Ta­nia Fare­sis sup­port­ing the ris­ing stars

This is the story of Ta­nia Fares – fash­ion’s fairy god­mother


A t 07.50 on a brisk and cloud-cov­ered morn­ing in Lon­don, the Eng­lish sky didn’t look too dis­sim­i­lar to Dubai's in a sand storm. Grey and all-en­com­pass­ing. I had flown in from Dubai for a fleet­ing trip and I was set on some wel­comed change in weather. But wish­ing for good weather in Britain is like bank­ing on win­ning the lot­tery – it’s a loser’s game. As the door­bell rang at the Lang­ham Ho­tel’s In­fin­ity Suite, in glided Ta­nia Fares, the Le­banese-born co-founder of the Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil Fash­ion Trust, among a fleet of other mer­its. Quiet, sweet and a lit­tle un­aware of her sur­round­ings, she wasn’t ‘with us’ ini­tially. She stared down at her phone, read­ing a mes­sage, par­don­ing her pulled fo­cus. Once she had an­swered her caller she ac­knowl­edged us all with a warm in­tro­duc­tion and I led her over to hair and make-up.

I prof­fered her cof­fee. She nod­ded in­tently, con­fess­ing she was tired and needed time to wake up. Since Ta­nia is con­stantly on a dif­fer­ent time zone, she spends much of her time play­ing catch-up. Liv­ing be­tween Lon­don, Los An­ge­les and Le­banon, she is al­ways on the move. She ad­mits Lon­don al­ways feels homely, since she spent 16 years liv­ing in Knights­bridge with her fam­ily. As the in­ter­view pro­ceeded, I sim­ply asked her to talk about her­self – we know very lit­tle of her.

Ta­nia started at the fash­ion la­bel Lulu and Co. as the co-founder, where she sin­gle-hand­edly wit­nessed the ob­sta­cles all de­sign­ers face. “Lulu was a great in­spi­ra­tion to me and she loved to sup­port emerg­ing tal­ent.” Lulu was the founder of Fash­ion East, a non-profit de­signer sup­port and show­cas­ing scheme, who opened the doors for Rok­sanda, Si­mone Rocha and JW An­der­son. Ta­nia has al­ways been ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about help­ing young de­sign­ers. “I went to the BFC (Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil) and told them that I would like to start an ini­tia­tive to sup­port emerg­ing de­sign­ers – that was in 2011, and the rest is his­tory.” With the Fash­ion Trust, Ta­nia knew she would be trav­el­ling a lot so she part­nered up with Steven Kolb at CFDA (Coun­cil of Fash­ion De­sign­ers Amer­ica) and opened the trust in the US, and then it only felt nat­u­ral for her to bring the trust to the MENA re­gion – her real home: “I am very ex­cited to be start­ing the Fash­ion Trust in the MENA re­gion.” Omit­ting any pa­tri­on­is­ing un­der­tones, she notes that the Arab world has changed along­side the fash­ion world. She ad­mits that the Arab com­mu­nity are ready to sup­port emerg­ing de­sign­ers now.

For many peo­ple Ta­nia is not some­one who is in the pub­lic eye. She is some­what of an in­vis­i­ble pres­ence who, at the same time, has played a cru­cial role in the mak­ings of the next-best de­sign­ers of our gen­er­a­tion. Think of her as the silent con­fi­dant, friend, fi­nan­cial aid and true sup­porter to any­one emerg­ing in the world of fash­ion. Ta­nia is an in­te­gral part of our in­dus­try.

It was a rare treat to get her alone in a ho­tel room for three hours. As she caffeinated her­self, Ta­nia’s warmth and charisma filled the room. Her dul­cet Le­banese ac­cent ver­i­fied her roots. I had called upon all her friends to loan cloth­ing: Mary Ka­trant­zou, Rosetta Getty, Christo­pher Kane and Ni­cholas Kirk­wood. She looked at me very mat­ter-of-factly as she stated: “Be­ing Le­banese, of course, I have al­ways wanted to bring the fund to the MENA re­gion – it has been brew­ing in my mind for a long time.”

It was at a cel­e­bra­tory event for her book: The Lon­don Up­ris­ing, 50 Fash­ion De­sign­ers, One City, which her proud aunt put to­gether (“she in­sisted on it, it was amaz­ing”) where the seed for the idea was first planted. “So many young Jor­da­nian de­sign­ers came and asked me if there could be a fund in the MENA re­gion. Since that time I had been think­ing about it.” The new craze in fash­ion has been to bring in­clu­siv­ity to the fore by nod­ding to parts of the world that have his­tor­i­cally been left off the style map – the Arab world is one of them. The run­ways have seen many hi­jab mod­els now tak­ing cen­tre stage and redi­rect­ing the nar­ra­tive.

