Sarah Beydoun, the creative director and founder of Sarah’s Bag, is one of the first designers in Lebanon to bring Middle Eastern pop culture into the mainstream, reviving and reinventing the region’s rich traditions of craftsmanship, embroidery, crocheting and textile making. Launched in 2001, her line of handmade handbags has become a must-have for every respected fashionista.In a talk with ArabAd, she reflects on the notion of nostalgia inherent in her product design.
Sarah’s Bag made a huge splash with vintage oriented items. What is it about nostalgia taking over right now?
When I started Sarah’s Bag 16 years ago, most of the inspiration for my bags was derived from Beirut and Middle Eastern pop culture of the 60s and 70s. We were among the first brands to incorporate this kind of nostalgia into a fashion label and people loved it, whether it was our Lebanese or Arab clientele. I think they loved (and still love) wearing something that’s stylish and contemporary that reminds them of a golden era. And like any trend that catches fire and translates into sales, many other designers, from furniture to fashion, have incorporated Middle Eastern nostalgia into their work.
"Remember, we are a region with thousands of years of history, culture, art, crafts, poetry and music that can be an endless source of inspiration."
Who is your average consumer and has there been a newer younger crowd attracted to more modern items?
Our clients are aged anywhere between the teens to women in their 70s! And whereas there might be a preference for our more classic items among older women and an appreciation for the more modern and boldly coloured items among the younger ones, all our clients love our nostalgia-themed collections, which we group under a line called ‘Sarah’s Bag Impressions’. These bags appeal to a wide range of clients from locals to visitors and of course, the Lebanese diaspora, who by purchasing them feel they are taking home a slice of Lebanon. Our designs don’t only feature vintage photos of Beirut but also tap into the soft spots in the hearts of Arabs with the bags that have lines from Um Kalthoum songs and Nizar Qabbani poetry beaded on them, the wooden clutches made with the same technique used to create backgammon or tawleh boards and the clutches that are printed with images of the golden age of Egyptian cinema.
Why is everyone hanging on to the past, revisiting it and almost living in it as opposed to trying to head towards the future?
Well when you look at the current state the Arab world is in, I can understand why! It is hard to have much hope in the future when in the past decade or so, wars have erupted in almost every Arab country and the region is dealing with such a huge refugee crisis. I don’t blame people for looking back at a more inspirational and peaceful past.
How far can we go to the past, without repeating ourselves as memory material ends up drying up little by little?
I don’t think memory ‘material’ will ever dry up; in fact, I see this nostalgia trend growing, as Arab artists and designers are finding new ways to incorporate elements of it into their work. Remember, we are a region with thousands of years of history, culture, art, crafts, poetry and music that can be an endless source of inspiration.
Vintage and nostalgia conjure up images of Beirut in dolce vita mode; if such is the case, how real is this image and how come we ended up with a war on our hands?
The golden era of Beirut was certainly very real for many Lebanese and all the visitors who knew and loved Lebanon back then. I always wish I knew the Lebanon that my parents grew up in. I am not going to go into a political discussion of why the war started but I just hope for my children’s sake that our future is a better one.