Through foundations, charities, and grants, these high-flying style powerhouses are choosing to give back.
Founder of SOS by Lena Perminova, the first global Instagram charity auction account
Her Instagram feed, with its 1.8 million followers, is filled with glossy images: A ski trip to the Alps, jaunts along Maldivian beaches, safari trips in Kenya, and a weekend in Paris to attend couture shows. Destinations are reached via private jet; possibly all in the same month. Yet Perminova comes from humble beginnings. As a teenager, the 32-year-old bought “the cheapest outfits” at local markets in her Siberian town of Berdsk – leggings in neon colors that she would decorate with felt pens to forge an identity and create unusual looks. “Something that was quite hard in the Soviet Union,” she recalls. At 15, she started modeling. But her life changed forever when she met and fell in love with Alexander Lebedev, former KGB agent turned media magnate.“My real taste for fashion developed during my first trip to New York with my husband. I was wearing his oversized hoodie and lots of people were turning to look,” she remembers, adding that her fashion icons include Jane Birkin, model Sasha Pivovarova, and her mother. “I prefer a conscious attitude to shopping. I’m practical. My wardrobe is smaller than most would imagine. I only buy pieces that I would really love to wear, and not just once. Today, mass-market brands make lots of amazing things that look great and show the fast trend.” Perminova regularly pairs looks from her favorite brands – Dior, Giambattista Valli, Valentino, Chloé, Isabel Marant, and Balmain – with high street pieces. “I can wear H&M with a Dior bag. And I adore hats – they make the look.”
Behind the polished exterior, Perminova nurtures an ardent commitment to children. Beyond doting on her own two sons and daughter with Alexander, she has financially assisted more than 115 sick kids through her charity, SOS by Lena Perminova. Launched in 2015 as the first international charity auction on Instagram, it has since raised US $3.8 million. “Funds go directly to the kids,” she states. “We always post the reports about the medical support.” The initiative has been embraced by the fashion and entertainment industry, with Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Ulyana Sergeenko, Georges Hobeika, Natalia Vodianova, and more offering exclusive lots like dresses and fashion experiences with bids being carried out in the post comments. “When fashion can help to save kids’ lives, it’s priceless,” remarks Perminova.
She’s planning to expand the operation to the rest of the world as well. “I hope that soon, we will be able to help at least one child a day. Every time we close an urgent fundraising, I think fashion is doing a great service.”
Originally published in the March 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
Designer, Pioneer, and Mentor
“I was raised and educated in France, where fashion is obviously a deep-rooted element of the culture. I was captivated by the French fashions and glamorous women in Paris,” starts Ingie Chalhoub, founder and CEO of retail company Etoile Group and creative director of luxury ready-to-wear brand Ingie Paris. In January last year, Chalhoub was awarded the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit, for her contributions to promoting French fashion in the Middle East.
Not just a keen businesswoman and creative in her own right, she is also a mentor of Arab designers and international organizations. She recently joined Unicef’s first Leadership Circle in the Gulf. “Our role is to help, protect, and educate children in need. I will be working closely with the leadership team to support Unicef’s Gulf Area Office’s access to senior decision makers, offer support on implementing strategies, and advising Unicef executives to deliver new, ambitious fundraising and campaigning,” she explains of her latest mentorship endeavor.
“I have known from as early as I can remember that fashion would be my calling, particularly as I have always had an affinity towards the arts,” she says of her foundations. Her mother, with whom she opened her first Chanel boutique in Kuwait in 1983, remains at the heart of her deep-seated passion. “She always encouraged me to be creative, whether it was through pottery or painting,” shares Chalhoub. “I learned a number of skills from her – sewing and stitching – through our travels together as I was growing up.” In 2009, she launched her eponymous label consisting of dresses and separates intended to “make women feel instantly glamorous.” The clothes mirror her own style: international, feminine, elegant, sophisticated, and bold. “I like to choose clothes that express my individuality, strength, and glamour whatever the occasion,” she says.
Of her constant championing of young Arab designers, Chalhoub comments, “I love nothing more than having the opportunity to sit and talk with other creatives.” Two or three decades ago, Arab designers were largely unknown outside of the region. “Giant steps have been made to bring Arab design out of the shadows and gain more recognition internationally,” she asserts. “It takes years of hard work, determination, strength, and sheer talent.” Chalhoub adds that burgeoning designers must continuously challenge themselves. “They should come out of their shell; aim for more. Be different, innovative, break down barriers, challenge boundaries, and, above all, be unique.” From her own design experience, Chalhoub considers every challenge a hidden opportunity and every step of a collection’s process rewarding, “full of excitement and promise.” Presenting a glimpse to what maintains her spirit and drive, she smiles. “The only way to enjoy it fully, is to be positive.”
Founder of the Suzanne Rogers Fashion Institute at Ryerson University`
With light jazz playing throughout her 100-year-old, 1 600 sqm manor – originally built for the Canadian retailer family the Eatons – Suzanne Rogers settles into a plush, floral-printed lounge chair to share her love of helping nurture homegrown fashion designers. Married since 2006 to Edward Rogers III, chairman of the multibillion-dollar media company Rogers Communications, this daughter of a uranium miner is part of Canada’s small and elite network of self-made billionaires.
“I remember, shortly after marrying Edward, my father-in-law telling me that my new last name would attract much publicity, admirers, and, of course, photographers,” says Rogers, sipping on her afternoon coffee from her favorite mug – a white porcelain cup adorned with photos of her three children. “He told me to be photographed not because of who I am, but on the basis of what I can bring to a room.”
For as long as she can remember, Rogers has been mesmerized by all things fashion. Mixing fabrics and colors and coordinating outfits, she developed her love of pulling together a look at a young age with the help of her grandmother. Along with being a frequent client of Canadian and international luxury brands, she is a regular fixture at fundraisers and fashion and corporate events across Toronto, where she won’t hesitate to wear a Moschino sequin jumpsuit complete with oversized hair bow.
In 2016, she used her significant means and influence to launch the Suzanne Rogers Fashion Institute (SRFI) in collaboration with the School of Fashion at Ryerson University in Toronto, with a donation of CAD $1 million from the Edward and Suzanne Rogers Foundation. The institute also funds a number of fellows each year based on their talent, work, and ambitions. The fellows – all Canadian fashion students – receive funding to help cover their business costs after graduation, helping kick-start their careers.
“I’d watch designers display their work and asked the school administrator what happens once they graduate. Turns out, nothing happened – I was shocked. Students went on about their lives, some landing in jobs unrelated to their passion. I knew I needed to do something to support fashion here at home,” Rogers explains. “The goal with SRFI is to take fashion students further.” Up-and coming designers like Olivia Rubens – SRFI fellow and eco-friendly womenswear designer – can refine their education and experiences to impact their careers long-term.
As a light drizzle of snow envelops the glass-walled room, Rogers, cozy in a cashmere robe, maintains that her overarching goal is to provide the next generation of Canadian talent with exposure, as she helps curate what’s fresh and unique.