Elissar El Hammoud’s ‘LIRA’ Collection Echoes Childhood Nostalgia and Cultural Revival

Elissar is featured in our most recent issue, TITLE(D) #6: The Global Passport. The interview below differs from the one in print. Get a copy of our zine for a different perspective on Elissar.

We sat down with Elissar El Hammoud, a Berlin-based DJ, multi-talented creative, and founder of the clothing brand ELISSARRR to have a chat about the fashion industry, culture, nostalgia, and her latest collection ‘LIRA’.

From YouTube tutorials to forming her own clothing brand ‘ELISSARRR’

Elissar’s fascination for fashion and designing clothes started at an early age but wasn’t fully ignited until the age of 14 when finally, after years of begging her parents for a sewing machine and successfully managing to do so, the teenager started learning how to sew her own clothes through DIY tutorials on YouTube in her bedroom:

“Even though the cuts—or rather the workmanship was just disastrous, I was really proud of my own work and wore the designs all the time. It was wearable though, it never tore apart or anything”.

Elissar goes on to explain how fashion has always been a means of self-expression with herself coming to school in “the weirdest fits” proving her “strange love for eye-catching and extravagant clothing”.

“I was never necessarily the greatest painter, nor was I the greatest musician. Somehow, for me it’s always been clothing—it was the medium where I felt the most free and had the most fun. It just gives me a lot of joy.”

The designer describes her creative process as very chaotic but genuine as inspiration often strikes randomly leading her to jot down ideas and dive into work impatiently, researching and collaborating if needed. The essence of the brand is deeply connected to Elissar’s approach to fashion, which is rooted in personal authenticity:

“I started out wanting to make things for myself and that’s why my first question is always ‘what would I want’?”

On navigating the fashion industry

As it is the case with any career, not everything that glitters is gold, and that is especially true when it comes to the fashion industry, where the glitz and glamour often mask underlying struggles and injustices. Here, Elissar shares her love-hate relationship and frustrations with this realm: 

“I love it because it’s fun and because it’s what fulfills my life right now, although not entirely. At the same time, I hate what the industry has become. It’s so pretentious, unethical and serves as a reflection of today’s times, economy, and social circumstances. It comes to show who we are and how we’ve evolved as people. Nowadays, it’s just a mirror of the disgusting people we’ve become and what our society is like, ultimately. That’s the reason why I hate the industry, because it makes me come to this realization all the time.”

When being asked about what changes the German fashion industry needs to go through, Elissar responds frankly: “basically everything. The German fashion industry is kinda cringeworthy”. She then goes on to explain how a large part of that is due to the fact that fashion in itself is not considered art in the country which comes with a lack of institutional acknowledgment and support for the industry resulting in the lack of fashion schools and establishments. In Germany, clothing has to be ”technical, practical, good, cheap-quality—that’s it”, making it hard to set foot in the international market which is why Elissar’s long-term goal is to make it out of the country. 

Elissar’s core message here is very clear: be yourself. “Stay authentic, stay true to yourself,” she urges. “Don’t rush things. They take time for a reason, and everyone moves at their own pace.”

Healing the inner child (of the diaspora)

The tale of the children of the diaspora has been told many times, yet we can not speak enough about the shared experiences throughout different generations that tie us together. Assimilating to a culture of a country we grew up in, emigrated, or were forcibly displaced to yet it’s foreign to us; facing racism and discrimination while simultaneously losing touch with our ancestor’s languages, customs, and rich knowledge. 

Trying to fit into a predominantly white environment as a child of Lebanese-Palestinian parents, Elissar expressed how these circumstances made her suppress and neglect her roots, language, and cultural heritage—an experience many children of the diaspora share. During the exhibition of her first collection ‘Heimweh’ (Homesickness), a girl came up to Elissar expressing her gratitude for making her feel seen. Even though their background and exact living realities might differ, there is still some sense of understanding because “Germany is a very hostile environment when it comes to being a person of color.”

During Corona, a time spent isolated at home, the designer had an epiphany prompting her to reconnect to her culture and most importantly to her authentic self. Through her artistic impression, Elissar finds a way to process these emotions while also drawing inspiration from everything that surrounds her as well as conversations with friends about community and belonging.

“The aim is to create a community, something people look at and say ‘I find myself in here. I can be proud of it. I don’t feel alone with it, I feel represented’, because I think this representation would have helped me a lot in my youth and maybe saved me some identity crises.”

Emphasizing her garments as “a reminder to reconnect with your culture and embrace it with pride,” Elissar’s ultimate goal is to bring joy to her inner child. “I want to be my own role model. I’m on my way there right now because my lifelong goal has always been to be there for my little self, because she didn’t have anyone to look up to in the industry.”

About the latest collection ‘LIRA’

ELISSARRR’S latest collection, named ‘LIRA’ serves as a heartfelt tribute to the Lebanese banknotes and the cherished childhood memories that come with the summers spent in Lebanon with her grandparents and cousins. 

Reminiscing about these times, Elissar recalls how both her grandparents and parents would often give her these banknotes to buy snacks from the local Dukkany (kiosk). With just 1000 Lira, she could buy enough sweets to share with her cousins. “My mum gave me 1000 Lira and I thought I could buy the world with it,” she reminisces. 

However, in recent years the currency has dramatically lost its value due to inflation infused by the economic and political crisis Lebanon is currently facing. Today, the 1000 LIRA bill is equivalent to a mere 0.010 cents.

Despite this devaluation, Elissar’s emotional attachment to the Lebanese banknotes remains unwavering. “For me personally, it still holds such great emotional value because I associate it with my childhood—the good times and a simple life where a bag of crisps just made me happy,” she explains.

Through her ‘LIRA’ collection, the designer seeks to preserve the nostalgia of her childhood memories while shedding light on the challenges Lebanon is currently facing:

“Basically, I just wanted to take something that had lost its value and give it a new value through my clothes. That was the mission, and it worked.”

Through her artistic endeavors, Elissar aligns herself with the selected few artists within the German fashion industry, such as GmbH, who actively participate in the preservation and celebration of identity and resilience by honoring and safeguarding cultural heritage.

*Header: HEIMWEH Print x Tyros Corniche (2022) by Elissar El Hammoud