perspective. They are the most sculptural clutches from my collection and represent what I try to achieve when I create a new piece, perfectly reflecting my design ethos.


Deira or Downtown?

Both! What is most beautiful about Dubai is the marriage of the old and the new. When in old Dubai, a must-stop is the Bastakiya’s XVA Gallery, I absolutely love the energy it exudes. And in Downtown there is no shortage of places to go and restaurants to try.


What makes Dubai unique?

Dubai is a city that was built in the past 45 years, from a desert to an incredible place that has more to offer than one can possibly imagine. What I love most about Dubai and what I believe makes it unique is its melting pot of cultures. A welcoming city that is home to over 200 nationalities!


Tell us something we may not know about you?

I am pretty goofy and I am always humming or singing which may or may not drive people crazy around me.


How would you describe your cherrypicked day?

On a weekend morning when I wake up feeling particularly energetic, I like to fill up every second of my day. My first thought is breakfast! I dress up in my daily uniform of casual denim shorts and a t-shirt and head out to Ripe market for some fresh organic food at the farmer’s market, good music and beautiful weather. After that, a Dubai must is spending the day on one of the many beaches. I head to Kite Beach, my husband and I love to rent out paddleboards and paddle to the middle of the sea, play backgammon and unwind after a hectic workweek. A trip to kite beach would be incomplete without SALT burgers (by far the best burger in town). For a truly relaxing experience I recommend a pit stop at the One & Only Hammam. I tend to do this once every few months for some R&R, after which I swing by the Jetty Lounge for drinks. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the sunset with a few of my closest friends. As a Dubai resident since the late 80’s I always like to go back to one of Dubai’s staples, Teatro for a cozy home-style setting and incredible food. Stereo Arcade would be our next stop, for good old 90’s classics. I’d end the night with a warm man’oushe at one of Dubai’s oldest, Al Reef Bakery.


What can we expect from Nathalie Trad in 2017?

I would like to see the Nathalie Trad brand evolve into an all-encompassing lifestyle brand, slowly but surely expanding its reach across various geographies. My plan for the next couple of years is to expand the presence of my brand both regionally and internationally while staying true to my design philosophy. I don’t want to reveal too much just yet but I hope to keep you excited and keep bringing in new unexpected, intriguing clutches and more…

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For stocklists or to purchase online go to www.nathalietrad.com.