When the Impeccable Style of a Syrian Man Says it All

Issa Hesso is one of very few known Kurdish fashion designers in the world. The Beirut-based 33-year-old was one of the last four candidates of Project Runway Middle east. ZÎV had this exclusive interview with Mr. Hesso to talk about his childhood, his passions and plans for future:

Where did you grow up and what did you study?

I was born and raised in the city of Hasaka, northeast Syria. I left school earlier than what my parents expected. At the age of 16, I started sewing clothes which I enjoyed doing more than going to school. I was terrible at math and science anyway. After serving in the military, I started some basic design classes in Qamishli and nine months later I moved to Damascus hoping to find some proper fashion design academies but unfortunately, the fashion schools weren’t professional and were too expensive for me to afford. Hence, I decided to move to Lebanon at the age of 23. 

I spent 3 years in Lebanon sewing and learning more about how to make dresses at ESMOD school. After graduation, I thought it was the time for me to start my own brand, however I did not have enough money to do so. I had to use my house for my work and to welcome in customers.

Let’s go back in time. What made you interested in fashion at the age of 16?

I had an interest in fashion a long time before that really. I always had interest in art and sport classes more than mathematics and science. I wanted to learn how to sew and see where that would take me. At that stage, I didn’t know anything about fashion design, or that designing a dress could be sold for hundreds of dollars.

What was the reaction of your family and friends when you decided to go for fashion design?

My parents didn’t like the idea of me leaving school but they gave up on me when they saw my passion for design and that I have no interest in being at school at all.

How did you get into Project Runway Middle East?

They called me as they were looking for designers with international backgrounds. They asked me to send them my designs and after several stages of examining, I passed and joined the show. 

It was a very special experience for me indeed and a great chance to perform in front of international fashion icons like Elie Saab. Getting constant tips on fashion, design and the challenges we had to pass each episode strengthened my skills and trained me to work on other people’s ideas and not only mine. For example, I never thought I would be designing children’s clothes.

Let’s talk about fashion amongst the Kurds in Rojava; what do you think of the street style today amongst the youth? 

First if we want to judge the street style of any city, we have to look at the brands they have in the market. Big international cities like Paris, London and Milan have big brands, but if you come to the Kurdish areas you won’t find a single inspiring brand. So, you know where I am heading to.

But generally, Kurds are very good in mixing colours and pieces.

But do you think the general Kurdish style has become more conservative over time?

Yes. In my opinion, the youth are being forced to be conservative now, however, many of them are being conservative for religious reasons of course. This phenomenon isn’t Kurdish and of course, it limits the freedom to design artistically daring clothes for women, which is a very big challenge for us [as designers] if we want to be creative. 

Could you please tell us about your company, Creative House? 

I started Creative House to help the people who don’t have a lot of experience in designing but are willing to pay to create a collection for themselves.

Creative House will help them illustrate, buy materials and design their collection at a professional level.

Do you have a brand? And what does it look like?

Yes, I named it after myself – Issa Hesso but now I am focusing more on Creative House to help me secure some funding to kick off my brand. My brand is going to be international with some additional Kurdish touches. The style I am aiming for now is bold and futuristic, inspired by Alexander McQueen’s old style.

I am also very inspired by nature and you can see that in a lot of my designs.

My collection in Project Runway Middle East represented the Syrian war. The drawings represented moving from a war zone to a safe zone and were covered with all the religious symbols in three layers of colours. Black was the sadness, red was the blood and white was the peace. I usually make my own materials instead of buying them from the shop. 

Do you design clothes for celebrities?

Yes, I design for some Lebanese celebrities like Daniella Rahme and others.

Do you aspire to be one of the first international Kurdish designers?

Some of the judges in Project Runway Middle East actually told me that I have a unique style, like Alexander McQueen’s, which is very unusual. For example, you see many young designers have the same style as Elie Saab.

Also, this quote from one of the judges was very special to me: “Stay as you are and you will achieve what you want. Keep your identity in your designs”.