An Interview with Krikor Jabotian

American actress Regina King was clearly delighted when she was awarded an Emmy last year for her role in ABC’s American Crime, but so too was the young Lebanese fashion designer Krikor Jabotian as King had selected one of his gowns for the occasion. The elegant white gown, entirely embellished with pearls, with its low-cut back and tulip-shaped skirt that stopped just short of her ankles, was Jabotian’s first couture creation on the Hollywood red carpet and it immediately generated some buzz around the young designer.

Like many of the now internationally recognized Lebanese designers — Elie Saab, Georges Hobeika, and Zuhair Murad — Jabotian seems to have an ingrained love for embroidered fabrics, and most of his exquisite haute couture collections focus heavily on using different types of embroideries — especially different threading patterns with sequins, semi-precious stones, and crystals woven throughout lace.

Soon after he graduated from École Supérieure des Arts et techniques de la Mode (ESMOD) in Beirut, Jabotian joined Elie Saab’s atelier, and he credits the seven-month stint there for having instilled in him a love for embellishments: “I used to find embroideries very tacky, blingy even, and I just couldn’t relate to them. But then I saw the embroideries that were created in Saab’s atelier. They were so well-made and tasteful that I came to appreciate how you could use them as jewels, embellishing your garments.”

This appreciation of an age-old craft has, over the years, led Jabotian to evolve and develop his own style: “I do try to give my embroideries a new wind. Some techniques are more difficult than others; some more commercial and less time-consuming, others more intricate. I prefer not to take the easy way, and (instead) go back to age-old techniques, giving them a twist. I use a lot of Sarma technique, an old Ottoman embellishment technique that consists essentially of a satin stitch worked in gold.”

Jabotian does not elaborate on the reasons behind his departure from Elie Saab beyond saying that he was “young,” but the timing was apt since just four months later, he was selected by the STARCH Foundation to become part of the first batch of designers — along with Lara Khoury, Missak Haji-Avedikian, and Rami Kadi — to be supported by the non-profit organization founded by couturier Rabih Kayrouz and entrepreneur Tala Hajjar. As part of that support, the selected designers received mentorship in terms of developing their own collections and guidance in promoting themselves, while also having their creations presented in STARCH’s boutique in Saifi Village, Downtown Beirut. “I believe I was at the right time at the right place. In 2008, Lebanon had just emerged from the civil war and was starting to bloom again. A lot of tourists were coming into town, wanting to purchase dresses,” he says.

Jabotian still remembers the first piece he sold at the opening of STARCH’s boutique — a black silk tuxedo jacket. “It sold for the equivalent of one month’s salary at Elie Saab! That really made me think and gave me some confidence to set up my own atelier,” he says.

Having set up his eponymous brand in 2009, at the age of 23, Jabotian has slowly grown his company as a family business, with his parents and siblings all playing various roles. “I believe I have to surround myself with people I trust in order to be creative,” he says, by way of explanation.

The kind of woman Jabotian designs for is “reserved, very classical but with a twist,” he says adding, “She likes to be noticed.” His signature style is structured, with sculpted volumes, and a hint of whimsy. “I’m always up for experimenting, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and not stagnating.”

Each collection starts with “a mood” as the designer always allows for some spontaneity to come into play: “I’ll start sketching; I’ll usually have something in mind, but I never quite know how it’s going to turn out because it’s not something personal, it’s really a team effort. I need to see how the evolution will be interpreted by the patternmaker and then, the tailor. After that, we need to see how the volume will stand, what will be the perfect structure for it. And then movement, that’s also very important. I don’t see a garment as a decorative piece but as something that will be worn. Sometimes a garment can look beautiful hanging but not that great when worn, and vice versa.”

Looking back at his first collection, Jabotian says he can still completely relate to it. “There might be a couple of things that I regret, but I always do a lot of auto-critique because I think it’s very healthy for a designer to do (so). I try as much possible not to compare myself to anyone, but to compare myself with whom I used be a year ago and whom I want to be a year from now.”


As first published in Blouin Lifestyle Magazine (Jun 2016)