//Words: José Berrocoso//

“WAAR is my way of drawing awareness to a situation that society is trying very hard to ignore, but it cannot, and will not be ignored”

Dr. Chadi Chamoun is a passionate, eccentric and bold Arab-American who believes in liberty, progress and liberal action. He has been a refugee, immigrant and citizen of the world and relates to problems and challenges faced by minorities and underprivileged communities around the world. Dr.Chamoun had worked in developing himself and has graduated with a PhD from the world-renowned University College of London with a PhD degree in architectural design.

WAAR* is his latest project. The concept suggests “we are all refugees” regardless of social, economic or political status. Whether a person has left their home for financial, social, political, or other reasons – this detachment of place and culture contribute to the refugee crisis today. What better way to showcase this contemporary condition than designing a ladies clutch – the premise being it is the ultimate holder of “necessities” the bare minimum carrier device – and drawing awareness to the refugee crisis.

CP Magazine: What was the inspiration behind WAAR?

Chadi Chamoun: The world around us today is very complex and I am trying to make sense of it through design and creative works. WAAR has been primarily inspired by the ever-expansive refugee crisis surrounding us. Society and Politicians cannot turn a blind eye to this anymore; they must help and support the refugee communities. WAAR* is my way of drawing awareness to a situation that society is trying very hard to ignore, but it cannot, and will not be ignored. According to UNHCR there are “at least 79.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 26 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18“. Although these numbers are technically factual, the frightening fact is that the amount of refugees across the world is far more. We need to remember that anyone who has left their home for political, social, economic or any other crisis driven situation which devalues the livelihood of a human is principally a refugee. The powerful thing about a lady’s clutch bag is that it is the ultimate holder of “necessities” the bare minimum carrier device – and drawing awareness to the refugee crisis.

CP: We’ve all been in this lockdown against the pandemic together. We all look for ways to cope. Was WAAR* something that came about during this time?
CC: The pandemic was another “brick in the wall”, it was another layer of inspiration in the creative process to develop WAAR. Being in lockdown is a way of sharing the refugee experience with all of society. People have become refugees in their own city because they were limited in movement, expression and experiences. People became alienated from their friends, loved ones and places they held dear to their heart. WAAR drew and continues to draw inspiration from all challenges that face humanity on a day-to-day basis.

CP: As we understand, you are a professor by profession and you lead the Design College at a university. Tell us more about that, are you into fashion or this is something you’re doing for the first time?
CC: Yes and No. I like to think of myself as a designer by profession who is also passionate about teaching. This passion in teaching has allowed me the opportunity to be granted the role of ‘Dean’ at the American University in the Emirates with the College of Design. I am certainly interested in fashion and have been inspired by it since childhood, but I am equally passionate about architecture, interiors, products and lifestyle. This is the first time that I have developed a fashion product that I have publically shared and I am keen to see how people will react to it.

CP: Is there a personal sentiment attached to the ‘refugees’ for you?
CC: Yes, there is a lot of personal sentimentality in the bags and the concept of refugees. I came from a very humble family background, very grounded, very down to earth. But life has a way of challenging you, moving you, pushing you, making you hone and develop your skills. Being always on the move has let me feel very aligned to the refugee crisis. As a child we moved basically every 2 to 3 years, I changed 7 schools by the time I got to college. I then went on to change 3 countries and 3 colleges before I completed my graduate studies. Our prophets were refugees, being forced to flee from town to town, city to city, and nation to nation. Once we realise that we are all in this together, and that we are all susceptible to this, we can start to care and support one another more consciously and effectively.

CP: You’ve spoken earlier about blurring the lines in design? Tell us more about that?
CC: Design etymologically means ‘to draw’. So whether you are drawing an idea, piece of furniture, fashion product, architecture, or any other creative process you are actively engaging in design. Design has no defined boundaries and only is limited by quality and passion.

CP: Would you say that the concept was impacted by your design technique or your views relating to design?
CC: The concept was impacted by my views relating to design. This is particularly noticeable in the way that I perceive cities and society. I like to read spaces similar to how people read a book. I look for patterns, colours, scents, stories, emotions, and try to embody them within a creative work.

CP: Does your background in architecture influence the design process, with bags and possibly fashion?
CC: My background in architecture is a springboard to diving into all forms of fashion. Architecture should be perceived as a way of seeing and interpreting the world and not necessarily building structures and shelter. Architectural education emphasizes on research, process, analysis and questioning norms. I like to think that my past cautiously informs my future and the transition between architecture and fashion is testimony to that.

CP: We’ve read that you’ve been a refugee before. Please tell us more, is this why you are so passionate about shining light on this issue?
CC: My parents and I were forced to leave Lebanon in 1978 and flee to America. It was not a choice and it was not an option. We could either leave – or face dire consequences. Our passports were printed, visas issued and we were on a plane to JFK. My parents still like to think of it as immigration, but I can’t digest that – it is one thing that we won’t agree on. We will agree to disagree on this issue. At the age of 3 NYC became my home. Particularly Greenwich Village, which had a very particular vibe in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Artists, musicians, and a massive mix of every nationality and social profile one could imagine. My parents literally had 50$ in their pocket. They had to work such a myriad of jobs to keep us afloat that listing them would be a thesis. Amongst the chaos my father became a successful interior designer in NYC and my mother a phenomenal Real-Estate Broker in Queens.

CP: What is in store for the line? Is there a brand you want to launch or other social issues you want to target?
CC: I would love to align myself and integrate with other brands. WAAR* could be the brand itself. The main idea should remain that the product conveys refugee values and should be true to that mission. It would be great for WAAR* to mix up with other brands, similar to how refugees integrate with diverse social structures in society. As things evolve I would be keen on focusing on other topics where I believe I can have an impact.

CP: Where do you see this in the next three years?
CC: It would be great to see WAAR* grow and evolve and become strong enough to help refugees across diverse communities. It would be a blessing to have the ability to give more back to society.

The handheld bags are made in Dubai within a small and are currently being sold on-line via Instagram to individuals from the Middle East.

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