Lamia Choucair would make a great poster girl for Beirut. The stylist and designer’s laidback, ethereal style and love for good music and good company is full of the city’s spirit. After growing up in Lebanon, Lamia spent years living in New York and Paris and slips between French, English and Arabic in one sentence with typical Beirut ease. She now lives in Mar Mikhael and loves the trendy neighborhood’s village-like feel, and can often be found chilling at home with friends, checking out books in Papercup, or poised on a barstool at the Italian bistro L’Osteria.
Her feline frame and velvet voice are offset by a husky laugh that reveals her soft spot for long, late nights at Beirut’s most soulful bars and parties. As she edges into her thirties, she’s feeling more and more career driven these days, however. She ditched the demanding schedule of magazine styling to work for fashion designer Milia M, and after discovering her passion for window dressing is now pursuing a sideline career, transforming various Beirut storefronts.
She’s exactly the kind of girl you want to be topping up your glass of arak. And lucky for us she did just that, while showing us around her favourite places in the city.
Why did you bring us to the restaurant Seza today?
It’s one of my favorite places near my house. It’s really charming, the music is beautiful and I love the Armenian food. One of my favourite dishes here is the ground raw meat – it has such a pure taste. And the “itch” – an Armenian salad with cracked wheat and tomatoes.
What other favorite places are you taking us to later?
A bookstore called Papercup. It’s one of the only few places in Beirut where you can go and read a nice book. And the public beach, Ramlet el Baida. I always missed the beach while I was abroad. We used to come horseback riding here when I was a child. It was during the war and there’d be packs of dogs running after us. We still come here a lot – normally at night, with a few friends and a couple of beers.
How long have you lived in Mar Mikhael?
I moved here four years ago because my longtime boyfriend Jackson Allers was living in the area. We began discovering the quaint nature of the neighborhood together.
It’s a pretty trendy area to be living in right now.
I actually didn’t know it while I was growing up. I lived in Lebanon for 18 years before moving abroad, but I never came here. Now it’s considered a trendy neighborhood, but I moved here before that change. It’s like living in a village. You know everyone and there’s a real community life. My dog goes and says hi to everyone in the morning! Everyone in the neighborhood knows our dog Yoko – so we often let her run the streets alone in the early morning. I don’t think I’ll find somewhere else so charming… I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m happy in this country.
What do you love about Lebanese culture?
The closeness. The availability of people. Their candor sometimes. The food.
Where did you live before?
I grew up in Hamra. Then at 18, I moved to Paris, then to New York for a few years, back to Paris and finally back to Beirut. I’ve re-established myself here now and it’s quite an exciting time for my career.
What were your motivations for leaving Lebanon? What were you doing whilst overseas?
I was feeling suffocated and needed to check out new horizons. Also, some of the fields I wanted to study weren’t available at the universities in Beirut at the time. So I went to Paris, studied French literature for a while, then graphic design, then moved to NY and was catapulted into the fashion world.
Do you have any special travel memories or favorite places?
New York City for sure, was a great learning curve. A lot of firsts for me in NYC. Also, Texas was a strangely amazing place – the South of the US – in general was such a different vibe than the rest of the country. I loved South by Southwest music festival in Austin!
Are there any creative people in your family?
My mother is quite creative, and one of my great aunt’s is Salwa Choucair, an amazing sculptor and the first abstract artist in Lebanon in the 1940s.
Do you consider yourself a career-motivated person?
I didn’t think I was, but I am! I’m really laid back and “the race” has never appealed to me. I like living my life simply and having time for my friends. But recently I’ve discovered I’m ambitious. I might be messy in my bedroom but I’m super professional when it comes to work. I’m going to be 32 soon so I’m growing and coming into my womanhood. It’s a good thing.
You’ve moved from styling into window dressing. How’s that?
