Céline Semaan Vernon
For Lebanese-Canadian designer Céline Semaan, fashion is not just a frivolous form of self-expression but a symbol of dignity, an expression of autonomy, and most importantly perhaps, a means for activism. Having been forced to flee war torn Lebanon d as a toddler, Semaan joined her father in Canada before returning to her homeland as a teenager once the gunfire came to an end. The resulting sense of rootlessness, which Semaan describes as making her feel like a ‘terrarium, kind of floating around’, directly informs her perspective on fashion, which is motivated by a deep-rooted understanding of the fragility of the world around you. Uprooting her life and witnessing first-hand the destruction war caused to her home taught Semaan to value what you already have, as you never know when it can be taken away from you.
This seed of knowledge runs through everything Semaan does, where regeneration is essential to her work. Interested in spreading climate awareness and exploring her roots, Semaan launched her brand ‘Slow Factory’ in 2008. The antithesis of fast fashion and the modern world, Slow Factory aimed to repurpose fabrics and images with the intention of moving toward a more cyclical fashion economy. She started with silk scarves that blended her past and present, combining images from NASA with designs that reminded her of her grandma.
The symbolic value placed on fashion and aesthetics in Lebanese culture inspired Semaan to see fashion as a political tool, as a medium for change. Where policy falls short, art has a role in the movement of climate justice and human rights. Fashion, in Semaan’s view, can’t be understood without talking about both sustainability and colonialism, and she should be recognised as one of the first people to see fashion as a way of generating change, both from within and outside the industry.
Holly is a Masters student in Musicology at Oxford University. She researched and wrote this article as part of the Oxford University Micro Internship programme.