Lama Mansour is a global citizen who feels equally at home in Paris or Jeddah. The independent creative director recently moved back to her native Jeddah after living in the City of Light, where she studied at the American University and the Istituto Marangoni. Currently pursuing a career in fashion, the trilingual young Saudi offered up glimpses of her studio filled with recollections of the Paris couture scene, as well as her involvement in promoting Saudi Arabia’s contemporary artists.
Finding a Home in Paris…
“Hemingway once said, ‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris…then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you.’ That was certainly the case with me. If you had entered my Paris apartment, you would have found it brimming with stacks of books, yet there is no better place to soak up fashion’s history than Paris, where it has long been considered a national patrimony. With haute couture, in particular, what intrigues me isn’t simply the final product, but the creative process, from the sketches to the fittings. It’s not about rushing, but taking the time to appreciate the effort and savoir faire that goes into producing these exquisite and intricate pieces. From a young age, I knew the names of all the important couture houses, what a première d’atelier and directrice were, and could explain the difference between an A-line and a col bateau.
“Over the years, I accumulated stacks of programs and sketches from couture shows I’d attended from an early age, and I still remember my first show, in 1995. Hanae Mori presented her collection that year at the Plaza Athénée, and I caught the couture bug that very day. Years later, as a student, I would sometimes run between classes to attend shows, and then run back to school…one of the perks of living in Paris. My all-time favorite was Monsieur Lacroix, and it was heartbreaking to see such a genius close his doors. The way he mixed fabrics and textures was magical, and his color palette was simply one of dreams. Lacroix was also surrounded by a superb team of talents, whom I had the pleasure of knowing, and they remain very dear to my heart today. I also remember Gaultier’s whimsical presentations that showed off his expert tailoring, as well as Valentino’s last couture show at the Musée Rodin, on January 23, 2008. That show, in particular, has stayed with me, because it was around that time that I really began to adjust to life in Paris. I remember my heart racing as the lights dimmed, the music began, and the models came wafting down the runway. It dawned on me at that moment that I live in Paris and was beginning a new chapter in my life.
“I also learned to appreciate the beauty in diversity, because Paris encourages encounters with interesting and creative individuals from around the world. I was lucky to have met Monsieur Alaïa and the always-chic Farida Khelfa, who are both Parisian institutions today. One of my fondest memories was assisting a shoot and interview with Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy at their Paris home. From the moment I walked into their kitchen and found Lamy standing with her hands in the air (waiting for her black fingertips to dry), I knew I was in for an extraordinary time.”
Bridging cultures through the Al-Mansouria Foundation…
“When I returned to Jeddah, I became more involved in Saudi Arabia’s booming contemporary-art scene through the Al-Mansouria Foundation. It was a lifelong dream of my mother, who founded the foundation in 1999, to support and promote art and culture in Saudi Arabia and the Arab World. At the time, arts and culture weren’t at the top of people’s list of priorities, and only a few understood the foundation’s purpose in the beginning. But my mother always believed that art can form a bridge between cultures, and she wanted to give artists from the region the opportunity to grow and be exposed to the larger world. Since its inception, the organization has promoted the work of emerging artists through exhibitions in Saudi Arabia and abroad, as well as publishing books. It also continues to acquire works by local and regional artists. Numbering up to four hundred pieces today, it formed the kingdom’s first permanent collection of contemporary art. To further its mission to bridge cultures through art, the foundation purchased a studio at Paris’ Cité Internationale des Arts, in 2001. The Cité has long served as a meeting place for artists from all over the world, and each year the foundation sends Saudi and Arab artists to live and work there.”
Photos: Courtesy of Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz