2020 was a difficult year for all communities around the world, but Lebanon was hit doubly as bad when in the middle of a global pandemic, came a tragic explosion in the capital city of Beirut, killing hundreds and destroying thousands of homes and businesses.
It sent the already struggling economy into turmoil and ruined the lives of many people in the city. The fashion industry was not immune from this tragic disaster and many Lebanese designers and couturiers saw their ateliers completely destroyed, months of hard work lost in a second. But they soon began to rebuild and to try to recover from the terrible losses they suffered both on a personal and professional level. Tony Ward was one of those affected by the blast. He saw his atelier shattered by the explosion and learnt the struggles of trying to stay afloat and keep his team while battling a global, pandemic, economic crisis and an unexpected tragic disaster.
Late last year, Ward presented his Couture 2021 collection. A tribute to Beirut, the designer wanted to celebrate the beauty of the city and remember what there is to love about its glistening lights and infectious personality. He dedicated this collection to his home city as a symbol of hope for what the future might bring. While 2021 is not a new chapter as such, it does symbolise a step towards the new normal and as Ward starts to navigate the future of the house and the direction moving forward we discuss what he will take away from this tragic period and why there are better times ahead.
The past year has been unsettling in many ways – how have you been able to continue designing and what are the biggest challenges you have faced?
2020 was a tough year for everyone, but especially for the Lebanese people, and I would say 2021 hasn’t kicked off well so far, either. However, designing and creating are the only things that are motivating me and pushing me forward to focus on a better tomorrow. I felt the urge to keep on catering to the client’s needs, who are too focusing on better days ahead. My work was my way out of this chaos.
What is a lesson you have learnt from this year?
We have all learnt a lot this year, more than any other year! But I would say that shifting priorities, going into survival mode and taking our own paths and rhythm rather than following an international calendar doesn’t do any harm. And of course, being thankful every second of the day.
How have you continued to keep in touch with your customers during this time?
I have tried to keep in touch with most of my clients, making sure they’re fine and safe. Just like me, their priorities have shifted as well; a lot of them have had to postpone their weddings or events and many of them have seen their lives turned upside down, just like all of our lives. But it was important for me to keep in touch with them and check up on how they’re coping with this pandemic and chaotic period, letting them know that we’re in this together.
The Couture 2021 collection is a tribute to Beirut – what does this city mean to you?
Yes, it was a tribute to this city that rises from the ashes against all odds to its underground vibe, its never-ending beat, its sparkly skyline. This city gives me energy – it surely takes a lot of energy as well, but it makes me feel like I want to overcome whatever challenges come my way no matter what – it’s a love/hate relationship!
How do you think last year’s explosion has impacted the industry in Beirut?
The August explosion was and still is a disaster on so many levels, but mainly on the economy. It came at a time when the Lebanese people were barely surviving and the post-pandemic-lockdown sent us back to ground zero. It surely gave us a clearer vision of how we are being run by a mafia (on a political level) and it did us a lot of harm.
What is something a memory you have from the tragic experience?
Something that I would like to forget from this tragedy is an ugly moment when I was running back to the showroom minutes after the explosion, and seeing the broken glass from the building, the severe damages, blood everywhere, people from my team crying… It was very tough to see and I re-lived what I went through when I was young during the war in Lebanon.
Looking deeper into the Couture 2021 collection – what can you tell us about the choices of silhouette, materials, colour palette etc?
I wanted to add new materials and have a pop of colour. From sexy silhouettes to theatrical ones, it was all about mixing these together to create a “party” & “glamourous” mood, to take us from the reality we’re in and take us back to the Beirut that we know.
Of course, Haute Couture week was very different this year – what has been your experience of presenting this collection to the world?
While to the world I presented a collection, to me I presented an experience, a temoignage. Fashion weeks and shows will never be like before, at least to me. It will be deeper, with a different direction and a whole other meaning.
You introduced menswear – tell us a little about this and what we can expect to see from men’s designs moving forward?
I’ve been doing menswear with a few private clients, but it was the first time I showcase “entertainment” pieces. The feedback was positive and some women were even interested in these pieces. I wanted to do something different for this collection, and it was indeed different. I’m not sure for the other collections to come yet though.
What would you like to achieve in 2021?
2021 is the second phase of 2020: Surviving, all while keeping our creativity going! While in 2020 we were still reacting to what we were facing, we are more aware now and so I would like to achieve dealing more with chaos and its consequences.
Where is your mindset moving forward after this difficult year and what is in the pipeline for Tony Ward?
Our mindset is to save the company, save the people who work with us, to make sure they earn their usual income and ensure that the Atelier doesn’t stop functioning. We don’t want to go back to the old normal but rather start a new normality and hopefully to get to a better tomorrow. That’s our aim & goal for now.
With the future of physical fashion shows still in doubt – what is your opinion on physical Vs digital shows moving forward?
Physical fashion shows have always been a great experience, we need these vibes, the happy crowd, the crazy backstage, the “finales”, the after-parties. I wouldn’t go back to this twice/year but I surely miss it. For now, digital shows are the next thing, but it’s not as exciting as physical shows.
What is the biggest challenge you face today?
Keeping all my team busy with work and on the payroll with zero help from the government.
When are you at your most creative?
Late in the evening and during the weekends.
What is the motto you live by?
“A chaque jour suffit sa peine”, meaning “one day at a time.”
What is a message you would like to share with all your friends and clients in the region?
The show must go on!