Behind the Scenes at Paris Fashion Week

Students of the Fashion Design Program talk about their learning experiences interning for ELIE SAAB at one of the industry’s largest-scale events.

By Raissa Batakji

(From L) Tiya Rassaa, Andrew Mahfouz and Cynthia El Masri collected invaluable insights about the rich diversity of the fashion industry and gained exposure to a world-class designer, all while sharpening their career goals as they get ready to graduate.

Last month, three fashion design students – Tiya Rassaa, Cynthia El Masri, and Andrew Mahfouz – seized the unique opportunity to intern for ELIE SAAB at Paris Fashion Week. Their different experiences offered insights into the rich diversity of the fashion industry and the value of exposure to a world-class designer, all while sharpening their career goals as they get ready to graduate.

Since its inception at LAU in 2013, the Fashion Design Program, in collaboration with ELIE SAAB and the London College of Fashion, emerged as a unique entry point into the fashion industry for students looking to amass the theoretical knowledge, technical tools as well as business skills needed to excel in this diverse field.

During their third year, students are required to complete an internship, and Mahfouz had his mind set on this fashion house.

“I sent my portfolio and waited for the longest time before I finally got the call asking me to start the very next day – only two weeks before the haute couture show at Paris Fashion Week,” he said, noting that for logistical reasons, he was only able to obtain his paperwork in time to attend the ready-to-wear show in person.

Rassaa, who is a senior student, had already completed her third-year internship but was eager to add more experience to her resumé before graduating. When she learned about the opportunity from Mahfouz, she applied immediately.

Also a senior, El Masri had interned at ELIE SAAB the previous year, working across the atelier, pattern-making and the embroidery departments and landed the internship based on her prior experience.

The three students ended up being the only interns on the SAAB team who had been recruited from the Beirut headquarters for the fashion show.

Eager to make the most out of her time, Rassaa took the initiative and was constantly around to help, even when she was off duty. “This helped me see that nothing just happens overnight; every look takes months of preparations up to the point where the model hits the runway,” she explained, in awe of the whole process, from styling and casting to rehearsals and photography. “This was not just about designing,” she added.

For El Masri, the experience gave her a sense of accomplishment. “For six full days, we worked backstage on assisting the stylists and photographers and were each charged with a specific number of models,” she said. While having worked on LAU’s graduate fashion show, Play, had given her an idea of what to expect, El Masri was impressed with the scale of the event and how it was “truly international.”

Beyond benefitting from the experience of working under pressure for a world-class brand,  Mahfouz reflected on what he is gaining from his LAU education. “We get to put our feelings and emotions into our work. It is neither about being a tailor nor about having the technical skills. This is about designing and creating, and it has been a therapeutic journey for me so far,” he pointed out.

Rassaa’s journey has put her on a different path: fashion management and marketing. Thanks to her multicultural roots, business minor, and the communication skills she developed at the LAU Event Organization Club, she realized how much she enjoyed working with people. In fact, one fashion entrepreneur she had met at Paris Fashion Week showed interest in offering her a job opportunity.

“Fashion is such a vast field” that students should never miss a chance to work across different aspects of the industry, and to actively seek those throughout their four years of study, advised El Masri. “They might not even grasp how rich the field is before experiencing it firsthand,” she added.

“Having witnessed a world-renowned designer at work in the heat of the runway pressure, my worries shrank in comparison,” concluded Rassaa. “It is these types of experiences that give me a new perspective, add to my confidence, and renew my belief in possibilities.”