Interview with Maram Aboul Enein of MARAM Paris
It’s hard to believe that award-winning Egyptian designer, Maram Abdoul Enein once had reservations about lending her name to her luxury line, MARAM Paris. Maram, meaning ‘aspiration’ in old Arabic, couldn’t be more fitting for a brand with such rich materials and impeccable construction. Trained in the renowned houses of Pierre Balmain and Oscar de la Renta, it’s easy to see where Enein gets her refined taste. Her sumptuous designs, outfitted in opulent fur and glossy leather, comprise a daring new style for the modern woman. Here, Enein talks with Plan de Ville about her own aspirations, and what’s in a name. –Allison Taylor
You launched MARAM in 2014, after graduating from Parsons in Paris and training under several great designers. What is one memory that stands out in your mind from that time?
The first day I rented my design atelier was probably the most memorable moment because it really was the first step I took to solidify my commitment to starting the brand. I was completely alone, there was no furniture so I would go every morning at 9AM like a normal workday and sit on the floor with my sketchbook. It was a hard time for me because I had no idea where to start and there was a lot of room for self-doubt but I knew if I could commit myself to waking up every morning and coming to the studio alone, I was already taking the first step.
What were some of your early experiences as a designer working in-house for other brands?
On my first day in the embroidery department at Balmain, my boss asked me to develop and design a macramé (ancient weaving technique) sample. I said I had never worked with macramé before and all I got back was, ‘Learn’. So I spent my entire first day with my headphones on watching ‘how-to macramé’ videos with a bunch of cords in my hands that kept coming undone. I slowly began to get the hang of it and wanted to try more complicated weaves, so I would macramé all day every day: at work, at home while watching TV, on the metro, pretty much any free time I had, I was weaving. A couple of weeks later my final macramé sample was approved by Olivier and incorporated into the collection, which was probably one of my happiest memories from working under other designers.
Tell me about your experience as a student at Parsons Paris.
It was tough and the workload was endless, but I learned so much. Parsons puts a lot of emphasis on the technical skills in the first few years and once you’ve acquired that they set you loose creatively - that way however crazy you go with the design, you are backed up with strong technique and execution. It’s also a really small school. There were only six graduating fashion students by senior year, so the classes were very intimate and the teachers gave each student a generous amount of time. All our teachers have worked with top brands in the fashion industry so the amount of accumulated insight and technical skills we were given was priceless.
You mentioned that your creative process draws on theoretical research and mythology. What are some of your favorite subjects to explore while conceptualizing a collection?
I think the initial process of finding the seasonal inspiration to drive the collection is extremely challenging, because whatever it is, it has to mean something strong enough to you to push you through the whole design process. It needs to be something that fuels a fire in you, because that fire is what opens up the creative doors in the design process and allows you to come up with new ideas. It’s extremely important for me to reach this emotional level of inspiration before I start designing, so whatever topic starts grabbing my attention, I completely immerse myself in it before I pick up my sketchbook. The subject doesn’t matter to me as much as the emotional attachment to the inspiration does, because at the end of the day this emotion translates into the clothes, which carries over to the person wearing them. This is the most important part for me.
What was the inspiration for your Spring/Summer 2016 collection?
‘Nomad’s Land’ was inspired by this idea of living in a world with no boundaries- I remember one morning I was watching the news and this huge disappointment in humanity overtook me. My thoughts kind of started drifting off and I remember thinking ‘What are all these people fighting about?’ and then I thought, ‘What if countries didn’t exist? What if there were no borders, no evil, no ego?’ I’m sure everyone thinks that at some point while watching the news, but that thought kind of took off in my mind like a rocket and all of a sudden I started envisioning this beautiful world where everyone would be born completely free of national identity. I started reading some old travel novels, folktales and poems, doing visual research on tribal cultures that weren’t touched by modern society as this was the closest I could get to my ‘Nomad’s Land’. From there, I created the landscape, the mood, the smells, the sounds and finally, the clothes.
Who are the women who inspire you each season?
I have my muses that I grew up watching and admiring, like Princess Diana. But I am also inspired by strong women in my life, like my mother and my grandmother. The women that inspire me aren’t necessarily the most fashionable women, but they exude this sense of style that’s almost impossible to impersonate because it stems from their character; you can imitate the clothes they wear, but you can’t imitate how they carry themselves in them.
MARAM translates to “aspiration” in Arabic – how do you feel your collection embodies this concept?
