Elie Kuame is a hugely talented Lebanese and Côte d’Ivoire designer who celebrates women by making clothes they might actually want to wear.

I first spotted him at Black Fashion Week – you couldn’t miss him on the front row with his fabulous hat. I then spent an afternoon with him at his Parisian showroom where I met someone natural, spontaneous, sensitive, cool and funny.

He talked to me about Africa and its representation in the media, France and the French and, of course, what he thinks about women’s worth… and he doesn’t hold back!

How did it all begin?

My mother had a sewing shop when I was young and I used to play around with the material… In the Côte d’Ivoire, I wasn’t really into fashion; I was even a ‘Gaou’ as we say there: I didn’t know how to dress. Despite this, I did a few fashion shows and photoshoots for fun with my friends in the Côte d’Ivoire…

One of my aunts was a famous model in Africa at that time. That was how I was introduced to fashion. In 2000, I came to France as part of my economic and social sciences degree. Four months before graduation, I quit. I was getting bored. I couldn’t get used to it.

I grew up in the Côte d’Ivoire. Being in France, with their own way of thinking and a cold atmosphere that I still can not explain after 15 years, I realised that living there was not for me. And so I tried to find something else to do and I did a pattern-cutting course. Once again, it wasn’t easy because most of my classmates were much younger than me.

I choose to work with clothes which allow me to give tribute to women and their femininity.

Thank God, in Paris, I met Clarisse Hieraix, a wedding dress designer. I worked with her for four years. At the beginning, I was an apprentice and I became a showroom manager. Two years later I entered the Young Creators Competition, which was organised in collaboration with Hermès. I presented 22 pieces and everything went really well. I was one of the winners which allowed me to show my first collection: ‘Femmes de pouvoir’ (Women in power).

Autumn/Winter 2013 © Getty Images

So do you see the fashion industry as a vocation?

Totally. I haven’t done any styling studies but I learnt how to construct the clothes. Thanks to God, I know how to mix colours and textures. In the same way, I also know how to cook and sing. Ha ha. I think I have an artistic leaning. I choose to work with clothes which allow me to give tribute to women and their femininity.

When a client comes to see me, my first goal is to make her more chic than she already is.

I learnt how to draw by myself. One of my aunts living in Dubai ‘Aunty Melika’ bought me a guide called ‘How to draw’.

You’re part Lebanese, Ivorian, Mauritanian, and Malian. Are you more influenced by any one of your cultures?

Each of my cultures has its own value in my creation process. Africa, the Middle East and the West. For example, I’m making a bustier with bark from Africa and I’ll use the technical skills I learnt in the West and sprinkle it with some inspiration from the Middle East. It’s like a recipe. 

I like subtlety; my shapes are never too much. The bark bustier will be covered in lace and crystals to make a beautiful evening dress. There is always this mix of culture which balances my pieces. This is how I work.

Which words best describe your work? What to you want to come through in your collections?

Elegance, femininity, absolute, uncluttered lines, sobriety, structure, excellence, discipline.

When a client comes to see me, my first goal is to make her more chic than she already is.

Do you still learn at work?

In fashion, you learn every day. When I finish a collection I always 20 per cent dissatisfied and I use this to make the next collection better. I’m always learning from my errors. I’m never satisfied because I love my work so I’m always saying to myself that I can do better. I only work with professionals.

I’m really demanding on myself and open-minded with others. I am always ready to hear any propositions, ideas or suggestions. I only have 15 years of experience. So I’m very far off from perfection. Nothing is acquired, everything is to be discovered.

Who is your favourite designer so far?

Mr Oscar de la Renta. I love his work. His work talks to me; makes me cry, lighting up my emotions as if I was seeing living strokes of his pen. Mr Galliano also, for his craziness. Gaultier deconstructs what is constructed. Elie Saab is WOW. Everything is embroidered and I’m not really into sparkles but he knows how to use them so well.

What about your style?

I grew up in Côte d’Ivoire. When I was a child, I always saw on television things like ‘Ethiopian children are starving… There is disease there, AIDS here, war etc.’ But my Africa is not like that. My hometown is beautiful.

In the Côte d’Ivoire you eat so well, party so hard, go to the beach… I’m not saying that there are no difficulties on my continent but how Africa is portrayed in the media makes me angry. They only show the bad side. Yes, there are problems in Africa but not only in Africa.

In France, for example, men behave as if they are all powerful but now they are suffering from the consequences of that behaviour. I think we have gone further than simple individualism.

We are in a hateful atmosphere where everybody is judgmental and careful around each other.

So I told myself I have to show everyone through my style what Africa’s really like. I’ll show a vivid, luxurious and dynamic Africa! Africa is beautiful, green and so authentic, and the people are happy. People don’t have much but they invite you to eat, they’re polite and well mannered. Here in France, they forget important values and people always assume that they are entitled to everything.

My Kan hats are my identity. They were made by an aunty in Ghana. We wear them a lot in West Africa for big ceremonies. This is how I rebel.

What about the new collection?

The new collection is named ‘Hyper Femme’. Above all, my collections were an ode to successful women, a woman known for her brilliant intellect, her education and who dominates men. But this time, it is an ode to the women who fight to achieve things. I’ve been really affected by the women I met in Benin. They even made me cry. I’m very sensitive. The impact on me was really strong. These emotions drove the new collection.

We have 1950s dresses with lots of volume and a lot of suits too. Clothes which follow women’s curves. I worked with a textile worker in Burkina Faso from choosing the material to the finished product.

If everything goes well, there will be a show in Paris. Either way, I’ll do an exhibition with a video that I’ll spread through social media.

What did you think about Black Fashion Week?

I really liked Carol Barreto, Adama and Sakia Lek. Their works are all very carefully considered.

I loved the colours and forms of Carol Barreto. In Adama, I loved the Asian influence with kimonos and hats. Sakia Lek was, for sure, the best representation of the ‘Miami Bitch’.

Anything else?

Now I’ve got a show in Africa with Canal. It is broadcast in 26 countries. It’s called Blackamorphose. We are on the third season and the fourth one has just been confirmed. Each season, we go to each of the five different countries where I meet people and restyle them. I have so much fun doing it.