I love what I do for the fashion designer, Milia M. She gives me a lot of creative freedom. One display was a bunch of umbrellas at different elevations, with clothes hanging from them. And for another one, I actually created an indoor garden. I used real vines I found in the mountains. It was very simple and poetic. Then Johaina Ahdab, who has a window display company, saw and loved my Milia M designs. And we’ve been working together ever since.
Where do you draw inspiration for your work? Do you keep an eye on what larger brands put together for their stores?
Yes of course. I’m always on the lookout for great windows. But I also get inspired by art installations and photography. These are great triggers that help make an idea evolve.
When you’re not at home or working, where can people find you?
At the cinema. I love films – and I’m not a film snob! Local bars like L’Osteria and Internazionale, but mostly house parties. If you live in Beirut long enough you realize how small the city is, and house parties are the best for quality time with little room for nonsense.
What makes a good party for you?
No secrets here: the crowd. It’s all about good people. And quality music seems to attract the good people. The two go hand in hand, and I’ve been surrounded by that a lot living in Beirut. So I’m very lucky.
Tell me about your boyfriend Jackson. How did you two meet?
We met in Beirut at a Scrambled Eggs concert at a club called the Basement, which is closed now. I was visiting from Paris for Christmas. And we kept in touch. At one point he was travelling to Brazil, and on his way back, he changed his ticket to stopover in Paris instead. Instead of staying for a couple of days, he stayed for a couple of weeks. I was already planning to come back to Beirut, but that’s what did it really…
When I see you guys at parties, you always seem so loved up. How do you keep the magic in a relationship?
Well, it still seems fresh. We have an exciting life. We’re always meeting people and running around town… there’s no monotony in our relationship. And there’s just a lot of love! We’re both growing still. And our professional lives are stepping up at the same pace, which creates a lot of bonds. And we’re independent – I’m doing my thing, he’s doing his. So when we come back to each other at night, we have a lot of things to tell each other.
Which room do you spend the most time in at home?
Mostly my room. I love my room.
That’s also where your wardrobe is. How much time do you spend getting dressed?
Er, a lot. I’m a little ashamed of how long I spend getting ready. I love clothes so it’s always about the right outfit for the right occasion. I’ve accumulated a lot of clothes over the last ten years so I like to have fun with it. Sometimes I’ll try ten outfits!
What’s your most precious piece?
Probably a Lara Khoury dress that I wore to my sister’s wedding. It’s all silk and a beautiful color. A once-in-a-lifetime kind of dress.
What do you look out for when you’re shopping?
Anything that’s different. If I go to Zara, for example, I’ll find the one thing that I know most people wouldn’t necessary look at. It might be a little difficult to wear but I’ll try it on and make it work. I try and interpret things so they don’t look mainstream.
What about accessories? You’ve got a lot of bangles…
I do, but I don’t really wear them. Because I’m petite, I feel they overpower or overwhelm me a little bit. It’ll get too heavy and I’ll take it off… I always lose them as well. I use them for styling mostly, or lend them to my friends.
Who’s your style icon?
Hmm… maybe my Mother? She’s super elegant. She’s small – like me – but always manages to look so elegant. That’s a hard thing to pull off.
How do your friends describe you?
You’d have to ask them. But I have solid and loving friends, so I’m sure they wouldn’t be too harsh in their description of me.
Do you have a favorite weekend getaway?
Yes. My village “Arsoun” in the Metn Valley. It’s been my family’s land for ten generations. It’s my paradise and where I feel my sense of home. I love to pick fruit from the trees, play with our five dogs and relax. We have chickens and goats providing fresh produce. Unlimited space. Heaven.
What are your plans for the future?
Well, I would love to have the ability to have a second home base somewhere outside of Lebanon. I haven’t figured out where yet. The next couple of years will be
Lamia, thanks so much for showing us around Beirut and allowing us to get to know you a little better. For more information on Lamia’s work with Milia M see here.
Interview & Text: NJ Stallard
Photography: Tanya Traboulsi