Each week, we look into an exciting and innovative label that is taking the fashion world by storm in our regular feature #TheBrand. This time we’re turning the spotlight on celebrity-approved footwear designer Andrea Wazen, who just won a coveted award and high praise from some of the most prestigious names in the business.
When Jennifer Lopez, Kylie Jenner, Hailey Bieber and Sienna Miller are among the many famous names to be seen wearing a new designer, you’d be justified in thinking that it might just be the next ‘It’ label. This is probably the case then for Andrea Wazen, the Beirut-based designer whose eponymous footwear brand is finding itself in the spotlight for all the right reasons.
After studying in Paris and London and later working under some of the best-known footwear designers in the world, including Christian Louboutin and Rupert Sanderson, Wazen returned to her native Lebanon in 2013 where she launched her namesake brand in the hope of “expressing what modern footwear should be like” and finding that perfect line between glamour and comfort.
“There is a love story between a woman and her shoes,” Wazen says of the magic that goes into her work. “A great pair is not just one that you wear, it’s one that makes you hold yourself differently and gives you confidence, a sense of power.”
Wazen’s collections are filled with striking and instantly recognisable designs from the neon-hued, strappy heels that have found themselves on the feet of many an A-lister to party-ready, ruffled slingbacks and more toned-down leather boots and elegant court shoes. Her unique vision for footwear has caught the eye of some prestigious figures in the industry, including the likes of Alber Elbaz, Giambattista Valli, Diane von Furstenberg and Christian Louboutin, who recently awarded Wazen with ‘Best Accessory Designer’ at the Fashion Trust Arabia Awards, an initiative that provides support and recognition to up-and-coming designers from the Middle East and North Africa.
“Having the recognition of these judges that I have looked up to my whole life is hard to describe – some of them are the reason that I am doing what I do today,” Wazen says. “I really cannot find the words to express the joy that I am feeling – I have worked so hard to get to where I am so seeing that pay off feels really gratifying.”
Perhaps much of the reason for Wazen’s success, as is the case with so many well-known fashion brands, is her unique point of view, which translates so clearly into her designs. For her, it is all about where she comes from and bringing that culture into her work.
“I wanted to create a brand that is properly Beirut based and that embodies the city’s life and culture today – this has definitely had a major impact on my designs and the vision of my label. It is such a diverse city, not just in terms of people but also as way of life: you have the amazing nights out, the long laidback dinners, the Sunday family lunches in the mountains outside the city and the beach life right on your doorstep. The footwear I design is inspired by this lifestyle and what I imagine a person wearing during all of these different parts of their daily life in Beirut.”
The inspiration for her customer comes from this diverse lifestyle, but Wazen explains that it is also the national way of thinking and push for entrepreneurship that has inspired her.
“We have a very independent way of looking at fashion – I think there are key differences that are down to our history, local traditions and culture, but there is also a strong ethos of doing things ourselves,” Wazen explains. “We are a society of entrepreneurs in Lebanon, so when it comes to fashion, there are a lot of people setting up their own brand or opening up an atelier. Becoming a fashion designer is actually a very common dream among the younger generations here.”
However, setting up a business away from one of the main fashion capitals of course comes with some difficulties, most notably, sourcing the right materials.
“There are quite a few fashion designers in the city meaning we have many fabric shops with beautiful textiles, but we are not as spoilt for choice when it comes to leather or raw materials for shoes. I decided to challenge myself by sourcing a mix of the materials in Beirut and working with the skilled local craftspeople and artisans to see what we could come up with. The result is that we offer shoes that are comfortable and have a soft feel, while still looking glamorous.”
Overcoming such a challenge is not easy is such a competitive industry, but finding a solution has helped to make Wazen dream big and stay driven with her business, something which is necessary in the very difficult situation designers are finding themselves in as a result of the global pandemic and the long-running environmental issues that brands are being forced to contend with.
“The challenges we are facing give me so much drive, as weird as that might sound. I think there is a new world that is taking shape at the moment and it is leading to all these changes – adapting to them and finding my way is very exciting. Fashion has always been about glamour, but today there are added challenges of offering a great product that has a strong design, authenticity and credibility from a sustainability point of view.”
With her next big vision to launch one-off handbags made from upcycled leather offcuts from her brand's shoes, Wazen clearly has a strong vision for how to adapt and think big in a dramatically evolving industry – and she has certainly started well.
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