Ta­nia feels it is now time for the re­gion to evolve cre­atively. She projects: “It is def­i­nitely time for a much larger spot­light on the Arab world.” Be­ing born in Le­banon she ex­plains: “It will al­ways be home for me. If any­one asks me where I am from I will al­ways say Le­banon. I am very proud to be Le­banese.”

As we fin­ished hair and make-up, it was time to dress Ta­nia in some­thing beau­ti­ful. She wel­comed the op­por­tu­nity to wear her cloth­ing from her friends. Once we started to shoot there was a sense of shy­ness, as Ta­nia isn’t used to be­ing in the spot­light. She man­aged to re­lax in front of the cam­era, even though she ad­mit­ted she wasn’t one for pho­tos and did not have an In­sta­gram ac­count. A fash­ion con­trib­u­tor to Bri­tish Vogue and a friend to the rep­utable edi­tor-inchief Ed­ward En­nin­ful, to name just one of her fash­ion posse, she is in­cred­i­bly down-to-earth, which was re­fresh­ing to see and feel, as she claimed “the era of the diva is over.”

We touched on the anony­mous In­sta­gram ac­count @ fash­ionas­sis­tants, which laments and lam­poons the state of af­fairs in the fash­ion in­dus­try. It’s an af­fect­ing and of­ten hu­mor­ous look at the treat­ment of ‘in­tern 1 no name’ (as the bio goes) by the fash­ion elite – a part of the in­dus­try that is in­creas­ingly com­ing un­der fire and is slowly chang­ing for the bet­ter. She firmly agrees this kind of fash­ion world is well and truly over. “We must pro­duce and we must de­liver, but there is a way to treat peo­ple,” she in­sists.

We­turne­dourtalk­toFash­ionTrustAra­bi­aand­how­muchcre­ative tal­ent there is in the UAE. She tells me about the ini­tia­tive in de­tail and con­firms an ex­cit­ing part­ner­ship. “This trust has been set up to sup­port young de­sign­ers fi­nan­cially so it will also give them ac­cess to the sys­tem, to the panel and the judges. We have an amaz­ing ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee and we are part­ner­ing with Match­es­Fash­ion. com, so who­ever wins the trust will be sold on site.” This is such an in­cred­i­ble plat­form for any­one who has the cre­ative drive to suc­ceed in the fash­ion in­dus­try. The ap­pli­ca­tion process is sim­ple: each de­signer will need to send their look­book to the panel. They are on the hunt for peo­ple who are de­ter­mined and ex­tremely pas­sion­ate. There will be five win­ners and Ta­nia wants the en­tire Arab com­mu­nity to ap­ply so the fund can show­case how pas­sion­ate and cre­ative this part of the world is. There are a few fash­ion favourites sit­ting on the panel – be­ing that she is in­cred­i­bly per­son­able, Ta­nia listed them all on a first-name ba­sis; Olivier Rouste­ing for Bal­main, Pier­paolo Pic­ci­oli for Valentino, Zuhair Mu­rad, Ruth Chap­man and Sara Soz­zani Maino. It is a star-stud­ded list so who­ever wins the award will be in the com­pany of the greats.

As we fin­ished up, Ta­nia took an­other call. She slipped into her mother tongue of Ara­bic as nat­u­rally as she ex­udes her gen­eros­ity of spirit. In the clos­ing mo­ments of the shoot, we sat once more to hash out our re­main­ing thoughts on the fash­ion in­dus­try. “I think when you see peo­ple that are ex­tremely tal­ented, then you re­ally want to sup­port them, it is ex­cit­ing. I love dis­cov­er­ing young de­sign­ers, it makes me feel good and I try to at­tend all of the stu­dent shows so that I can dis­cover de­sign­ers who have a dif­fer­ent view on things.” As she wrapped up her last sen­tence, she jolted out of her chair be­cause her driver had just ar­rived and a lunch date awaited.

For me Ta­nia Fares is a rar­ity in a friv­o­lous in­dus­try. I walked away feel­ing hum­bled by some­one so in­flu­en­tial, yet so will­ing to help peo­ple go be­yond their lim­its and shoot for the stars.

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