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Exclusive interview: Nathalie Trad

Nathalie Trad has captivated the style elite with her unique, architecturally styled shell-based clutches. The Lebanese designer talks to Beth Druce about her inspirations

Beth Druce portrait
Beth Druce,

Designer Nathalie Trad was born in Lebanon and raised in Dubai, and her Middle Eastern roots have greatly influenced her work. ‘The culture is embedded in me,’ she explains. ‘It is running in my veins, imprinted on my identity.’ With a father who worked in advertising and a mother who runs ‘a beautiful flower shop’, creativity was part of her upbringing. ‘Witnessing the transformation of Beirut and being part of a family and environment surrounded by art and design contributed tremendously to my appetite for the design world,’ she says.

Fashionable beginnings
Trad moved to Paris aged 17 to study for a degree at the prestigious Esmod International fashion school. It was in Paris, she explains, that she ‘developed a strong penchant for asymmetric design that today forms the basis of my work.’ Trad honed her signature style to take ‘classic shapes, ubiquitous in our natural environment, and radically transform them, deconstructing and always trying to redefine the boundaries of fashion aesthetics.’

After graduating, Trad relocated to New York to attend Parsons School of Design, where she gained a BBA in design and management, and undertook a mentorship at womenswear brand Proenza Schouler. These experiences proved invaluable. ‘From a designer’s perspective, New York and Paris definitely served as a breeding ground for my creativity. I got to reflect, absorb and take stock of my surroundings, then redirect this new flow of energy into my own work. Being in those cities truly pushed me to expand my thought process and explore the realm of possibilities within my designs,’ she explains.

World domination
Today Trad’s eponymous line of clutches is sold in 25 cities around the globe. Her designs, with their asymmetric, architectural style and hard shell structure, stand out in an era where ‘It’ bags often feature leather and shiny metal hardware. ‘I always tend to gravitate towards shell as a base material, which we source from the Far East: a treasure trove of exquisite materials,’ she says. ‘The richness of the shell mirrors my inspiration and is perfectly in line with the vision I have for my clutches.’

Artistic aesthetic
Each clutch is like a work of art and would look equally at home on the mantelpiece of your living room as it would under your arm on a night out. Trad’s signature creations include the Polygonia collection, featuring polygon-shaped clutches in stainless steel or wood, and the Eliferia collection, with rectangular boxes embellished with brass. ‘I love to complement the shell with other materials such as wood, resin, copper, brass and stainless steel, creating a marriage of seemingly incompatible materials that end up harmonising beautifully,’ she explains.

For spring/summer 2016, Trad draws inspiration from the art deco style of Miami’s South Beach neighbourhood. A monochrome palette forms the backdrop for a collection of clutches that seeks to capture the essence of the area’s architecture. The sparkle of a terrazzo floor, the brass accent of a mahogany cocktail bar and the distinctive bark of a tropical tree all provide visual references for pieces that radiate a refined air of old-world glamour. The Webster clutch boasts a mother-of-pearl shell shot through with emerald resin, while the Carlyle and Sterling models echo the elegance of art deco walnut furniture. The Kent clutch has a mesmerising iridescence and a wearable, desirable appeal – its textured finish is made from crushed shell offcuts layered to create a gradient effect.

Innovative ideas
At a time when contemporary accessory design can sometimes seem derivative, Trad’s capacity for innovation and invention gives her pieces a unique edge. She also demonstrates an astute ability to combine her Middle Eastern heritage with cutting-edge fashion. ‘When I create accessories my personality seeps into every aspect of my designs. My entire collection is a true reflection of my identity; my aesthetic is undeniably Middle Eastern with western touches, a marriage of East and West,’ she says.

This ability to blend her cultural background with a modern outlook has put her firmly on the ascent. Trad is set to become one of the most prominent handbag designers of her generation, though it’s unlikely she’ll drop the natural modesty she has about all she has achieved. ‘I feel that as a Middle Eastern designer I have to prove myself twice as much, show proper consistency throughout the seasons, continue to innovate and push boundaries in order to be taken seriously in the Western world. Every region comes with its own set of challenges and benefits. It is up to us to make the best with what we are given.’ 



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