In H&M’s storied collaboration history, there has never been one with an Arab designer—until now. Enter Lebanese designer Sandra Mansour with her trailblazing new collection that is an empowering demonstration of hope and resilience even in the most turbulent of times.
Inspired by a quartet of powerful female artists, Mansour dares to dream of an aesthetic that is both classic yet modern, romantic but edgy. Drawing on the exquisite beauty of nature and incorporating motifs such as sunflowers and other floral varieties onto a palette of earth-colored hues, the Paris Fashion Week-regular brings to life a sense of artistic expression that is synonymous with the runway. Yet, with ruffled hems, delicate fabrics, and tailored silhouettes, each piece is also a combination of effortless versatility that can easily translate from day into night—a trait H&M champions with many of their own designs.
Ahead of the “Fleur du Soleil” collection debut in August, we caught up with Mansour to discuss which Lebanese painter served as one of her sources of inspiration, what she envisions the future of fashion in a post-Covid-19 world, and how she feels representing the region in H&M’s first-ever collaboration with an Arab designer.
What was the inspiration behind this collection and how does it reflect in the designs?
While creating The Fleur Du Soleil collection, there were two constant themes: nature and surrealism derived and projected by The Sun & The Sunflower. These two elements were used to inspire hope and light in these very strange and turbulent times. Seen in the use of thread embroidery on organza, flowy point d’esprit tulle and jacquard, were fabrics that permitted this collection to come to life. With ethereal silhouettes and neutral color tones, this collaboration stood true to both brands.
How does it feel to be the first Arab designer to collaborate with the brand?
It is groundbreaking for me in every sense of the word. It has been an overwhelming sensation. I am honestly still quite speechless, but very honored. Being recognized as a Lebanese designer where local artisanship, craftsmanship, and creativity has been celebrated worldwide, I am very proud to represent my country, my region, and women in the first-ever H&M collaboration with an Arab designer.
What are some of your favorite pieces in the collection?
It’s actually really hard for me to choose, each piece is somehow a favorite. When collaborating we really thought about pieces that translate from day to night for any occasion. Be it a tulle layered dress or a short wrap dress, each piece served a purpose—a beautiful marriage between my ready-to-wear evening dresses and H&M’s cool day wear. But I guess if someone asked which piece I could wear all the time, it would be the Caftan, with either the Sunflower earrings or the chunky asymmetrical ones. I also loved the hoodie and the blazer.
How and where do you envision the collection being styled and worn?
Everywhere, as broad as that sounds. But you have to have fun with each piece. I styled Summer Shirt with our Union skirt during the day, I also wore the Amata wrap dress to an engagement, and then I styled our Wind Skirt with our Moon t-shirt to a lunch. All these outfits I, of course, adorned with the accessories. Whether it’s the earrings or rings, they always tend to finish the look! There’s a lot of agility in this collection, which I think speaks volumes to our world today. Each piece can be worn and crossed over from day to night, which shows the importance of flexibility in our lives. Nothing is as it was, so to have pieces that can do both, makes the job a lot more fun.
How do you envision the future of fashion post-Covid-19?
This is a tough one, I am not really sure. But I think every drastic event causes a ripple effect of change, whether we want it or not. I also think Covid-19 gave people the chance to reflect and realize that the fast-paced beat of our world, and the fashion world to be precise, needed to take a step back. Be it in ways of how we should be more sustainable as an industry and more responsible, I do believe fashion and all industries will steer towards some sort of newness.
What kind of a woman is this collection made for?
All sorts; I never really like limiting myself or others. I think anyone who sees a piece and loves it should wear it. This collection was made with a lot of love and dedication, and I just want that message to come across. So any woman who finds herself in a piece that is both ethereal, cool, soft, and strong should be wearing one.
What about the female artists Toyen, Dorothea Tanning, Lena Leclercq and Bibi Zogbé inspired you to create the collection?
In every collection, I try to reference painters as painting is always a source of inspiration to me. Artists permit me to express surrealism in fashion and creation. When it comes to Toyen and Dorothea Tanning, through their art and self-expression, they allow their audience to think and that thought process always guides me. It serves as an outline to my creation process. I also always try and reference poets or writers; it’s a beautiful thing that words can evoke. One of the most recurring poets in this collaboration is Lena Leclercq. She has the ability to influence one’s reality through self-awareness while immersing yourself in her writings. Finally, one of my favorite artists—a pioneer worldwide and specifically in Lebanon—is Bibi Zogbé. Zogbé commemorates her homeland through her painting of flowers found in Lebanon. Her dreamy and romantic representation of home is an ode, with a constant ability to inspire. All this to reiterate what Ingrid Pfeiffer says: “After all, surrealism is a state of mind rather than a style.”
We also chatted with H&M’s head of womenswear design Maria Östblom to understand what it was about Mansour’s eponymous Beirut-based brand that first caught her eye, how she would style her favorite pieces from the upcoming collection, and what impact this unprecedented collab will have in continuing to uplift designers from the Arab world onto an international stage.
Why is Sandra Mansour the ideal designer for this collaboration with H&M?
When we first came across Sandra Mansour, we fell in love with all the storytelling behind her designs—they’re like modern fairytales. She’s probably best known for her dresses and, at first glance, her work is light and sensitive, but it’s also dark and decadent. Sandra herself exudes a lot of self-confidence, balancing this femininity with edginess throughout her designs, and that made her ideal for a collaboration.
What are your favorite pieces from the collection and why?
I’m very much like the concept of the collaboration—I like to mix the beautiful dresses with the more streetwear-inspired pieces. But my personal favorite is probably her effortless signature dress, which is like a relaxed tunic with volume sleeves and a higher neck. You can wear it for onscreen socializing, to fancy parties, at home with jeans, you can even sleep in it! It’s just so wearable and sophisticated. When going out, I’d pair it with chunky boots and the cool asymmetric earrings from the collaboration, which I really love.
What role does this collaboration play in supporting Arab designers?
We’re very proud to have customers from all around the world and always strive to be as diverse as possible so we’re thrilled to have a designer that’s based in Lebanon and represents that part of the world for this collaboration. So while it’s important for us to be representative, the collaboration is also about the energy and expertise of Sandra Mansour as a designer. She really expresses this feminine power through her clothes and we’re so happy that more H&M customers will be able to experience that.
The Sandra Mansour x H&M collection will be available in select stores across the UAE as well as on ae.hm.com from August 6 onwards.