With cool hair, classically awesome Méduse shoes, and an undeniably charismatic air, Jo Baaklini is the newest kid on Beirut's design block.

And unlike most of his peers, Baaklini’s dream was never to be a fashion designer – it's always been an interest, but only recently did he decide to act on it after returning to Beirut from London. “It kind of happened organically,” he says.

Baaklini studied Graphic Design at Central St. Martins, dabbling with film and photography alongside illustration. His initial focus was mainly on textiles, and after his success at Beirut Design Week in 2013, his friend and fellow designer, Timi Hayek, encouraged him to apply to Starch. He was handpicked by the Starch foundation to launch his own label, Atelier Jo Baaklini. Let’s just say his eccentric bomber jackets, watermelon chemises and colorful jelly shoes were a big hit.

Beirut.com sat down with Jo to find out more about the budding and bubbly designer.

Beirut.com: Do you have any fashion icons? Who do you look up to in the fashion industry?

Baaklini: The thing with fashion icons is that it's a bit tricky - I try to pick up from so many fashion designers, even the ones I don't like. There's always something to learn from them. Someone I look up to though, is Paul Smith – particularly in his attitude.

Beirut.com: Do you have a target audience? Who's the ideal person to don Jo's designs?

Baaklini: Anyone? [he laughs] Whether they're young or old, if they feel an affinity with my work, they should wear it.

The thing is, I create. I try to portray fashion like I'm portraying art. It's sort of like painting – and anyone that kind of understands that vision would be a good candidate.

Beirut.com: Your designs for men could be considered a bit risky in Beirut. Do you agree?

Baaklini: I think anyone can pull off a couple of pieces.

Think of it: Would you wear a full Alexander McQueen outfit? Especially for the summer vibe, I can actually see a lot of people wearing these designs - and mixing and matching them with other stuff. However, I do see where you’re coming from. There's some conformism here when it comes to fashion - particularly with men. In Lebanon, people are quite conservative with the way they dress. But, today you find people changing and going for a more unique look.

Beirut.com What's your second step after Starch?

Baaklini: Right now, it's too early to say. My next step is just to make new clothes, you know?

What I can tell you, though, is I'm starting to understand more about the aesthetic I'm seeking. The more I create, the more I understand. It's a discovery process, not just for others, but for me too. It's about surprising myself and everyone else around me.

Beirut.com: Would you say, then, your fashion is unconsciously experimental?

Baaklini: I'd say so, but I'm not trying to create something too artistic. I want it to be fresh and considered [wearable]. There's a fine line between it being traditional and too much. I do what feels right to me.

Beirut.com: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Baaklini: I see myself in this field. I labeled the brand atelier, and an atelier is a place that produces things. I’m going to apply my art in different directions.

Beirut.com: Any hints?

Baaklini: What I can tell you is that you’ll be seeing paintings and illustrations.

Beirut.com: What's your opinion on Beirut after having lived in London for quite a while?

Baaklini: Some people tell me they don't find the fashion in Beirut inspiring but, on the contrary, I think it inspires me to push for something more interesting.

I remember the first time after I came back from London, I went to a mall and all the guys were dressed the same. Here, it is the women that tend to be more experimental with clothing. Men, on the other hand, are marginalized if they do. You'll be labeled as “the guy not wearing the basic guy outfits - a polo shirt and jeans.

Beirut.com: I noticed men and women are similarly dressed in your collection. Is that a statement?

Baaklini: I like finding a balance between menswear and women's clothing, but would I say that's a statement? I don't think so. I just do what feels right, and that felt right. I try and do things that visually excite me, and that did.

Beirut.com: Did anyone help you realize fashion is what you wanted to do?

Baaklini: It was an organic accumulation of little things, really. Rabih Keyrouz, my mentor, was also an inspiration. His eye to detail and precision is amazing - he is a master.

Beirut.com: Do you have any advice for people that want to get into the fashion industry?

Baaklini: It's a tough world, but god it's exciting. Definitely worth it.

Jo's designs can be purchased at the Starch Boutique in downtown Beirut.

Starch Boutique
Saifi Village
Tel.: +9613327936
Tel.: +9613948526
Tel.: +9613393128

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