When one begins a journey adventuring in conscious fashion, the first steps seem to start in vintage or thrift shopping. In fact, timeless style is believed to outlive any trends, and arguably the best thing you can do for the environment is simply not create new products. Nawal Akl who lives in Beirut and owns a unique vintage destination, tells me on the phone, “I am anti-marketing and anti-conformism,” when I ask her to tell me about her approach to Depot-Vente, Beirut’s most affordable and cool vintage store.
The idea of circular fashion is often associated with US venture-backed startups at the intersection of fashion and technology, such as Rent the Runway or The Real Real. But in postwar Lebanon, the idea of sustainable fashion is one we intimately know as a core part of our culture. Our grandmothers would either make their own clothes sur mesure, and know and often befriend a good tailor who would custom make their tailored suits and dresses. Lebanon has famously been called the Paris of the Middle East, and images of its glamorous heritage are archived on Instagram accounts such as @oldbeirouthlebanon or @oldlebanon. Here, we are able to relive the idea of what fashion looked like before Fast Fashion groups invaded the region, endangering the local markets and culture around sustainable fashion.
At a time when major European and American brands are tripping over themselves to come up with a “sustainability story,” sometimes the simplest solutions are the best: buy vintage. And although modern Lebanon’s culture is very enthralled with all things Western and new, there is a distinct voice for vintage, that Depot-Vente understands. “Forget about fashion, and just work with what you love!” shares Akl, who photographs her customers in her unique finds. Her thoughts on photography: “The mirror shows you how you see yourself, but in photographs, you can see how others view you.”
Founded in 2013, Depot-Vente is the most in-demand vintage shop in Beirut, if not the entire region. Akl first launched Depot-Vente seven years ago, as the name suggests, strictly as a dépôt—French for a storage—located in a tiny studio in Beirut’s hip Mar Mikhael neighborhood. The clothes are carefully curated by Akl herself, and she pays personal attention to customers based on their personal style. She loves the idea of continuing the “shelf life” of unique pieces that have been worn and loved, and always makes sure that her clients are buying something that they feel comfortable in, that they will wear in the future; that feels like it’s theirs. “You have to love your body, and bring forward the parts of your body that you love the most,” Akl states, adding: “Being timeless is a way to be eternal.” Depot-Vente’s prices start at 3,000 L.L and go up to 100,000 L.L.
Pam Nasr, a Lebanese filmmaker and model who has recently relocated to New York from Beirut, is a big fan. “I discovered Depot-Vente about six years ago through my best friend. Since then, and due to Nawal’s charismatic character, she gained a lot of Depot-Vente fans and loyal customers, allowing her to expand into a second shop down the street, as well as a rental house for film, fashion, TV and TVCs,” says Nasr.
“I call Nawal my fairy godmother because she always looks out for me, supports my work, and always picks out clothes for me that I wouldn’t necessarily pick out for myself. She knows her stores inside and out! I mean, if you walk in, you can barely move without bumping into clothes and shoes. Her store’s layout is chaotically organized, where she is the don, offering her mother-like services to any and every customer. Her loud, charismatic personality has captured so many Beirutis’ hearts including mine,” says Nasr. “She’s given opportunities to a lot of young kids to express their talents, allowing them to continuously style and photograph their friends as well as customers for their instagram.”
Akl also repurposes vintage clothing by collaborating with local designers and stylists as well as her shopkeepers. In 2015, she asked Nasr to repurpose leather pants into other wearable garments and organized a pop-up where Nasr was able to sell them, labeling her as a designer. “Nawal is all about using her store as a platform to give others creative opportunities, making women and men feel beautiful and allowing them to shine.” Her vintage pieces range from rare finds from the 60’s all the way to early 2000’s and caters to women and men.
Photographer: Prod Antzoulis
Stylist + Art Director: Pam Nasr
Model: Lea Casini
Clothes: Depot-Vente Beirut