RENOWNED RUNWAY DIRECTOR AZRA MAHMOOD PENS HER EXPERIENCE OF WORKING WITH DESIGNER SAMI ALAM AND HIS SHOW THAT RECENTLY TOOK PLACE IN PARIS
I was in Malaysia, enjoying my holidays with my family when Sami Alam called me. Sami is a designer I have high hopes for – extremely creative, classy style and tethers on the edge of madness, just enough to be considered a genius in his field. With a lot of excitement, he asked if I would be able to do a show in Paris. I couldn’t believe what I heard. “You mean THE Paris?” I asked and he said “Yes Apu, THE Paris.” And that is how the journey of a fashion show taking place at the Bangladesh-France Trade and Investment Summit in Paris began.
In a very short period of time, Sami planned everything flawlessly and the best part of it all was that the he took a team and models from Bangladesh for the show. Sami’s collection was a story about the beautiful array of fabrics from our country and the modern-day rendition of what it can become. It was a spiritual journey of the multiversal characters from Bangladeshi villages, folklore, and literature with homages to French literature and history such as The Little Prince, Victor Hugo and the French Revolution. Although this is how simply he chooses to define it, I firmly believe that he is being far too modest about it.
We reached Paris and had the trials at IFA, the institution Sami graduated from, thus, we received a lot of help from the team there. There was still a lot of work to do so, with the help of a very small team and the models, Sami worked the entire night and finally finished his creations. The team came alive as they worked together and Sami’s passion fueled everyone throughout that night.
“I don’t think I can ever explain the feeling of walking into that ballroom, knowing that I was going to direct a show there. Suddenly, the anxiety of working in a foreign land with foreign people and in a foreign language was overshadowed by the sheer beauty and history of the space.”
The next morning, when we were about to start our rehearsal, it finally struck me – the show was taking place in the Opera Ballroom of Le Grand Intercontinental Hotel. I don’t think I can ever explain the feeling of walking into that ballroom, knowing that I was going to direct a show there. Suddenly, the anxiety of working in a foreign land with foreign people and in a foreign language was overshadowed by the sheer beauty and history at the hotel to the space.
Built to house the visitors of Paris Universal Exhibition, Le Grand opened its doors in 1862. It was inaugurated by Empress Eugenia de Montijo, spouse of Napoleon the Third. The greatest names in the fields of sculpture, painting and decoration took part in building this gigantic and magnificent hotel – back then it was considered to be the largest hotel in the world.
Since its opening, the hotel has welcomed the famous celebrities from all over the world, emperors and empresses, kings and queens, maharajas, sultans – King Edward VII of England, the Shah of Iran, Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, Maharajahs of Bengal, Oscar Wilde among many others. The hotel was a hub for artists, actors and creative movements. Victor Hugo hosted a splendid banquet in the Opera Ballroom. Emilie Zola’s decadent and tragic heroine Nana died in this hotel. In 1869 James Gordon Benett, founder of the International Herald Tribune met with Henry W Stanley at the hotel to convince him to venture into the search of Dr. Livingstone in Africa. During the First World War, Le Grand Hotel was partially transformed into a military hospital while during the Second, the hotel was requisitioned by the German forces and then became a club for Allied Forces officers. After that, the life returned to normal for the hotel, complete with its international clientele such as Orsen Welles, Henri Salvador, Salvador Dali, President Harry Truman and many more.
The Opera Salon is the most renowned ballroom in all of Paris. To walk in that ballroom that morning, looking at the opulent statues and gilding, its 14-metre-high ceiling, its extravagant chandeliers and the circle of mirrors was truly monumental! And to know that we were there to showcase a designer from Bangladesh made the moment all the more valuable. I forgot that I was in a foreign land and allowed myself to soak all of that in and give my best in what I was there to do. The show ended with the final outfit displaying the words ‘Made in Bangladesh’ with Sami Alam next to it, while everyone in the ballroom applauded. After the show ended, all the ambassadors ran backstage to congratulate Sami and the team.
And to top it all off, the sheer joy of sitting at a table at Le Grand Intercontinental Hotel and eating Kacchi Biryani as the main course of a five course meal to celebrate the night was the final icing on the cake for our team.
I won’t describe Sami’s creations. Those who know him knows his work well and those who don’t will have to see for themselves. For me, that night wasn’t just about one individual – it wasn’t about the Bangladeshi models working in Paris, it wasn’t about Sami or even about me. For me, it was all about Bangladesh creating history in the Opera Ballroom of Le Grand Intercontinental Hotel.
Photographs: Fabrice Malard