RAMI KASHOÚ IS AN ENTHUSIASTIC FASHION ELITIST. "It's not about everybody wearing my clothes," he says. "It's a luxury item for a specific crowd -- followers of fashion." And don't get him started on the knockoff artists. "Yes, they are reaching a group of people who might not be able to afford these clothes, but these clothes weren't meant for those people," says the 25-year-old Jerusalem-born Kashoú. "I think the beauty of fashion is that it's meant for an elite crowd willing to invest, and to present these kinds of ideas in clothes."
The customer is paying for a vision, goes his reasoning, and his complicated, elegantly tailored pieces -- a blouse twisted out of five continuous yards of fabric, intricate gauchos with fringe flowing from the seams -- are intended for those who believe in the work, even if it means blowing a paycheck just to have that dress. Yet Kashoú, who moved to Los Angeles about six years ago, is not a snob. "I'm not anti people that can't afford certain garments. You can still look interesting through your own sense of style."
Growing up in the West Bank city of Ramallah under the occupation didn't allow many freedoms, so Kashoú started sketching at age 10. "It was my outlet from the miserable reality going on around me and gave me a beautiful life of fantasy," he says. He started getting hands-on experience designing for his stepmother and other women in the neighborhood. Although it may sound odd, he says, Madonna opened his eyes to fashion. "She showed me things I'd never seen on a woman. I liked the controversy, I liked that people in Ramallah would react so negatively." He organized his first fashion show in the 11th grade; it featured hand-embroidered robes. "What inspires me from there would be the patience and beauty in sitting for hours with a needle and thread, working on one piece, which could take days -- that goes back to traditional Palestinian dressmaking. I find a major beauty in that from my culture." Rami Kashoú
He moved to L.A. to become a designer, which may seem a curious choice -- why not New York or Paris? -- but he wanted to be close to some family members living here, and besides, he says, "L.A. has a lot of growing potential, and I think it's the right time for me to be here." He briefly studied fashion at Brooks College before dropping out to work in retail as a buyer and merchandiser; meanwhile, he spent hours teaching himself how to sew, to cut, to drape fabric. He now cuts his own patterns, and sews the samples; a seamstress does the production of his line. Eventually, he wants to have his own boutique.
During Fashion Week, Kashoú had his first show, at the Los Altos Apartments in mid-Wilshire, featuring his second collection. It was a rather luxe presentation for a debut show, with Christina Aguilera among the front-row faces and a slew of fancy sponsors. Kashoú says it all came together at the last minute -- he has a knack for making things seem effortless. And he got so many calls after the show, he says, that he had to change his phone message, referring callers to a newly hired PR firm.
"My clothes are about movement and flow, soft, simple, wearable. I think it's feminine, and yet there's a masculine quality about it. There's a different feeling about it, because it's done more in jersey. That's my main fabric inspiration at this point. Everything inspires me -- there's no limits." Tie me up, tie me down: Cotton bondage V-neck blouse with wool-rayon skirt
Fashion heroes: "I love all designers."
Sweatshop politics: "I believe in karma -- if good things are happening to you, they should happen to the people around you."
Who's buying: Tori Spelling, Jenna Elfman, Pink, Jennifer Lopez, Martie Maguire (of the Dixie Chicks), Rose McGowan, Mira Sorvino.
Rebel, rebel: "I'm not a fashion rebel -- this is my field, I can't mock it -- but I'm a rebel against a lot of people that I do encounter in L.A. who believe in the concept of knocking off simply to make money."
Rami Kashoú is available at Aero & Co. in Los Feliz and Diavolina on La Brea Avenue.
MODEL: Saam McBride