Jennifer Chakra – Sharp and on-the-go.

Leaving the philosophical part out, I was born in Cyprus; my family was escaping the war at the time. We lived in Canada for a while, and then moved back to Lebanon when my sister and I started school. I went to AUB for a BA in Public Administration, and then I worked at an NGO for about a year and half. Realizing I wanted to get into the fashion business, I quit and started working at the company [Georges Chakra], at the same time I wanted more of a business approach. So went back to AUB and enrolled in marketing, then to get my fashion degree I went to Parsons NYC for 2 years and now back in Lebanon.

 1- You were born into a fashion empire, but did you always know you wanted to be in fashion and especially a designer?

Not at all! I actually entered AUB planning on studying medicine. I studied Biology for about a year and a half then switched to Public Administration. Funny enough even if I did want to work as a fashion designer, my father didn’t allow me. He said, “Get a degree first, work for a couple of years, then decide. You need a backup plan in case designing is not your strong suit, or you decide you don’t like it”. Amazingly I love it and I am working to make it my strongest skill.

2- Why did you go all the way to Parsons in New York City to become a fashion designer when you could have done it in-house?

It’s not the same working in house as it is at a university. No matter what people say, it’s not all about education and internships and how well you know about pattern making and sewing, it’s the completion that pushes you to be great or to fail. And Parsons has some pretty great students competing, and who could say no to NYC!

3- Interning at J Mendel one of the world’s biggest fashion houses, what was the major thing you learned?

I actually interned at 3 companies doing different things: A summer internship at Paper Denim and Cloth as a design intern. That was an amazing experience. The team is small, so you really get to help out in everything, from photo shoots, to design, to creating spec sheets (take measurements of all aspect of a garment so that it can be reproduced).

My second internship was at Proenza Schouler, as a production intern. After you design a garment, all the weight is shifted towards the production team to make sure the garment being produced matches the specifications the design team set. So we were responsible for fittings, and fabric testing, garment testing … etc.

The last design internship was at J. Mendel, which was by far my favorite. A friend of mine actually helped me get this internship, and it was the best experience, they really made me feel part of the team. We worked on designs starting from pattern making to draping, fittings… etc. I was really into the work that I wanted to stay with the team till 1 am working.

You will find this crazy but, I’m not sure what I learned exactly from all that I did, but I know I’m better at what I do because of all these trainings. There is a reason they push you that hard. Some students used to call it abuse of power, and sometimes it is. But honestly, I think they push you in order to see if you have what it takes to be in this cutthroat industry.

4- What are the qualities or the characteristics that you always aim to have in everything you design?

Every design differs, from the next, but I always try to have some element of modernity and sexiness, to a certain extent. I know what I like and it changes from season to season but there is a base that is always there.

5- Do you ever design an outfit and then think, who would wear this? Which woman of which type? Or you think any woman can wear any design and it would fit her?

I design mostly thinking, “would I wear this”, because I feel if as a designer your clothes, products, designs, need to have some reflection of yourself, and if they don’t then you need to reevaluate.

6- On Instagram and Facebook we see a lot of “fashion designers” promoting their designs sold at somewhat high-prices.  Do you think anyone who can sew a dress and create a name and collection can acquire the tittle? 

Tricky question…. Anyone can be a designer. It’s such a word that is thrown around today. You have service designers, product designers; make up designers, hair designers… I mean you can pretty much design anything. I think people need to be humble to a certain degree and respectful to the industry. No one suddenly wakes up and becomes a fashion designer it takes a lot of hard work. But as long as you are able to create something that people can connect with then you are doing something right.

7- Designing under a huge fashion house, what is the biggest challenge you face everyday?

I think it would have to be creating a work boundary with my father. We are exactly the same, stubborn and we have a vision and we stick to it. So when it comes to trying to sway the other it creates some challenges. But if we ever agree on the same idea then the work experience is fantastic and the ideas just flow, we can go through designing 10 gowns in an hour.

8- Working with one of the world’s most renowned designers, how does your father influence your designs; and do you find it hard to keep up with his legacy and people’s expectations?

My father definitely influences my designs, from cuts and shapes to color combinations. I sometimes look at collections he did in 1996 for example and I’m blown away, because I feel like I can wear them today. Definitely my dad has created giant shoes for me to fill, because what he creates is art, wearable art, and it is very hard to find that now. People, who are fans of the brand, respect the artistic insanity and the fabric manipulations and the technology that my dad uses. You look at dresses thinking who would ever use this fabric, let alone wear it and he just has a vision and follows it through. Next season you see it in several other couture shows. So all I can do is absorb as much as I can.

9- Many international celebrities have worn your designs, can you make us jealous and name a few; and have you met any?

We have many celebrities wearing the brand. I haven’t met any in person, but we do have celebrities coming to the show this season in Paris, so that should be very exciting!

10- What fashion tip you would give to Lebanese women today?

I would say: “don’t be so completely taken with fashion trends, they come and go and repeat. Just find the style that you like and if there is a trend this season that you like add it to your wardrobe. There is never a right and a wrong when it comes to fashion.”

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