“I knew that I always wanted to have my own atelier—call it maison, boutique, whatever you want—where I can tell the story of my creations,” designer Gilbert Halaby tells me at his namesake shop, Maison Halaby, located on the cobblestoned Via di Monserrato in Rome. “Not in multi-brand stores, because [those are] like you’re in the supermarket. You’re a meat next to a lot of other meats. And you’re a bag next to a lot of other bags.”
You could almost call Maison Halaby an anti-boutique as it feels more like a refuge than a place of business. Ring the bell and you’ll be greeted by Halaby, who fashioned this space as a home away from home, filling it with his own furniture, books, and paintings. He might be listening to classical music and reading Homer, and, as if you were a guest at his house, he’ll offer you coffee or Campari.
It’s a very civilized way for Halaby’s clients—who find him by word of mouth—to enter his artful world. Born in Lebanon, Halaby visited Rome in 2003 on vacation, had an immediate bout of Stendhal syndrome, and decided to stay. Though he studied archaeology, he started designing jewellery and presented it in Paris. That led to a collection of handbags, accolades and awards, showrooms in Milan and Paris, and magazine covers. He sold his collections at multi-brand stores around the world. And while Halaby is grateful for his early successes, “Everything became only about the markups and the quantities, which doesn’t belong to how I think and how I live,” says the 39-year-old designer. So, he withdrew from the fashion world and began looking for his own space.
When a location became available on Via di Monserrato, he set up Maison Halaby to showcase his brightly coloured handbags. “I navigate in a colourful dimension. I’m not afraid of colours, and I’m not afraid to marry them—and a lot of them.” The Andrea, a Halaby signature bag, is a large, structured tote made of leather in eight different colours. “I want to create a bag that will last a hundred years,” he declares, whose handbags are made at ateliers he works with in Tuscany and Parma. “And that bag will have always a warm memory from Rome because I sell only here.” It just might be the thing to splurge on during your next Roman holiday.
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