The latest recruit of Net-a-Porter’s prestigious Vanguard program, Cynthia Merhej, founder of Renaissance Renaissance, offers a contemporary reinvention of couture heritage with sustainability at the heart.
“My AW21 collection came during a very difficult moment – after the explosion in Beirut, leaving Lebanon, my marriage, a pandemic,” Cynthia Merhej, founder of luxe fashion label Renaissance Renaissance tells MOJEH. However proof that beautiful things can bloom from destruction, the Lebanese designer impressed to such an extent with her prestigious designs that she’s now the latest name to be snapped up by Net-a-Porter’s globally-renowned Vanguard mentorship program, having been firmly on the brand’s radar for a while now.
MOJEH speaks to Cynthia about Renaissance Renaissance, her Lebanese upbringing, her inspirations and how sustainability is at the core of everything she does…
How did your great grandmother and mother influence your decision to become a fashion designer?
Their influence first and foremost was entrepreneurship, especially as women from the region – their stories really set a strong example for me. Of course my mother’s influence was very strong, the way I view making clothes to my focus on sustainability is all because of her. She drilled it into me that it’s better to make less but at the highest quality you possibly can than so that the clothes last longer. From her I also learnt a very human approach to fashion, it really rooted my love for storytelling and dreaming into a reality.
Is Renaissance Renaissance still a family affair?
I still work very closely with my mum; we really enjoy working together and I learn from her every single day!
How has your upbringing in Lebanon shaped your brand as well as the woman you are today?
It has shaped me greatly as it has given me a great awareness of life – both the good and the ugly sides and to really appreciate the important things, a beautiful community and the warmth and support from that, it has also taught me to be very resourceful.
What does it mean to you for Renaissance Renaissance to be selected as part of Net-a-Porter’s Vanguard programme?
It is an incredible opportunity and I am so honored to have been selected! Net-a-Porter is an enormous platform, and we are very lucky that they believed in us from the start. The mentorship is invaluable because you are getting insights from the best of the best.
Can you talk us through your latest collection and what were your influences?
The FW21 collection came during a very difficult moment, after the explosion in Beirut, leaving Lebanon, my marriage, a pandemic, all rolled into one! It was really a big motivation for me during this period. I had an ambitious idea at the start of the pandemic to get rid of any fastenings, and tried to explore previous silhouettes without any. This was really fun and exciting, however I realised in hindsight that it was a very ambitious idea to add on top of already a crazy time! I am really proud and grateful of everyone who worked on it and helped bring the collection to life, it was a huge challenge.
Sustainability is a big part of your brand – can you talk us through this?
I really believe that there should be ideals of sustainability baked into the DNA of the brand – in the case of Renaissance Renaissance, it’s about really executing pieces that are timeless and well crafted as well as having a story and considered design so that they can last longer. From the outset I never aimed to grow the brand at a fast pace, even if it meant that I would have to sacrifice a lot. I think now as we grow, and hopefully our resources will grow, we will be able to start investing more in materials that are sustainably made. As a young brand, especially based in Beirut, it is very difficult and expensive to access such materials but it’s getting much better as suppliers are listening to the demand and providing more options.
How would you describe the Renaissance Renaissance woman?
Intelligent and poetic, she embraces all sides of her femininity – especially through dressing up!
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- Interview by Naomi Chadderton