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Palestinian designer for rich and famous pops up in West Bank

Though Palestinian designer Rami Kashou has Hollywood stars and royalty wearing his designs, he has not forgotten his roots
Palestinian American fashion designer Rami Kashou shows one of his designs at a pop-up shop in the West Bank city of Ramallah on 27 July 2016

By Shatha Yaish

Rami Kashou's designs are worn by Hollywood stars and royalty, but for the past few days he has been back home in the occupied West Bank rather than London, Paris or New York.

As on most days, Yasser Arafat Square in central Ramallah was crowded with pedestrians, taxis with screaming horns and fruit sellers lugging their goods on carts.

But tucked behind a nondescript door another world beckoned: one of burgundy walls and floor-length mirrors, as Kashou hosted a three-day pop-up fashion shop.

A handful of women of all ages browsed the elegant designs, occasionally trying on clothes under the watchful eyes of Kashou, who rushed to dispense fashion advice when needed.

The US-based fashion designer has a list of celebrity clients including Hollywood actress Jessica Alba, reality TV star Kim Kardashian and Queen Rania of Jordan.

But Kashou, who is 40 and was born in Jerusalem, has now made copies of his creations for Palestinian women that they would otherwise only see in magazines.

The world-renowned designer who has been away from his native city for several years showed his designs to Palestinian women in the Ramallah shop for 3 days (AFP)

He left for the United States in 1996 and now lives in New York.

"I was away for a long time," the bearded, shaven-headed Kashou, dressed in black, told AFP in the store.

"I usually come to visit my family, [but] this is the first time I brought my designs here."

Project Runway

Kashou shot to fame in 2008 when he appeared on the fourth season of the Project Runway reality television show.

He reached the finals, coming second to Christian Siriano, who designed the dress worn by US First Lady Michelle Obama as she addressed the Democratic National Convention last week.

Kashou said the show opened doors for him in America and elsewhere.

Tim Gunn and designers Jillian Lewis, Rami Kashou and winner of Project Runway season 4 Christian Siriano pose for photos at the Project Runway Finale Party held at Tribeca Grand Hotel 5 March, 2008 in New York City (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

"I benefited a lot. It was a big advert, especially for me as a Palestinian designer," he said. "And the Arab world became aware of me."

He is now developing his brand in Arab countries.

In Ramallah, the Palestinian political capital in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, he showed off his unique style of dresses, including one resembling a bouquet of flowers with a pink and red collar, which he said was inspired by a trip to Puerto Rico.

The garments, including a magenta cocktail dress designed for super model Heidi Klum, feature a range of exquisite fabrics such as chiffon, georgette, lame and silk.

Suha Hussein, 32, inspected herself in the mirror as she tried on a sleek black Moroccan-style dress with beads engraved around the neck, based on an original made for Queen Rania.

"I feel proud because we have such a talent and he is still interested in returning to his country," she said.

Turning to the dress, she smiled: "I hope it isn't too expensive, so I can buy it."

Rami Kashou helps a Palestinian woman try on one of his designs during a fitting session at a pop-up shop in the West Bank city of Ramallah on 27 July 2016 (AFP)

A single Rami Kashou dress can cost several thousand dollars, a sum impossible to imagine for the vast majority of Palestinians, where the unemployment rate is around 27 percent and one in five of those in work makes less than $380 a month.

Does the designer who has made it big in America really see opportunities in the Palestinian territories?

"There is an important market here," he said. "It is extremely important to study the market to know the customers and their needs."

"And it is wedding season, women here want glamour."

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