Deciding on the brand name was very difficult for me because I was initially very against using any parts of my name in it. I didn’t want to be directly associated to the brand. I was also scared of failure - of having a brand named after myself and then failing. I was starting to go in a more abstract direction with the name but everything I came up with seemed to lack something unique. I was never very fond of my name because it’s quite uncommon and always seemed to confuse people but then I remembered why my grandmother chose that name for me. She named me Maram (aspiration) because she wanted to give me a rare name that can stand alone while holding a strong meaning- A name that I can always proudly carry with me. It’s a strange name, but it’s me- and so is this brand. No other cool abstract name could represent my creations like my own- and I wanted my brand to be relatable and honest. The fear of failure didn’t scare me anymore, because failure only happens when you lose sight of your aspirations- and I’m stuck with mine
I’d love to hear about your early experiences with the fashion press.
When I was a student, industry professionals and press would attend our annual runway show looking for new designers. The first publications my designs were featured in were mostly underground French art magazines. My brand was recently featured for the first time in ELLE and FASHION magazine amongst others, and that initial feeling of seeing my designs in such huge publications cannot be described in words.
Tell me about your first sales season for MARAM. What did you find challenging? Rewarding?
The first show I launched the collection at was Tranoi New York. I was by myself and I was terrified of doing sales. I had previous experiences working in showrooms for brands like Oscar De La Renta, but it’s a completely different story when you’re selling your own work because you are really sensitive to rejection and criticism. I knew I had to hire a salesperson that could handle the sales talk without taking it personally, but about half an hour before the first day at the show started, my salesperson decided to ditch the job. That was the most challenging part for me. I had to learn how to switch off the shy designer and switch on the businesswoman in 30 minutes. It was the most valuable lesson I learned, because now I use it on a daily basis in running the brand. The most rewarding part was that it worked. It wasn’t easy and I made a lot of mistakes, but I still managed to land my first stockists, which is very rare on a first season.
Who have you learned the most from in your career thus far? Do you have mentors?
My father is my mentor. He is a completely self-made, phenomenal businessman and he is like the left-sided brain that I don’t have. My father stood by my decision to study what I love and he is the one that motivated me to start my own business. The reason I learned so much from him is because he didn’t allow me to lean on him when I started the brand. He let me make my mistakes and fall, but he was always observing my actions and decisions. He understands the challenges I go through because he went through them too when he first started. He knows how to emotionally detach himself from being my father to being my business mentor by giving me reality checks, feedback, and constructive criticism when I need it.
What’s the most exciting part of your business?
Working everyday with my team. We are a really small group and we have been through a lot together, but they constantly support me and I truly see them like family. Other than that, the shows are the most rewarding part, because you get to see everything you worked so hard for come to life. I also think that nothing is more exciting than seeing someone walking in the street wearing your designs.
What are some challenges that you face in your business? How have these challenges evolved in the last year? Two years?
I would say the production process was my main challenge in the beginning. It was extremely difficult to find the right factories, because I produce small-quantity high end pieces. The manufacturing world is dominated by mass-production so it takes a lot of time and resources to track down the right people for you. I have been abandoned by manufacturers mid-production, I have received pieces that shrunk in pressing, pieces that were sewn wrong, and I’ve had pieces go completely missing. It was tough and it’s very easy to reach a point where you have to consider sacrificing your quality for the price and speed of things. But I have managed to stay insistent and dedicated to my quality and push through to slowly find the right people to work with. Now that it’s been two years, I have developed a level of trust and loyalty with my manufacturers.
What motivates you as a designer?
The commitment I made to myself, my brand, my team, and my clients. When you learn how to commit yourself to something you love - even if there are many parts in it that you don’t love so much - any lack of motivation stimulates your drive to improve. Anytime I feel demotivated or overwhelmed, I try as much as I can to mute out the every-day issues I’m facing and remind myself of the big dream.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring fashion designers and fashion students, what would it be?
It’s not easy. You have to learn how to grow that inner salesperson, that accountant, that production manager, that business man/woman, that leader in you, because the designer alone won’t be enough in the beginning. You are designing around 2% of the time, and the other 98% is completely managerial. Even if you have a manager, you will have to (in a way) manage the manager.
What’s next for MARAM?
I am taking things very slowly, and putting all my focus on the final product. My aim is to provide a high-quality luxury product that lasts, and that sometimes takes a couple of trials and errors but I’m getting really close. Once I manage to control my production exactly the way I want to, I hope to one day have my own production facilities, create bigger, more elaborate collections, develop accessories, put more focus on the runway shows and hopefully open a flagship store.